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As the UK Home Office intensifies efforts to identify and penalise international students violating immigration rules, it has become imperative for Nigerian students in the UK to strictly adhere to the conditions of their visas, most notably the 20-hour work limit during academic term time.

Since the start of 2023, the Home Office has ramped up its proactive operations, deliberately targeting international students found to be working in excess of 20 hours a week. There are alarming reports that students exceeding this limit are being arrested and detained.

Nigerians make up one of the largest international student communities in the UK, with a record 73 percent year-on-year increase in sponsored study visas.

In numerical terms, this meant an increase from 33,958 in the year ending June 2022 to 58,680 in the year ending June 2023. However, many of them face unique financial pressures, including an escalating cost of living in the UK and the recent devaluation of the naira, both affecting their budgetary plans.

The British Council’s data shows that the average yearly cost for an undergraduate course in the UK hovers around £22,000, with postgraduate courses slightly less expensive at around £17,000 annually. Moreover, the monthly living expenses can vary between £900 to £1,400, depending on the city in which a student resides. Despite the evident financial challenges, experts strongly emphasise compliance with visa rules, as failing to do so can lead to significant long-term ramifications.

“Adherence to visa rules is not optional but mandatory,” warns Victoria Idia, Caseworker Performance Manager at Immigration Advice Service. “A student breaching their visa conditions can face severe consequences, including the cancellation of their visa and even a ban from entering the UK in the future, in line with Part 9 of the immigration rules.”


In a recent distressing case, a student from the University of Stirling was detained at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in Scotland. He has been held for weeks without the option for bail. He reports a concerning decline in both his physical and mental health, compounded by the emotional stress of the extended detention period.

Illegal working is not merely a minor oversight but a severe violation of the UK Home Office immigration law. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the government is taking aggressive measures to enforce stricter labour and border policies.


Immigration officers are now making unscheduled visits to commercial premises such as car washes, barber shops, restaurants, and convenience stores. In one such operation that covered 159 premises, the Home Office reported the arrest of 105 individuals, a clear sign of its unwavering commitment to enforce those rules sternly.Related News

“Illegal working harms our communities, cheats honest workers out of employment and defrauds the public purse as no taxes are paid. As the Prime Minister has set out, we are committed to tackling the abuse of our laws and borders,” said the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, following the arrests in June.


Given the recent happenings, it’s critical for Nigerian students in the UK to be keenly aware of the complex web of work-related rules. Navigating these rules successfully is not just about adhering to a weekly work limit; it’s also about understanding the types of work allowed and the documentation required. Furthermore, students must also take note of university-specific guidelines and restrictions, as some institutions may have more rigid policies than the Home Office itself.

During official vacation periods, the rules are somewhat relaxed, allowing students to work full-time. However, this is contingent upon the term and vacation dates that apply to specific courses and levels of study, which can differ for master’s and postgraduate research students.

Students should also be mindful of the paperwork required. Employers are obliged to provide formal documents like a ‘contract of employment’ or a ‘worker’s agreement.’ Freelancing activities, like private tutoring or consultancy work, are considered self-employment and, therefore, are strictly not permitted for a foreign student under Home Office rules.

Idia elaborates on the limitations students face in balancing work and study. “A student visa allows for a maximum of 20 hours of work per week during term-time,” she says. “This is a hard limit and can’t be averaged over a longer period. It’s crucial that students understand this to avoid unintentional violations.”


While rules relax during official vacation periods, allowing students to work full-time, these regulations differ depending on the course and level of study. Idia advises caution: “Given the investment in obtaining and maintaining a student visa, it would be a waste to jeopardise one’s degree and face deportation.”

Ignorance will not be an acceptable defence for violating visa conditions. Students are advised to consult with relevant authority in their school or immigration and legal experts if they are unsure about any aspects of their visa rules. Given the high stakes, understanding and adhering to the Home Office’s guidelines isn’t just a legal necessity; it’s also a prudent step towards securing their academic and future aspirations.


Akinfenwa writes for the Immigration Advice Service, a UK law firm specialising in immigration and asylum law.

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