My wife recently got a job here, so we’ve figured out some of the steps and issues that go along with working. As with most things international, UKCOSA has a good summary of information about international students and family working in the UK.

Based on the UK student visa rules, the student can work up to 20 hours per week during term and full-time during the breaks. Some schools also limit the hours you can work further. However, I wouldn’t recommend coming expecting to do much because with a 3 year program, there’s not much extra time to do other things. Also, in one’s second and third year tutoring and lecturing options are usually available to students, which bring in extra income (though probably not much). The spouse of a student can work full-time without any restrictions. The UK is much more flexible than the US because the student and spouse are not limited to just working at the university. Most spouses that we know who have found a job, started with a temp agency and then found a permanent position through there. Others found positions related to their experience and training through various means. My wife just applied directly at a local retail store.

Once one finds a job, you have to apply for a National Insurance Number (NINO), similar to the SSN in the US, through the Department for Work and Pensions. You have to make an appointment the DWP’s Jobcentre Plus to give them your documents for them to give you a number. For Durham, the interview will take place in Newcastle. The office is about a 5 min walk from the train station. While they note a large list of items needed to verify your eligibility to work in the UK, all they asked of my wife (and others we talked to) at the meeting was her passport and a letter from her employer explaining the terms of employment. Until you get the NINO, they just take out an ’emergency’ rate of tax. Once you get the number, they’ll true up the taxes withheld. (However, the UK system is not like the IRS because you don’t true up taxes at the end of the year on April 15. What they take out is what you pay.)

Also, there is relatively recent news regarding working in the UK once you graduate. From 2006 all international students graduating from postgraduate courses taught in the UK will be able to apply to work in the UK for up to a year after graduation. These new provisions apply to students who have started their courses on or after 1 May 2006. Rather confusingly, this scheme is sometimes referred to as the “Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme” but the provision now extends to graduates of ALL postgraduate courses whether related to science and engineering or not.
For further information: Post-grads Working in the UK, Full details…