Working in the UK (International Students)
If you are an international student, it is important to be aware of the visas available in order for you to work in the UK after graduation. You can speak to the International Student Support team for specialist immigration advice. The rules applying to your permission to work in the UK are determined by which country you come from, whether or not you're an undergraduate or postgraduate student and whether you have completed your studies.
Working in UK
I'm from an EEA country
No restrictions apply to students and graduates from member countries of the European Economic Area (EEA), i.e. the European Union, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland. Switzerland is not in the EU or EEA, but is part of the European single market, so Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EEA nationals.
I'm from a Non-EEA country
Students from all non-EEA countries require entry by visa and various restrictions and conditions apply for work permits. You will be entitled to work up to 20 hours a week during term time. There is no restriction of hours for work during the holidays. You may require sponsorship from an employer to work in the UK.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has a wealth of information available on its website. As part of their ‘Study in the UK: a practical guide’, they have two sections particularly applicable for international students looking to work in the UK. These are 'Working while studying' and 'Working after study'.
The main work visa options for Non-EEA students are the:
- Tier 2 (General) visa (for full- and part-time work), and
- Tier 5 (Temporary Worker - Government Authorised Exchange) visa (for work experience or professional training).
Employers who are able to sponsor workers to work in the UK under both Tier 2 and 5 are listed on a register of licensed sponsors. With Tier 2 being the main visa route for those interested in working in the UK after their studies finish, students may find it useful to look through this register to determine if a potential employer would be licensed to employ migrant workers under this Tier. A number of employers will often state whether they are able to sponsor non-EEA workers in their job descriptions or application materials.
Although the stamp in your passport may say 'authorisation for work required', please note that the British Government has given this authorisation to all international students. Some employers may not be aware of this, so the onus might be on you to explain this to them.
Further details on all visa application routes can be found on the GOV.UK work visas website.
Resources for employers
The Careers Service and International Student Support have put together Recruiting International Students: a guide for employers [pdf] which you could reference. You might also wish to refer employers to the following:”
- If an employer needs advice in relation to recruiting a non-EEA graduate, they can obtain it from the UK and Visas and Immigration Employer Helpline via telephone 0300 123 4699 or by email. As a student, it is useful to be aware of this, should a potential employer have any questions.
- For information on sponsoring a Tier 2 or 5 worker employers should visit the UK Visas and Immigration's guidance for employers
First of all, in order to succeed with any application for employment in the UK, be it for an advertised vacancy or a speculative application, you will need to provide evidence for your skills and abilities, as well as demonstrate your motivation to succeed in the role you're applying for. Helpful tips for making effective applications can be found in our section The Application Process.
To take any uncertainty out of your application, we would recommend that at the end of your covering letter you take initiative by explaining your situation to the employer. Highlight the type of work permit that would apply to you and any steps that would need to be taken on your or the employers part.
Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) Visa
There is also an immigration route for international students who are interested in developing their own businesses whilst in the UK. The UK Government states that this Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa is:
“For MBA and other UK graduates who have been identified by Higher Education Institutions as having developed genuine and credible business ideas and entrepreneurial skills to extend their stay in the UK after graduation to establish one or more businesses in the UK.”
This visa is also open to Postdoctoral researchers currently employed by Imperial College and on a Tier 2 visa, as long as they hold a UK degree.
Imperial College has 20 such visas and applications for the visa can be made through International Student Support in July and November each year. The application is judged by a panel of experts who will scrutinise the business idea and business plan to determine if the College will agree to endorse you for the visa. If you have a business idea it would be sensible to seek support from around the College to develop the idea, which will enable you to show you are serious about the business and also to create a good business plan. Resources can be found on our Starting a Business pages.
The application form for the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa and further information can be found on International Student Support - Working in the UK after your studies.
Further details on the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa can be found on GOV.UK.
Applying for a National Insurance Number
If you are working in the UK you will need a National Insurance Number. An example would be AB 12 34 56 Z.
How to obtain a National Insurance Number
You can apply for a National Insurance Number if you have the right to work in the United Kingdom and you are looking for or starting work.
Contact Jobcentre Plus, on 0345 600 0643, who will arrange an Evidence of Identity (EOI) interview for you or send you a postal application. Jobcentre Plus will confirm the date, time and location of the interview and will tell you what information/documentation is required for your interview or to support your postal application.
Jobcentre Plus will use this interview or postal application to check your identity, and where applicable, your eligibility to work in the United Kingdom.
For further information, please see the Gov.UK website.
Why do you pay National Insurance?
To help you understand why you need a National Insurance Number when working in the UK, see the Gov.UK website.
You pay National Insurance in order to build up your entitlement to certain state benefits, including the State Pension and the NHS (healthcare).