Hiring Tier 4 International Students (Rules for Employers)


Tier 4 visa holders are generally permitted to work while in the UK, but restrictions do apply. Employers hiring Tier 4 international students must ensure these conditions are not breached through employment with their organisation and that immigration compliance duties are discharged through effective document checks.

Are Tier 4 students allowed to work?

Tier 4 (General) is the primary immigration route in the UK under the points-based system for students aged 16 and over from a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland.

Although these students will need to prove that they have sufficient funds to support themselves as a prerequisite to being granted a Tier 4 visa, many students will be looking for paid employment whilst studying in the UK.

Strict rules, however, apply to the working hours that a Tier 4 student is permitted to take on while in the UK, depending on the type of course they are enrolled on and the sponsor they are studying with.

Where a foreign student’s course has ended, they may be entitled to work full-time, but only where the conditions of stay permit this and while they still have leave to remain in the UK.

In circumstances where the student has ceased studying prior to completing their course of study, they will no longer be entitled to work and will be in breach of their conditions of leave if found working.

What are the permitted working hours?

Tier 4 students at undergraduate level can work up to 20 hours a week during term time. This drops to 10 hours per work during term if the course is below degree level.

During the official vacation periods, they can work full time, for up to 36.5 hours per week.

Note that Tier 4 students are not permitted to fill a permanent full-time vacancy unless they have applied to switch to an appropriate visa category, such as the Tier 2 route following the completion of degree-level study in the UK.

What type of work can a Tier 4 student undertake?

Even in circumstances where a Tier 4 student is permitted to undertake work, there are still certain jobs that they are not authorised to take on. These include:

  • Doctor in training, save except on a recognised foundation programme
  • Professional sportsperson, including a sports coach
  • Entertainer
  • Fill a full-time, permanent vacancy, save except on a recognised foundation programme or where they are filling a post as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer
  • Self-employment, or engaging in business activity, unless awaiting a decision on an application for leave to remain under the Start-up visa route


Document checks & Tier 4 students  

As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to prevent foreign migrants from working illegally in the UK.

Right to work checks are to be carried out on all of your employees, without discrimination. You are looking to verify that the individual you are recruiting and employing is entitled to work in the UK and to undertake the work in question.

This includes international students. The time-limited permission to work in the UK and limitations on working hours and activities applicable to Tier 4 students do create specific risks for employers when performing the document checks.

A student who has been granted permission to be in the UK as a Tier 4 student and is permitted to work will have a clear endorsement in their passport or Biometric Residence Permit, which states that they are permitted to work and the number of hours of work permitted during term time, for example, 10 or 20 hours a week.

If permission to work is not stated in one of these documents, the student is not permitted to work. When carrying out a right to work check you will need to ensure that you understand any visa restrictions the student may have, and confirm that dates of the planned employment do not exceed the end date of the student visa.

You will also need to ensure that the hours the Tier 4 student works each week, including any other paid or voluntary work that the student may be undertaking, does not exceed the permitted maximum.

Having carried out the right to work checks you must take copies of the required documents (List A, List B) and retain these. Further, right to work checks should be conducted both prior to employing a Tier 4 student and during the course of their employment where permission to work is temporary, to ensure there are no issues in continuing to employ that student.

Effective right to work checks will mean you are complying with the immigration rules and should you face allegations of noncompliance, allow you to establish a statutory excuse as defence in the event that the individual employed is found to be working unlawfully.

What are the penalties for illegal employment?

UKVI take work conditions on Tier 4 visas very seriously. As such, it is open to UKVI to take enforcement action against employers and employees who are breach of the rules.

For example, if a student exceeds their permitted number of work hours in a working week, ie; Monday to Sunday or, alternatively, undertake a type of employment that is not permitted, they may be given a custodial sentence or be deported.

Where a Tier 4 student is removed from the UK, they may face a ban on re-entry for a certain period of time that could prevent them from successfully completing their studies.

Likewise, as the employer of a Tier 4 student found to be working illegally, you could face equally tough financial and criminal penalties.

In circumstances where you have failed to carry out the prescribed document checks correctly, or at all, and you are found to be employing a student illegally, you may incur a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per illegal worker.

You may also be liable to criminal prosecution if you know, or have reasonable cause to believe, that the individual does not have permission to work in the UK or to undertake the work in question. On conviction for employing an illegal worker you may face up to 5 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Can I sponsor a Tier 4 student?

It is open to you as a prospective or existing employer to sponsor a Tier 4 student whose visa is coming to an end, subject to the post meeting the necessary skill and salary requirements under the Tier 2 skilled worker route.

This means the post must be at graduate level, usually grade 6 and above, and the salary paid must meet the prevailing minimum salary threshold.

A resident labour market test is not required where a student currently has permission to stay in the UK under Tier 4, are applying for a Tier 2 visa from inside the UK and they have received final results confirming that they have:

  • Been awarded a UK recognised bachelor or postgraduate degree; or
  • Been awarded a UK Postgraduate Certificate in Education; or
  • Completed a minimum of 12 months study in the UK towards a UK PhD.

If a Tier 4 student, having completed their course, makes an application to switch to a Tier 2 visa under the points based system before their visa expires, they will be permitted to work full time until their application has been decided.

Do you have a question about hiring a Tier 4 international student? 

Employers should not be deterred by the rules surrounding the employment of Tier 4 students. Tier 4 students play an important role in the UK economy, and while the work restrictions rules are strict, effective recruitment and onboarding processes will ensure compliance and avoidance of penalties.

DavidsonMorris’ team of immigration legal advisers specialise in all aspects of business immigration and can advise on any queries you may have relating to employing Tier 4 international students or sponsoring a Tier 4 student to switch to Tier 2. For advice specific to your organisation, contact us.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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