Students' union sabbatical officers

Last modified: 14 June 2022

We have written this brief guide to help international students and recently elected students' union sabbatical officers who are subject to immigration control understand the immigration requirements they need to meet in order to start and carry out their work.

On 5 October 2020, the term 'Student permission' replaced 'Tier 4 (General) student leave'. The term 'Student' includes both students who apply for immigration permission on or after 5 October and holders of Tier 4 (General) student immigration permission.

The Great British Mag has a good explanation of what UK students' unions do and how they and their International Student Officers can help you. Throughout this guide we include guilds and associations when we use the term "students' union". 

We also aim to provide information for students' unions to help them advise their new sabbatical officers on immigration matters and to work together with a student's sponsor. All parties need to work together closely and it is helpful if student sponsors and students' unions have a standing arrangement as to how they will support international students who win elections, even if that has not yet happened in their institution.

We have divided the guide into two main sections but all information is of relevance to everyone involved with the process and it helps to have an idea of the requirements each person or organisation has to meet. Student sponsors can find information about sponsoring Students' Union sabbatical officers in our Immigration manual for UKCISA members.

We are grateful to the following individuals and organisations for their help in compiling this information: Nick Entwhistle and Daniel Stevens of the NUS; Claire O'Leary of the University of Warwick; Jo Holliday of the University of Sheffield Students' Union; Ruth Newman of Kent Union and Tony Williams of the University of Kent; Neil Gaskin and Abbie Lacey of Swansea University.

Information for students and recent graduates

Last modified: 08 March 2021

Students' union sabbatical officers are paid, elected executive union positions. The term "sabbatical officer" also includes those elected to posts with the National Union of Students (NUS). These posts are usually full time.

You might be considering standing for election as a students' union sabbatical officer, or you might have already been elected. You can do this work either by taking a break from your studies or in the academic year after your course has ended. The post is usually for one year, but can be shorter. In many cases, you will be able to stand for re-election for a second year, but this depends on the rules of your students' union. If you want to know what the work involves, ask staff who work in the students' union at the college or university where you are studying or check their website.

European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals and their family members who have, or who are eligible for, permission under the EU settlement scheme (usually because they were in the UK before 31 December 2020) should see our information about their work rights.

The students' union is required by law to check that you have immigration permission that allows you to do the work and to take a copy of evidence of this, usually your current passport, your current biometric residence permit (BRP) or immigration status document or your digital status.

Sabbatical officers and Student permission

Last modified: 24 May 2021

Students and recent graduates who have Student (including Tier 4) immigration permission which allows them to work can undertake a full-time sabbatical officer post. You can do the post part way through your course or in the academic year after you finish it.  You can also do other work while you are a sabbatical officer, within the usual student work restrictions - see document 2 of the sponsor guidance.

You might also be able to do the sabbatical officer post on a part-time basis, but you must not work more hours than are allowed by your current Student permission, usually 20 hours a week in total, and you must also continue studying full time.

For information about which students are permitted to work in the UK, see Who can work and working hours.

From 1 July 2021, it is possible to undertake a sabbatical officer role with Graduate permission, if you have completed your course and meet all other requirements of the Graduate route - see Graduate route ("post-study work"). This is an alternative route to applying as a Student, which will still be an option.

Who needs to make a Student application

Your student sponsor's duties

Your current source of finance

Finance for your Student application

English language

Where to apply, length of permission and your endorsement

Study during your sabbatical officer work

When can sabbatical officers start work?

Last modified: 08 March 2021

You do not need to make an immigration application before starting work if your immigration permission allows you to work full time and either

  • covers the whole of your period of work as a sabbatical officer, or
  • expires before the end of your post if you know that you will be able to apply to extend your permission in this category.

This permission can be one of many different immigration categories, including as a dependant, Graduate, UK ancestry, and Youth Mobility. It does not include Tier 2 or Skilled Worker because this permission 'ties' you to the employer who issued your certificate of sponsorship (CoS).

Your current permission allows work as a sabbatical officer

Your current permission does not allow work as a sabbatical officer

Your application is rejected or refused, or you have no immigration permission

Options when a sabbatical officer post ends

Last modified: 05 July 2021

Your options when your sabbatical officer post ends depend on whether you need to complete your course, and whether you want to undertake further study or find work in the UK or elsewhere.

Finish your course

Take a new course

Work options

Information for students' unions

Last modified: 14 June 2022

International students are increasingly interested in standing for election as sabbatical officers, so it is important to be familiar with the legal requirements for working with those who are subject to immigration control. The NUS has produced a guide to the employment status of sabbatical officers that is of relevance to all officers.

Please consider becoming a UKCISA member. UKCISA membership is free for Student Unions and you will have access to a wide range of resources and sources of help. We are very keen to support, and learn from, you in your work with international students - for details, see Membership.

Checking permission to work

Sabbatical officers and Student permission

Evidence of Student permission

Work closely with the Student sponsor

Sabbatical officers with other types of permission