International Student Volunteering Guidelines and Advice

International Students Volunteering Guidelines

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 the 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. 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.

To help understand the difference between Volunteering and Voluntary Work here is a useful guide.

  • If you have a Tier 4 Visa it should be ok for you to volunteer during term time but there is a limit of 20 hours per week. This limit is for 20 hours of work and includes both voluntary and paid work.
  • If you have a short-term student visa, you can volunteer but not carry out voluntary work.

Please note this is just a guide and not a complete account of the Immigration Rules. For up-to-date immigration information please see the Home Office webpage and If you work when you shouldn’t work in the UK you are in breach of a condition of you visa and are working illegally and therefore will have your visa cancelled and you could be prosecuted.

If you are an international student, it is your responsibility to ensure that you comply with the conditions of your visa at all times, including any restrictions on working in the UK. 

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