Working in the UK (international students)

International Dubai

The majority of international students on Tier 4 visas have immigration permission which allows you to work in the UK while you are studying.

Most international students can work up to, but no more than, 20 hours per week during semester time unless you have a restriction stamp in your passport or visa. (i.e. take a part-time job). You may also want to consider undertaking a more formal period of work experience, sometimes referred to as an internship or placement (35hrs or more) during the summer vacation.

These are offered by many of the larger graduate employers and are aimed mainly at undergraduate students at the end of their penultimate year of study.

Please note: MSc students cannot normally apply for these formal internships due to the visa restrictions on working hours over the summer.

If you are considering working in the UK after graduation and are not from an EEA (European Economic Area) country you will need to apply to UKVI to 'switch' to a different category of visa.

Tier 2 Sponsorship Resources
  • Student Circus -  Which has recently been set up by 2 international graduates in London, so there is currently a limited number of vacancies but may prove a good place to start.
  • TargetJobs  -  This site offers some information for international students who wish to work in the UK.
  • Post Study - This site specifically advertises jobs for international students.
Paying tax

If you have a job when you're a student you may need to pay Income Tax and National Insurance. Your employer will usually deduct Income Tax and National Insurance automatically from your wages through Pay As You Earn (PAYE).

Some double-taxation agreements mean you don't pay UK tax on your income if you work while you're a student. If your country doesn't have an agreement like this, you have to pay tax in the same way as others who come to live in the UK.

Find out more about student jobs and paying tax.

What is National Insurance?

Everyone who works in the UK is usually required to have a National Insurance number, this National Insurance number is a unique personal number which is used for all your tax/employment affairs.

Your NI number:

You can find more information about National Insurance numbers

  • Used by your employer for tax deductions and NI contributions
  • Is not proof of your identity.
  • Is not a work permit
  • Does not cost any money
How do I get a National Insurance number?

You do not need to have a National Insurance number before starting work, but you must obtain one when you get a job.

You can start work while you wait for your NI application to be processed. However, some employers will ask for an NI number as part of their application process, so really it is advisable to get one if you are considering looking for work.

You should apply by phone for a National Insurance number using the National Insurance number application line;

Telephone: 0800 141 2075
Open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Ask what documents you will need to bring to the appointment. You usually need to take your passport, confirmation of your address, confirmation of study letter/student card. Your appointment will take place at your nearest Jobcentre Plus office.

During the first semester of each academic year Job Centre Plus staff will come to campus to process student applications for National Insurance numbers.

After the appointment it can take around 4 weeks (sometimes longer!) until you receive your NI number, remember you can start work while your application is being processed providing you can show your employer you have applied for it.

UK Minimum Wage

In the UK it is illegal for an employer to pay you below a nationally agreed amount depending on your age.

The rates change every April.

The current rates are:

  • £4.05 per hour for ages 16 to 17 year olds
  • £5.60 per hour for ages 18 to 20
  • £7.05 per hour for ages 21 to 24
  • £7.50 per hour for ages 25 and over

Visa options

Tier 1: Graduate Entrepreneur

All enquiries relating to the Graduate Entrepreneur Tier 1 Visa programme should be made to the team at

Tier 2: Skilled Sponsored Worker

This is the main visa option for non-EU graduates wishing work full-time in the UK after graduating. To obtain one you will first have to secure a job offer from a company that is licenced to sponsor under the Tier 2 scheme.

To be eligible to apply for a Tier 2 visa you will need to satisfy the following requirements:

To apply from the UK you must meet the 70 point requirement which comprises:

  1. Switching from a Tier 4 (student) visa (20 points).
  2. Meeting the minimum salary requirement (see above) (20 points).
  3. English Language – your Heriot-Watt degree fulfils this requirement
  4. Maintenance requirement – You need to be able to evidence through bank statements that you have had £945 in your bank account for a 90 consecutive day period ending no more 31 days before applying (10 points)

Students who switch into Tier 2 under these rules will be able to sponsor any dependents who accompanied them as students but will not be able to sponsor any new dependants.

The visa can be granted for up to 5 years. You should apply before your current visa expires.

You can start the job for which the Tier 2 visa has been assigned providing you have received confirmation of your final results and have applied for your Tier 2 visa

Employers recruiting you whilst you are in the UK do not have to meet the Resident Labour Market Test which requires them to first advertise the position in a particular way to demonstrate that they could not recruit an EU citizen. There is also no annual recruitment cap on numbers of applicants who are switching from Tier 4. If you apply from outside the UK, however, then both of these restrictions would apply. The only exceptions are where the salary id more than 3159,000 or the position is on the shortage occupation list.

Find out more about Tier 2 here

Tier 4: Doctorate Extension Scheme

This visa offers PhD completers the opportunity to extend their leave to remain in the Uk for a further year to search for and start employment in the UK. Eligible candidates can only apply in the UK for this scheme and must have current Tier 4 immigration permission.

For further details see the Tier 4 Policy Guidance and/or The International Students Advisory Office.

Tier 5: Government Authorised Exchange

This Tier 5 scheme enables students to undertake career related work experience or an internship for a period of one to two years. You need to have a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor, such as AIESEC or BUNAC, before you can apply to come to the UK to work. A list can be found here.

Ordinarily, you need to be able to evidence £945 in an account that is acceptable to the Home Office for a period of 90 consecutive. In most cases you cannot apply from within the UK for this visa. It is not possible to switch to another visa such as Tier 2 when the Tier 5 one expires so this scheme is best suited to those who wish to undertake a short to medium period of work experience in the UK.

Visit the UKCISA or UKVI website for further information.