Working in the UK

A group of students, smiling and chatting, in front of South Kensington station.
If you wish to work in the UK alongside your studies, there are different rules depending on your immigration status. Many students work in local restaurants, shops and bars or as ushers, stewards and tour guides at the RCM. This is in addition to the many professional development opportunities through the RCM's Creative Careers Centre.

Before you begin any work your employer is required to check your right to work in the UK. You will need your passport and visa/biometric residence permit for this.

Working in the UK during your studies

To check whether you are eligible to work, you need to look at your visa or biometric residence permit.

Non-UK students normally require a  Student visa  and are subject to Student visa working conditions. This includes EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who arrive in the UK after 1 January 2021.

Students on Student visas for full-time courses are allowed to:

  • work up to 20 hours per week during term time,
  • work full-time during official vacation periods and during the "wrap up" period of leave following completion of their course

Student visa-holders cannot:

  • be self-employed
  • work as a professional sportsperson
  • work as an entertainer (performer)
  • engage in business activity
  • fill a full-time, permanent vacancy

Although there is a restriction on working as an entertainer, there is a special exception for students on Music degrees including performance. You are permitted to undertake performance work, provided it is organised by the sponsoring institution (the RCM) and is considered to be an integral and assessed part of your course. The RCM’s Creative Careers Centre has a number of schemes to ensure international students can gain as much professional performance as possible during their studies, including supporting composers with commission opportunities.

National Insurance

You will need to apply for a National Insurance number, which is your unique record for the UK tax and social security system. You should apply as soon as possible after you arrive in the UK if you plan to work. If you need any help with your National Insurance application, you can speak to Student Services or the Creative Careers Centre.

Applying for a National Insurance number

National Insurance payments will be deducted from your wages by your employer and shown on your payslip. If you earn above a certain amount in one tax year you will also be liable to pay Income Tax. Most employers will also deduct this at source. The UK tax year runs from 5 April – 4 April.

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who arrived before 31 December 2020

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals, and relevant family members, who established residence in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period (before 11pm on 31 December 2020) and hold Settled or Pre-Settled Status through the EU Settlement Scheme, can continue to live, work and study in the UK without needing a visa. There are no restrictions on the type of work they can undertake. 

Students on short programmes

If you are studying at the RCM on a Standard Visitor visa, for example on a short exchange or on the NAFA London Placement, you are not permitted to work in the UK.

Working in the UK after graduation 

If you hope to work in the UK after graduation you will have to obtain a new visa. A Student Visa/Tier 4 visa will expire two or four months after the end of your course, depending on the length of the course, and has restrictions on your ability to work. Obtaining a work visa will allow you to work more freely.

The information provided here is for guidance only. Visa conditions may change by the time you graduate. You are advised to check the latest information provided by UK Visas and Immigration before making any decisions. During your studies you can speak to staff at the RCM about planning for your working future.

You may find the information on working after your studies published by the UK Council for International Affairs (UKCISA) particularly helpful. 

View UKCISA's advice on working after your studies

Graduate visa

The Graduate visa enables international graduates to remain in the UK to work, or look for work, for two years. For Doctoral students, the Graduate route allows students to remain in the UK for three years.

The Graduate route is unsponsored, meaning applicants do not need a job offer to apply. There is no minimum salary requirement nor cap on numbers. Graduates on the route will be able to work flexibly, switch jobs and develop their career as required, including self-employment. There is no restriction on working as an 'entertainer' (performer).

Applicants can begin working on their Student visa while an application is being processed, but the Graduate work conditions only start when the new visa is received.

It is not permitted to study on a course that is normally sponsored in the Student route. So this visa is not suitable for graduates progressing to further study, either at the RCM or elsewhere. These graduates should apply for further leave in the Student route.

How to apply

To apply, students must have successfully completed an eligible course at a sponsoring institution with a track record of compliance. When a student successfully completes an eligible course, the RCM will report this to the Home Office via their online system. 

Courses leading to a degree qualification (BMus, MPerf, MComp, MMus, ArtDip, DMus, PhD) are confirmed as being eligible. Students who leave a course early with an early-exit qualification (e.g. CertHE, DipHE, PGCert, PGDip) are not eligible to apply and we understand that graduates of the Graduate Diploma in Vocal Performance are not currently eligible.

Applications must be made inside the UK before the student's current Tier 4 / Student visa expires. Normally students must have been studying in the UK throughout the course (other than periods of interruption or time overseas on an exchange or during the Covid-19 pandemic). We are advised that applicants will need the CAS number for their current visa to apply, so students should make sure they have this available.

Overview information about the Graduate route can be found on the UK Government website.

In addition, the Home Office has published an information booklet for graduating international students. We encourage you to read this, as it has helpful guidance on the application process.

Other work routes

Note that from 17 July 2023, Student visa holders must have completed their course of study before they can apply for a visa in the routes below (except for doctoral students who must have completed at least 24 months of their course). For this purpose the Home Office will consider a course as “completed” on the course end date stated on the CAS. BN(O) visas and applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain are exempt from this restriction.

Skilled Worker Visa (formerly Tier 2 General Visa)

To apply you need an offer of a full-time, permanent or fixed-term skilled job from an employer with a licence to sponsor migrants to work in the UK. Some of the conditions for Skilled Worker visas are made easier for recent graduates switching from Student Visas/Tier 4 visas. Students interested in this route should speak to the HR department of their prospective employer for further information, or refer to information published by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Skilled Worker visas

Temporary Work – Creative Worker

This category allows employers to bring musicians and other creative workers to the UK for temporary contracts for a period of up to 12 months, with the possibility of extending for up to a further year. This visa allows musicians to accept shorter term performance engagements or contracts, provided the employer is licenced to sponsor migrants in this category. More information is provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Creative Worker visas

Youth Mobility Scheme

This scheme currently allows nationals of the following countries to work in the UK for up to two years:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • San Marino
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan

The scheme is also open to British Nationals (Overseas), British Overseas Territories Nationals and British Overseas Citizens. However, BN(O) nationals may prefer the British Nationals (Overseas) visa route - see below. It is not possible to switch into this category in the UK, so applicants must return home to apply. There are no restrictions on performance work or self-employment on this visa. More information is provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Youth Mobility Scheme (T5) visas

Global Talent (formerly Tier 1 Exceptional Talent)

The Global Talent route permits individuals of exceptional talent, who are emerging world leaders in their field, to live and work in the UK without being linked to a specific employer. Endorsement for musicians must be obtained from the Arts Council and there are strict criteria. Only a limited number of endorsements are available per year for all areas of the arts, including music, dance, literature, film. More information is provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Global Talent visas

British National (Overseas) Visa

This visa allows nationals of Hong Kong who are BN(O) passport holders to stay in the UK for up to five years and provides a route to settlement. It can be used for both work and study.

View UKVI information on BN(O) visas

Student Services

Enquiries relating to student support at the RCM

International team

International student enquiries

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