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Tier 4

The main intention of the Tier 4 (General) visa is to allow International students to study in the UK on a full time basis.  This visa also permits individuals studying at Queen Mary to work in the UK, subject to certain restrictions.  The majority of our students will be able to work up to a maximum of 20 hours per week during term times. 

The Home Office defines a week as “a period of 7 days beginning with a Monday” and does not differentiate between paid and unpaid work. 

Outside of term time working hours are not restricted, however postgraduate degrees do not benefit from having the same vacation periods as undergraduate degrees. The below table explains the maximum permissible hours that students can undertake each week depending on their level of study: 

Type of student 

Teaching blocks

Christmas/Easter vacation

Summer vacations

(foundation degree or degree)

Legally 20 hours per week



Taught Postgraduate
(includes taught MA/MSc)

Legally 20 hours per week


Legally 20 hours per week

Research Postgraduate (includes research MA/MSc, MLitt, MPhil, PhD)

Legally 20 hours per week

Legally 20 hours per week

Legally 20 hours per week

International Foundation
Programme or pre-sessional course

Legally 10 hours per week



It is essential that you check the number of hours a student is allowed to work when you undertake a right to work check. 

Before Employment Commences – Right to Work Checks

Before you employ a student on a Tier 4 Visa, you must make sure that you understand any visa restrictions the student may have, and confirm that dates of the planned employment do not exceed the end date of the student visa.  You must take a copy of the documents confirming their right to work in the UK in the presence of the student.  This copy should state the following: “I certify that the date on which this right to work check was made was [insert date]”.  All checks must be dated and contain the name of the person checking the document.  The student must also complete a Student Declaration form. 

Monitoring Student Hours

It is essential that Queen Mary monitors the hours worked by all Tier 4 visa holders.  There are serious consequences for employing a student beyond their Tier 4 restrictions. Queen Mary is obligated to report any breach to UK Visas & Immigration, including overworking or engaging in types of work that are not allowed.

Students are also responsible for recording their weekly hours and ensuring they are keeping to the conditions of their stay.

If you wish to employ a student, you should speak with your local HR contact prior to their employment.  HR will issue contracts of employment for staff holding a Tier 4 student visa.

Before Work Commences

You must ensure that the hours a student works each week do not exceed the permitted maximum. Before a student commences any work for you at Queen Mary, you will need to confirm that they are eligible to work that week.  HR maintain a record of the hours of all of the Tier 4 students we employ.  If you wish to employ a specific student, you need to email to request permission for the intended hours.  They will only be allowed to work those hours if they are not booked to do any other work that week.  

Research Students

All full-time research students are limited to no more than 20 hours paid employment per week. As Postgraduate students do not generally have the same official vacation periods as undergraduate students, they must adhere to the 20 hours per week rule until the official end date of their course. For PhD students, the end of their course means after submission of final thesis corrections. 

PhD Students

The following rules will apply to all Tier 4 PhD students who wish to work at the end of their course:

  • Queen Mary considers the period between submission of thesis for examination and official notification of viva outcome to be a 'vacation' period. During this period it is possible to work full time, we require confirmation of submission together with a letter from your supervisor.
  • find work with a Tier 2 employer,
  • set up as an entrepreneur,
  • or to gain practical work experience in their field.
  • The period between official notification of the viva outcome and unconditional approval of degree, which includes time working on corrections if applicable, is considered a return to full-time study. During this revision period, a student can only work up to 20 hours a week in accordance with the restrictions of their Tier 4 visa.

Please note that extensions to the deadline for submitting corrections on the grounds of employment would not be approved.

All students can work full-time hours for the final four months left on their visa but only after their official course end date.  

PhD students are entitled to a total of 8 weeks’ vacation per academic year. They can work full-time only during these 8 weeks of vacation. Any vacation periods must be agreed in writing with their supervisor and School before a PhD student can work full-time. 

The student may also work full-time from their thesis submission until the day before their VIVA, and again after they have submitted their final corrected thesis and their corrections approved. PhD students are still restricted to 20-hours-a-week during the writing up period and from the day of their VIVA until they submit their corrected thesis in full.

Doctorate Extension Scheme

The Doctorate Extension Scheme (DES) is available to Tier 4 students completing a doctorate e.g. PhD, EngD, within the UK. The scheme is designed to help this group of student to: 

The application can only be made from within the UK, it cannot be an Entry Clearance application. To be able to apply under this scheme:

  • You must have current Tier 4 leave to study a PhD or other doctorate level degree at an HEI in the UK;
  • You must not have completed your course before 6 April 2013;
  • You must not have already been granted leave under the DES;
  • You must be following a course leading to the award of a PhD;
  • You must a current student at the University of Warwick and
  • You must be applying a maximum of 60 days before the expected end date of a course leading to the award of a PhD 

Holders of this visa are able to work full time, the visa is valid for one year and cannot be extended.  However, holders can transfer from this route to a Tier 2 while in the UK.

Voluntary Work

Students can do both volunteer and do voluntary work in the UK. However, voluntary work contributes to their work allowance on Tier 4.  If a student does any hours for you, you will need permission as you would if they were doing paid work.

If a student “volunteers” to work additional work or hours beyond their contract, this is not volunteering but unpaid work. This puts the employer and student at risk of a breach in the immigration rules as unpaid work falls within the 20 hours limit.

You should be aware of the difference between volunteering and voluntary work. 

  • Voluntary workers:
    • often have a contract with their employer e.g. you must attend at particular times and carry out specific tasks;
    • voluntary workers are usually paid in some way
  • Volunteers:
    • do not have a contract of employment;
    • must not take the place of an employee;
    • must not receive payment in kind but reimbursement for reasonable travel and subsistence expenses is allowed;
    • usually help a charity or voluntary or public sector organisation. 

Further Information

More information regarding International Students can be found on the Academic Registry and Council Secretariat and the Advice and Counselling Service webpages.

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