Historically, the Home Office has viewed volunteering as a form of employment, and has therefore restricted holders of particular visas from undertaking voluntary work – either altogether or by setting a limit on the amount of hours per week.
For example, most students on a Tier 4 (General) Student visa are generally allowed to undertake 20 hours of work per week, which includes any unpaid voluntary work. So if a student completed 15 hours of paid work in a week, they could only commit to voluntary work for no more than 5 hours a week. Note that voluntary work and volunteering are two different terms. If you are receiving payment ‘in kind’ i.e. receiving a benefit other than a monetary payment and have contractual obligations, then this is known as voluntary work. If these conditions do not apply, then a Tier 4 student is not restricted to a certain number of hours to volunteer.
A similar approach has been applied to Tier 2 workers wishing to undertake a second job. Generally, supplementary employment has been permitted but only for up to a maximum of 20 hours a week. The supplementary role must be in the same profession and at the same level as the main employment, or a profession that is on the Shortage Occupation List. If the role falls outside of this scope, then the additional employer must apply for permission to sponsor the migrant for this secondary employment. Tier 2 workers, however, have been allowed to carry out unpaid voluntary work without a limit on the number of hours per week, provided their sponsored role is not affected.
The rules have always been much stricter for those on visitor visas. The scope of what they can do in the UK has been limited to certain permitted activities, which do not include volunteering or internships.
Last week, the Home Office announced extraordinary changes to the immigration rules, given the current unprecedented times of the coronavirus pandemic.
If you volunteer or work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse or paramedic and you are a:
- Tier 4 Student;
- Tier 2 Worker and your NHS job is a second job;
- visiting academic researcher; or
- holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer,
then the limit on the number of weekly hours you can volunteer or work for the NHS has been removed.
These changes have clearly been made in the hope of allowing the NHS to attract more volunteers, which are urgently in demand.
The BBC have also reported that more than 5750,000 people have now signed up to be NHS volunteers. They will support 2.5 million people who are considered at risk, and in light of this, the Home Office appear therefore to be urging those migrants who meet the above criteria to volunteer also, where possible.
We are yet to see how many non-EU nationals will use this opportunity to support the NHS at this critical time and whether these changes might lead to a further relaxation of the hitherto strict policies on volunteering and secondary employment.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.
Paralegal in our Complex Case team