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getting work experience as an international student

Getting work experience as an international student

Graduate employers value work experience, but international students need to check their entitlement to work under the UK’s points-based system.

Getting work experience in the UK will strengthen your CV and make you more attractive to employers in the UK or your home country. UK employers value different types of experience available during your studies. These include:

  • part-time work, for example in a shop or bar
  • vacation work either in the UK or your home country
  • projects with external organisations as part of your course or outside your programme of study
  • voluntary work, usually unpaid, for a charitable organisation
  • summer placements, usually degree-related and lasting two to three months
  • industrial placements, one-year long and part of an undergraduate degree

Recruitment for some work placements is nearly identical to the graduate scheme recruitment process, as employers use it to evaluate your capabilities, which may then lead to a graduate job offer. If you can't get relevant experience, or are unsure of your career direction, any workplace experience will be valuable as it can help develop skills that can be transferred to any job.

UK immigration rules and working while studying

Students come under Tier 4 of the points-based system of UK immigration. The visa in your passport or identity card will have information on your eligibility to work in the UK and companies are required to check this if they wish to employ you. It's important that you understand your permission to work during your studies and that you don't breach these conditions as it will affect your ability to secure further visas for the UK.

Students on a Tier 4 (General) student visa on a foundation degree or degree level course are entitled to:

  • Work part time for up to 20 hours per week during term time as defined by your university.
  • Work full time during vacation periods, after studies before leave expires (provided this is no longer than four months) and while you're waiting for the results of an application to extend your permission to stay in the UK if a valid application for further stay has been submitted before your current permission expires.
  • Work as a postgraduate doctor or dentist on a recognised Foundation Programme.
  • Work as a students' union sabbatical officer for up to two years.
  • Do a work placement as part of your course.

For work placements, your university must be a Highly Trusted Sponsor on the Home Office Register of Licensed Sponsors (Tier 4) (approved education providers), and the placement must not exceed 50% of the total length of the course, unless there's a legal requirement for it to do so.

You may not fill a full-time permanent vacancy and you must not be self-employed, employed as a doctor in training (except on a recognised Foundation Programme) or as a professional sportsperson, coach or entertainer.

If the course is not a foundation degree and is below degree level, different rules will apply and you should seek further information.

UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs) represents the interests of international students in the UK and has current information on work permission and also a telephone advice line. Your university will also have international student advisers giving individual advice on permission to work during studies.

Tax and National Insurance for international students

International students will pay tax on earnings above the tax-free personal allowance granted by the UK government. If you earn less than your personal allowance in a tax year, you'll be able to reclaim any tax paid.

You must also pay National Insurance, which you cannot reclaim, and you'll need to get a National Insurance Number (NINo). Find out how to apply for a National Insurance number.

Developing your skills

While doing work experience, look for ways to demonstrate the general skills that employers expect, such as:

  • commercial awareness
  • teamwork
  • communication – written and verbal
  • problem solving

Taking a proactive approach will help you make the most of your experiences. Benefits could include:

  • the opportunity to demonstrate your practical work skills as well as academic ability
  • developing your English language skills
  • working out your career preferences

Find out how to develop skills and competencies for graduates.

How to find part-time work

Visit your university careers centre for advice as soon as you arrive. Check the following resources for vacancies:

  • your careers centre's vacancy website
  • the students' union
  • your university job shop or temporary work agency
  • local businesses, which may advertise online, in local newspapers or in shop windows
  • recruitment agencies, for temporary work
  • business organisations' membership directories, for example Chambers of Commerce
  • TARGETjobs job search, which also lists internship and placement opportunities
Written by Justin Richardson, University of Liverpool, and Liz Robertson, Oxford Brookes University, 2014
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