Student workers make up a significant portion of the UK’s labour market. According to the Office of National Statistics bulletin of October 2017, of the 3.87 million people aged 16-24 in work in the UK, 851,000 of them were full time students with part-time jobs. Figures published by The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) in January 2017 for the year 2015/2016, show that there was 438,010 international students in UK higher education institutions. Of that number 127,440 were citizens of the European Union; the balance of 310,575 was made up by Non EEA citizens. Some international students also have a right to work in the UK, though this is strictly regulated and the rules vary depending on nationality, and course type.

Given the number of Non-EEA students in the UK, it is imperative that employers are aware of the rules which govern their right to work and the consequences if those rules are breached.  

Who is unrestricted?

Students from the European Economic Area (EEA) which comprises of all 28 EU countries, as well as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland have an unrestricted right to work in the UK as they currently benefit from EU rules on free movement. These students have no restriction on hours worked, or the type of work which they can undertake.  The rules on working time and national minimum wage which apply to UK nationals will also apply to these student workers.

Restrictions on Non-EEA students

Under the Home Office Points Based System, non-EEA student visa grants fall under Tier 4. These students are permitted to work whilst studying, though very strict restrictions apply.  These include:

(a)  A maximum of 20 hours of paid or unpaid work per week during term time for degree students; or 10 hours for Language Centre students. It is also important to know that these hours can be made up from one, or many part-time jobs worked per week and voluntary work or work placements as a part of academic courses is included. In April 2017 the Home Office clarified that a ‘week’ is defined as a period of 7 days beginning on a Monday.

(b)  Full-time work is allowed during holiday or vacation time

(c)  Non-EEA students may not take on permanent full-time work whilst studying, and post study, now require a valid Tier 2 visa supported by a licensed employer sponsor 

(d)  Self-employment including freelance or consultancy work is not permitted, nor are such students allowed to set up their own business

Consequences of breaking the rules

The Immigration Act 2016 added a new criminal offence of ‘Illegal Working’ which extends to circumstances where a foreign worker takes up work where he or she does not have the appropriate immigration permissions.  In such circumstances, if the worker is convicted they may face a fine or prison sentence. Employers could be subject to a penalty of up to £20,000 per illegal worker; and may even face a prison sentence in some circumstances if they are found to be employing a student worker in breach of restrictions in their visa.

If an employer is found to be employing student workers in breach of the restrictions in their visa, to avoid penalties and prosecution, it will have to show that it has conducted the appropriate checks before employing the individual.

How to remain compliant

1.Ensure that you undertake detailed immigration checks for your international student worker to be certain of their identity, nationality and whether there are any restrictions on their right to work

2.Keep detailed records of the checks which you have undertaken and copies of all relevant documents. You might also want to diarise their visa expiry date and check for any change of circumstances before that date

3.Check whether your student worker has other part-time jobs or are doing any voluntary work, and how many hours of work they are undertaking. Ensure that the combined hours of ‘work’ do not exceed their restriction

4.If you become aware of changes in your students circumstances, i.e. they are no longer enrolled on their course, establish whether they still have a right to work

5.If in doubt, seek relevant specialist immigration legal advice 

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