Working in the UK on a Tier 4 Visa

Your work conditions, including the maximum hours you can work during term time, are normally printed on your visa sticker, Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) or on a Home Office letter issued at the time your visa was granted. Usually the maximum limit is 10 or 20 hours per week during term time but check your documents first.

Check what your passport sticker (entry clearance or residence permit) or Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) says. You should also have received detailed information in a letter when you received your entry clearance or BRP. You can work in the UK if your passport sticker or identity card says one of the following, or something similar:

  • Work (and any changes) must be authorised.
  • Able to work as authorised by the Secretary of State.
  • Work as in Tier 4 rules.
  • Restricted Work. Part-time term time. Full-time vacations.
  • Restricted work term time.
  • Work limited to maximum 20 hrs per week during term time.
  • Work limited to maximum 10 hrs per week during term time.

Your passport sticker or identity card might say something a bit different from these examples, but you can work if it does not say:

  • no work, or
  • work prohibited.

You must not work if your passport sticker or identity card says 'no work' or 'work prohibited' because this would be a breach of your immigration conditions and a criminal offence. The Home Office can check whether someone has been working by making unannounced visits to employers and by obtaining information from the tax department, HMRC.

Please look at this UKCISA webpage for full information.

What is term time? 

Term time means any period when you are supposed to be doing academic work. For example, when you should be:

  • attending classes and lectures
  • preparing for exams
  • doing coursework
  • writing essays, a dissertation or thesis.

Your vacation periods, when you can work full time, are the periods when you are not required to be studying. This will be different depending on the type of course you are doing. For example, if you are supposed to research and write a dissertation or thesis while other students are on holiday, this is term time for you and you should restrict your work to 20 (or 10 if applicable) hours a week during this time. If you want to work more than your usual restricted hours, your employer is required by law to check that your education provider agrees that you are on vacation.

How is a 'week' defined?

From 6 April 2017, 'week' will be defined in the Immigration Rules as 'a period of 7 days beginning with a Monday'. This is different from the Home Office's view until now, so make sure that your working hours and work pattern fits this definition by 6 April.

You must, if necessary, change your working hours so that from 6 April 2017 you are working no more than 20 hours in any seven-day period starting on a Monday. If you work irregular hours and/or have more than one employer, you will need to keep detailed records of how many hours you work each day so that you can be sure that you are not in danger of breaching your work conditions.

Are you self-employed?

You are not permitted to be self-employed on a Tier 4 Visa under current Immigration Rules.

This may not sound relevant to you but you may become self-employed by mistake which could have serious consequences.

What does self-employed mean? Normally, a person is self-employed if they run a business or work for themselves but this is not always the case. Your employer might suggest that you work for them on a 'self-employed' or 'freelance' basis so they do not have to do so much paperwork. You must not agree to this as you might end up breaching your work conditions.

The government has more detailed information about self-employment. It explains when you are likely to be self-employed even if you have not yet told HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), for example, running your own business selling goods and services for profit, including online and through apps or working as a private tutor.

Types of work you cannot do:

If you are allowed to work, you can do most kinds of work. However, there are some you must not do:

  • self-employment and business activity (as detailed in the section above)
  • work as a professional sportsperson including as a sports coach
  • entertainer
  • a permanent full-time job
  • doctor or dentist in training, unless you are on the foundation programme.

Full information on work you can or can’t do is detailed on this UKCISA webpage.

Other types of immigration permission

If you are in the UK with some other immigration status, check what your passport sticker or any other documents issued by the Home Office say about employment. You can usually work without restriction if the only condition in your passport is 'no recourse to public funds'. If it says 'no employment as a dr in training', you can do any kind of work except employment as a doctor in training, which would usually be on the foundation programme.

If you are in the UK as a short-term student, your passport sticker or the stamp in your passport will say 'no work' or 'work prohibited'. This means that you are not allowed to:

  • take paid employment
  • take unpaid employment
  • be self-employed
  • do a work placement, even if it is part of your course.

Work placements and internships

Placements are an excellent way of obtaining work experience in the UK.

A work placement must be an assessed part of your course and usually must not take up more than a half of your course in the UK. Plymouth University must monitor you during your work placement and must let the Home Office know that you will be working for part of your course.

Work placements can be paid or unpaid and can be full time, even in term time. The work endorsement in your passport or on your biometric residence permit will not state this, but the Home Office guidance for employers explains it. You can refer any potential employer to this web page.

If you are permitted to take employment, you can do that (up to 10 or 20 hours a week in term time) in addition to working on your placement.

If you know when you apply for Tier 4 immigration permission that you will be taking a work placement as part of your course, you will be granted a visa that is long enough to cover both your course of study and your work placement. Sometimes students change their mind or might not be able to find relevant work. Before you come to the UK, ask Plymouth University how it will help you find work and what will happen if that does not happen. For example, will you have to leave the UK and apply again or will you just finish your course early? It will depend on which course you apply for.

It is sometimes possible to decide after arriving in the UK to add a work placement to your course. If you add a work placement and, as a result, need to spend longer in the UK, you will have to make another Tier 4 immigration application. The Home Office will treat you as if you are starting a new course so, if you apply for your visa on or after 6 April 2016, you will not be able to start your course with a work placement until you have made your new Tier 4 application. You will have to make this application outside the UK because the Home Office says that you do not meet its definition of 'academic progress'. For these reasons, it is important that you discuss adding a work placement with us as early as possible, as we might not be able to offer this option.

You might want to take a work placement outside the UK. In those cases, check the immigration requirements of the country concerned. You will also need to check whether we will continue to sponsor you while you are outside the UK or whether we will report you to the Home Office and you will then have to apply again to return to the UK. The advantage of retained sponsorship is that you do not have to make another immigration application; Plymouth University will have to monitor your work. The advantage of not being sponsored is that your Tier 4 immigration will be curtailed (cut short) which means that time spent outside the UK will not count towards your overall limit on student leave.