This article also appeared in Daily Business under the title employing-students-is-a-learning-exercise

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”
Polonius, Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius may have provided Laertes with financial and other advice before Laertes left to study abroad, but he made no mention of finding temporary work while he was away – something many of his 21st Century counterparts might find a necessity while studying in the UK.

With the end of the academic year now upon us, international students and employers alike may wish to remind themselves of what the rules are for that.

In May the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released its long-awaited report on international migration into the UK for the year ending December 2022. It found that overall net migration amounted to 606,000 people, an increase of 164,000 on the previous year’s figure, and significantly higher than the ‘target’ of 100,000 people that the current government has previously advocated.

The ONS attributed this to a number of factors: an increase in the number of visas for skilled workers; the special visa schemes for people from Ukraine and Hong Kong; and a significant increase in the number of students coming to the UK post-pandemic.

There has been considerable discussion over the years about whether students should be counted within the UK figures. The UN definition of “international migrants” specifically includes students and so not including them in the net migration figure would arguably give a misleading impression of the overall position. However, including them within any target for net migration is a purely political decision. Before rushing to judgment on this it is worth noting that a separate report, also published in May, by consultancy firm London Economics International LLC, estimated that for 2021/22 international students made an overall contribution of £41.9 billion to the UK economy.

Subject to some restrictions most international students should be able to undertake paid work unless their visas are endorsed “no work allowed” or “work prohibited”. During term time they may not work more than 20 hours per week, (a week deemed Monday to Sunday by the Home Office) or a lower number if specified.

Students can, however, work full-time before their course commences or during vacations provided it’s not a full-time permanent post – that would require them to switch to the Skilled Worker or Graduate routes. They can also work full-time once they have completed their studies but before their leave to remain expires.

There are some specified jobs they cannot do, (such as working as a professional sportsperson or coach), but unlike the Skilled Worker visa there are fewer restrictions on the work they can undertake, and there are no minimum salary levels or ‘going rates’ that employers must meet under immigration law.

As ever employers should ensure they carry out the right to work checks before employing an international student. If they have an eVisa or a Biometric Residence Permit these may be endorsed to show that the student has a right to work and may specify any restrictions (e.g. whether limited to 20 hours per week or less). However, following on from last year’s rule changes, employers cannot simply rely on that information and are now required to conduct a check using the Home Office’s online checking service.

In addition, to ensure that neither they nor the student is in breach of the particular immigration rules applicable to students, employers would also need to obtain information about academic term times and vacations, either direct from the education provider or indirectly if the student provides an e-mail or letter from them, and they should keep copies of all such relevant documents.

It’s possible that in future the government might look to place new restrictions on international students, either by capping their numbers or further limiting their right to work but should perhaps consider that £41.9 billion annual contribution to the economy before doing so. In the meantime, these students are potentially a useful source of temporary labour for employers – especially if the Skilled Worker route isn’t an option and vacancies can’t otherwise be filled.