Can international students be self-employed?

The simple answer to this question is no, unfortunately this is not an option open to international students studying in the UK on Tier 4 visa’s. An international student can get involved with internships, placements (as long as they are part of their degree programme), work experience, part-time jobs, work shadowing and volunteering.

Freelancing or working for yourself is not an option but it can be confusing when you look at job descriptions what is self employed and what isn’t. I was approached recently by an employer who regularly “hires” international students on a freelancing basis. In reality the employer is not hiring anyone they are engaging with the student for their services. The employer does not pay your tax, pension or National Insurance and this is classed as being self-employed/freelancing.

It can be a very serious matter if you are found to be working for yourself in the UK on a Tier 4 visa. If you are in the UK on a visa you must be fully aware of what the restrictions on your visa are as well as what you can do whilst you are here studying. Which lets be honest is quite a lot. So don’t be caught out if you have a question about a role and are not sure if it is suitable for you to apply then consult with your careers service and they will let you know. In addition if you have any questions about Tier 1, 2 or 5 visas consult the UKCISA website which is designed for international students


For the Tier 4 guidance and what the UKBA consider self employment you can look at their website

and see the excerpt below:

Self-employment and engaging in business activity

  1. You cannot be self-employed or engage in business activity. Everyone in the UK undertaking self-employed work must be registered with HMRC; you must check HMRC guidance to see if you need to be registered as self-employed.
  2. You will be considered to be engaging in business activity where you are working for a business in a capacity other than an employee in which you have a financial or other significant beneficial interest.
  3. This would include the following:
  • setting up a business as a sole trader or under a partnership arrangement and that business is either trading or establishing a trading presence;
  • being employed by a company in which you hold shares of 10% or more (including where the shares are held in a trust for you); or
  • working for a company where you also hold a statutory role, such as a director.
  1. You are permitted to be self- employed when you have made an application for leave to remain as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) Migrant and are you are yet to receive a decision on that application. This provides an additional period for preparation and development work before you make the switch to the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route and establish your business in earnest. Everyone in the UK undertaking self-employed work must be registered with HMRC.

One response to “Can international students be self-employed?”

  1. The UKCISA website now also has a detailed blog post that looks at how self-employment and various money-making activities fit (or more often do not fit) into the Tier 4 working conditions. See the link.

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