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Can You Start a Business on a Student Visa?

There are strict rules governing what international students can and cannot do during their period of leave in the UK. This includes rules on working. But is it possible for student visa holders to start a business in the UK?

The Tier 4 visa is now closed to new applicants, and has been replaced by the Student visa route.  The rules on working while under a student or Tier 4 visa are the same.


Student visa work rules

Student visa holders are restricted in the type and amount of work they can carry out. Specifically, student visa holders are not allowed to start a business, undertake business-related activity or be self-employed.

You will be considered to be engaging in business activity where you are working for a business in which you have a financial or other significant beneficial interest in a capacity other than as an employee, for example, setting up a business as a sole trader or under a partnership arrangement and that business is either trading or establishing a trading presence.

If you do have plans to start a business after you have completed your studies, you will need to consider your visa options to remain in the UK. The primary route for individuals setting up their first UK business is the Start Up visa.

If you have made an application for leave to remain under the Start-up route, you will be allowed to develop the idea while in the UK under your student visa and await the decision on your application.

Importantly, you will not be able to start trading while you are in the UK with a student visa. You must first await the decision on your Start Up visa application.


Switching to the Start-up visa

The Start Up visa replaced the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa which closed to applications in July 2019.

The Start-up visa is aimed at non-UK resident entrepreneurs looking to set up their first business in the UK.

Applications will see applicants and their business ideas vetted by an approved industry body or higher educational institution against set criteria, looking at viability, scalability and innovation.

While there is no formal requirement to have initial capital investment, applicants may need to consider how they will achieve their projections without some form of investment.

Endorsement must be secured in advance of the visa application being made to the Home Office.

You can apply to switch to this visa from a student visa if:

  • You want to set up a business in the UK
  • You are from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland
  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must meet the English language requirement
  • You must be able to prove that you have enough personal savings to support yourself while you’re in the UK


If your application is successful, you can stay in the UK for up to two years to develop and direct your business. You can also work in another job, as well as working for your business, and bring family members to the UK.

At the end of the period of leave, you can look to apply for the Innovator route to allow you to continue to develop your business.


Permissible work under the student visa 

The main purpose of the student route is for students to come to the UK to undertake a course of study. Where you are permitted to work, the intention is that this should be to supplement your income through employment whilst studying.

As such, there are limits on the number of hours you can work, depending for example on the type of course you are participating in.

You may be permitted to work either 10 hours per week, where you are studying on a full-time course below degree level sponsored by a UK recognised body or a body in receipt of public funding as a Higher Education Institution (HEI), or 20 hours per week where you are studying a course above degree level at a similar UK recognised body or HEI.

Time spent working can be in addition to any time spent on a permitted work placement.

Once your course has ended, you may work full-time, provided your conditions of stay permit work and you have leave to stay in the UK lawfully under the Tier 4 visa. This is because period at the end of the course of study is classed as vacation time.

If, having fully completed the course for which your CAS was assigned, you make an application for new leave under a different visa classification before your existing leave expires, you will be permitted to work full-time, within the limits described above, until your application is decided.

If, on the other hand, you stop studying before completing your course, you will no longer be entitled to work and will be in breach of your conditions of leave if employed.

In certain circumstances, you may also be permitted as a Tier 4 student to undertake a work placement as part of your course, providing it is an integral and assessed part of the course of study.

However, in most cases, even where you are permitted to have a work placement as part of your course, the time you spend on it must not exceed 33% of the total length of your course undertaken in the UK.

In circumstances where you are permitted to work, there are still certain jobs that you are not authorised to undertake. These include the following:

  • Be employed as a doctor in training, save except on a recognised foundation programme
  • Be employed as a professional sportsperson, including a sports coach
  • Be employed as an entertainer
  • Fill a full-time, permanent vacancy, save except on a recognised foundation programme or where you are filling a post as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer
  • Be self-employed, or engage in business activity, save except where you are awaiting a decision on an application you have made for leave to remain as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) or on a Start-up visa


Post study work visa 

The UK’s new graduate route is now open to applications. It allows student visa holders to remain in the UK to work for work for up to two years after they graduate, or three years if they have a phD. Under the route, graduates can work in any kind of role without having to be sponsored. This means there are no restrictions on skill level, working hours or salary level.

The graduate route is, however, not a route to settlement. To stay in the UK after your period of leave as a graduate, you would need to apply to switch into a different visa category before your leave expires.

If your ambitions are to start a business, the Start Up visa may remain the better option – taking advice will help you determine the best option for your circumstances.


Need assistance? 

If you have a viable business idea that you want to pursue in the UK, there are strict rules you will need to follow to avoid falling foul of Home Office regulations and quashing your dreams before they have got off the ground.

Given what’s at stake, Tier 4 students looking to start a business in the UK should take advice on their immigration options well in advance of their student leave expiry to understand how best to prepare for the Start Up visa application.

DavidsonMorris’ team of business immigration legal advisers can support with your Start Up visa application. For advice on your circumstances, contact us.


Student visa work rules FAQs

Can someone on a student visa work?

Students are allowed to work under their student visa, but strict restrictions apply to the type of work and the number of hours that can be worked. The primary purpose of the student visa is for study in the UK, rather than employment.

Can you work full time on a student visa?

No, student visa holders are limited to working a maximum of 20 hours per week during term-time. This cannot be averaged over a longer period.

Can you apply for a visa to start a business if you are a student?

Yes, students can apply to switch to a UK Start up visa while in the UK. The application should be made while their current visa is still valid.

Last updated: 12 August 2021

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