Legal tips when hiring international students for peak hospitality season

A young asian woman serves in a cafe
Overseas students can be a valuable labour resource over the summer months

By Ashley Fleming, partner in the immigration team at Harper Macleod

With the summer hospitality and tourism season fast approaching, many operators in the hospitality trade will be looking for extra staff to meet increased demand. One viable solution to meet this seasonal demand is hiring international students.

These individuals bring a wealth of benefits, from diverse skill sets, including language skills and an ability to work flexibly. A good way to source candidates is to connect with local colleges and universities with international students and advertise temporary positions.

However, understanding the legal framework and right-to-work checks is crucial to ensure compliance and make the most of this valuable resource.

While the benefits of hiring international students are clear, it is essential to comply with UK immigration laws and ensure that all employees have the right to work in the UK.

Here are the steps and considerations for conducting right-to-work checks.

International students typically hold a Student Visa which comes with specific work conditions, including how many hours they are permitted to work each week. The general position for those studying at degree level or above is:

  • Term-Time Work: Students on a Student Visa can normally work up to 20 hours per week during term-time.
  • Vacation Periods: During official vacation periods, such as the summer break, students can work full-time.

Where work is permitted, understanding when ‘term-time’ starts and ends is key; students are permitted to work full-time before their course starts, during vacations or during the period they hold permission for after they have completed their course. The Home Office’s employer’s guide to right to work checks confirms that study term times may end on any day of the week and that full-time work would be permitted from the next day (for example, if the term was to end on a Friday, a student with the right to work could commence full-time work the following day, which would be the Saturday).

Furthermore, students are not permitted to fill a permanent full-time vacancy unless one of two exceptions apply. The first is where the student is switching to the Skilled Worker route. If the student has made a valid application to this route they may be able to take up permanent full-time employment up to three months prior to their course completion date.

The second exception is where the student is switching into the graduate route (which allows sponsor-free employment for a two to three-year period), they can commence full-time permanent employment where they have successfully completed their course of study and made a valid application to the graduate route.

Lastly, students are not permitted to work as entertainers, professional sportspersons (including sports coaches) and cannot be self-employed or engage in business activity.

A professional woman wearing glasses
Ashley Fleming, partner in the immigration team at Harper Macleod

As a word of caution, not all international students are entitled to work while they are in the UK as work restrictions are dictated by the type of course being undertaken. It is therefore essential that no assumptions are made when hiring international students. Carrying out a Home Office compliant right to work check prior to the commencement of employment is an essential part of the staff onboarding process.

Most students will either hold a biometric residence permit (BRP) or an eVisa. Employers can therefore use the Home Office’s online right to work check to confirm the student’s right to work. The student must provide the employer with a share code and their date of birth to access their immigration status online.

Once the employer has entered the student’s details online, an online profile should appear containing a photograph of the individual and confirmation of their right to work, including any restrictions.

The employer will need to confirm their right to work and check that the photograph on the online profile is of the individual presenting themselves for work. This check can be done in person or by video call.

After completing the online right to work check, the employer must retain a copy of the online profile confirming the individual’s right to work. The employer can retain the evidence either in hard or electronic copy, and it must be kept securely for the duration of employment and for two years afterwards. This will enable the employer to demonstrate to the Home Office, if requested, that it has carried out a right to work check and has a statutory excuse against a civil penalty for any alleged illegal working.

Lastly, students will have a time limited visa. It is therefore important for employers to note the expiry date of their permission and carry out repeat right to works checks as needed.

Hiring international students during the peak summer season can provide the UK hospitality sector with a flexible, motivated, and culturally diverse workforce.

By understanding and adhering to the legal requirements for right to work checks, employers can seamlessly integrate international students into their teams, thereby enhancing service quality and operational efficiency, whilst offering international students valuable work experience.