What kind of work can you do?

Last modified: 15 April 2019

If you are allowed to work, you can do most kinds of work. Find out more about how many hours you can work.

There are some kinds of work you must not do:

  • self-employment and business activity
  • work as a professional sportsperson including as a sports coach
  • entertainer
  • a permanent full-time job
  • doctor or dentist in training, unless you are on the foundation programme.​

Our blog "A working definition" looks at many specific types of work opportunity, and whether the Tier 4 work restriction allows you to do them.

Self-employment and business activity

Last modified: 11 August 2017

Under Tier 4 you cannot be self-employed, which is defined in the Immigration Rules:

“'Self-Employed' means an applicant is registered as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs, or is employed by a company of which the applicant is a controlling shareholder”. 

The Government has more detailed information about self-employment. It explains when you are likely to be self-employed even if you have not yet told HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), for example, running your own business and selling goods and services for profit, including online and through apps.

You can check with HMRC whether your proposed work would be self-employment by contacting them or by using their information and self-assessment tools

You must not "engage in business activity" if you applied for your Tier 4 immigration permission on or after 6 April 2016. The Tier 4 policy guidance provides examples of what this means. For example, if you are not an employee, you must not work for a business in which you have a financial or other significant beneficial interest.

Your employer  might suggest that you work for them on a 'self-employed', 'consultancy', 'contractor' or 'freelance' basis so that your employer does not have to do so much paperwork. You must not agree to this as you might end up breaching your work condition. We have more information about employers' duties in Employer obligations.

For further discussion about whether specific types of work opportunity are self-employment or a business activity, see our June 2017 student blog "A working definition".

Professional sportsperson

Last modified: 15 April 2019

Under Tier 4, you cannot work as a professional sportsperson including as a sports coach.

The definition of who is a 'professional sportsperson' was amended on 30 March 2019, but affects you even if you applied for or were granted your Tier 4 immigration permission before that date. The definition in the Tier 4 policy guidance is not up to date because the guidance has not been amended since January 2019.

It means that if you fall into one or more of the groups below, you are restricted to playing or coaching as an “Amateur” in a charity event. "Amateur" means a person who engages in sport solely for personal enjoyment and who is not seeking to derive a living from it, which includes payments made in kind.

1. You are currently providing services as a sportsperson, or playing or coaching in any capacity, at a professional or semi-professional level of sport 
2. You are currently receiving, or in the previous four years have received, payment (including payment in kind) for playing or coaching. The payment also covers, or covered, all or most of your costs for travelling to, and living in, the UK 
3. You are currently, or in the previous four years have been, registered to a professional or semi-professional sports team
4. You have represented your nation, national team, state or regional team within the previous two years
6. You have an established international reputation in your chosen field of sport
7. You engage an agent or representative, with the aim of finding opportunities as a sportsperson, and/or developing a current or future career as a sportsperson, or you have engaged such an agent in the last 12 months

If you do not fall into one of the groups above, you may undertake paid or unpaid sporting activities, including work placements which are an assessed part of your course.

If you are not sure whether you are permitted to undertake sporting activities, check with the sporting organisation concerned and/or your education provider. British Universities & Colleges Sport and a number of other organisations have raised concerns with the Home Office about this very restrictive definition, its retrospective application, and its impact on the courses and activities you may undertake.

There are alternative immigration categories which permit you to work as a sportsperson and to study. For example, under Tier 2 or Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) or UK Ancestry.


Last modified: 24 January 2019

You must not be employed or self-employed as an entertainer, although there is an exception if you are studying a music, dance or drama degree course - see Studying music, dance or drama at degree-level.

An ‘entertainer’ is not defined in the Immigration Rules. The Home Office's Business Help desk has stated (in an email dated 3 September 2015) that "We take it to mean, however, taking part in entertainment in any way other than as an amateur, as defined in paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules". 

 'Amateur' is defined as "a person who engages in a sport or creative activity solely for personal enjoyment and who is not seeking to derive a living from the activity".

Creative activities include music, dance, art and drama. 


Studying music, dance or drama at degree-level

Last modified: 24 January 2019

The Tier 4 policy guidance states that, if you are studying music, dance or drama at degree level, you are allowed to undertake a work placement that involves professional performance. This is an exception to the general prohibition on work as an entertainer. The work placement must be arranged by your college or university and it must be an assessed part of your course. 

Employer is outside the UK

Last modified: 13 November 2015
If your employer is outside the UK, your hours of work undertaken in the UK still count towards your limit of 10 or 20 hours a week in term time.  You should also check with HMRC whether you are required to pay National Insurance contributions in the UK.

Volunteering and unpaid employment

Last modified: 05 April 2017

You might want to be a volunteer.

There is a difference between unpaid employment (voluntary work) and volunteering, and you should always check with the organisation which offers you a volunteering opportunity whether it can be regarded as unpaid employment. This is because time you spend doing unpaid employment counts towards your maximum number of hours of work a week.

Students with a work prohibition must be particularly careful not to undertake work that could be regarded as unpaid employment. This includes Tier 4 (General) students sponsored by a private institution, an independent school or by a publicly-funded further education college and short-term students. Taking unpaid employment would be a breach of your work prohibition and is treated very seriously by the Home Office - your immigration permission will be curtailed (cut short), you could be removed from the UK and you will have difficulties returning. If in doubt, do not undertake the work.

The Tier 4 policy guidance confirms that Tier 4 students can volunteer and explains how the Home Office differentiates between 'voluntary work' and 'volunteering'. For example volunteers do not have a contract and are not paid, though reasonable travel and living costs can be reimbursed. Volunteers usually help a charity, voluntary organisation or public sector organisation.

Although Tier 4 students may not work as an entertainer or as a professional sportsperson (including sports coach), it can be possible to undertake such activities as a volunteer. You must be doing it as an 'amateur' if it is not an assessed part of your degree course - see Professional sportspersonEntertainer and Studying music or dance at degree-level.

There are many ways of finding volunteering opportunities, and your Tier 4 sponsor can probably help. Here are some links to get you started:

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (England)

Volunteer Scotland

Volunteering Wales

Volunteer Now (Northern Ireland)