The Secret to Working Beyond the 20 Hours Per Week Work Limit

NB: Please refer to the comments section and visit Mwalimu and the Mwalimu Blog for more information on this topic.

After brilliant guest posts from Acolyte and Seinlife that touch on this subject, I felt that this post was in order. After all, it’s something that almost every international student must encounter at some point.

Deportation tool: Aeroplane 1

In the USA and in Australia, when you come over as a student, your student visa and work permit only allow you to work 20 hours every week during the school semester. In Australia, once the holidays are in effect, you can work as much as you want. I don’t know what the case is during holiday time in the US (leave a comment if you know), and I don’t know what the situation is in the UK in general – perhaps, sci-culturist, you can help me out with this one.

Now with that being the case, I know that a lot of you will immigrate and proceed to work way more than 20 hours during the school term. In truth there is no complex secret or rocket science should that be your choice. There are basically two things that you should keep in mind, should you choose to do this:

1) It is NOT the Most Important Thing

Whether or not you violate this rule isn’t the most important thing: how you are performing at school IS. From the stories I have heard, people who are caught for “over-working” aren’t usually initially investigated on account of their occupational habits. The investigation usually begins because:

a) The student is falling behind on attending lectures and tutorials.

b) Their grades are slipping.

Detention facility

As they investigate this, if they find out that you have been substituting the books for nursing and handyman gloves, it’s back on the boat with you. I know many people who came here on student visas and violated the 20 hour work limit week after week after week but were never caught because they were also model students.

If you are an A+ (well it’s High Distinction, but you get the point) student who attends all classes, lectures and tutorials, the chances of you being caught out for working a couple extra hours a week goes down dramatically.

That having been said though, don’t forget:

2) You’re Violating the Rules

If you get caught, there will be consequences. You might be detained and deportation is a definite possibility. Therefore, should you chose to constantly violate this rule BE CAREFUL. I know, this second secret fits in the d’uh category, but it needs to be said. BE CAREFUL. What this means is:

a) At the risk of being redundant to the nth power: Let NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING get in the way of your education. It’s the main reason you are here. Not the good life. Not the prayer conferences. Not to work (at least not yet). You came here on a student visa and as far as the nation of Australia knows that’s the only reason you’re here. Don’t give them any reason to bring this into question (refer to tip number one)

Someone against deportation

b) This one falls under the “I heard it through the grapevine which isn’t always accurate category”: Don’t go blabbing about your student visa situation to all and sundry. Keep it to yourself as much as you can and only share it with people you trust. There is a hotline where immigrants get reported for violating any Australian rules and laws, and apparently there are monetary reward for doing so. So don’t tempt those who may be aware of this and going through a stretch of poverty.

Be aware that should your employer be aware of the situation, they may want to take advantage, so make sure you trust your employer. Also, don’t tell your employer about it and then go and annoy him somehow.

In short, keep your head down and your nose as clean as you can.

And that’s it. I know, no mind-blowing, over the top secrets! But these secrets WILL get you from student visa to permanent residence or back home with an unblemished record. And both are much better than the fate that has befallen those who didn’t heed the above words.

For other secrets to thriving while living in the diaspora make sure you stay in the loop through Real Simple Syndication or regular inbox updates.

Keep your nose clean my friend,


  • By mwalimu, May 14, 2008 @ 3:25 am

    In US,
    Generally students are not allowed to without ISO authorization. It is increasingly becoming impossible to work anyway, since employers are being required to report the status of their employees. Never attempt this in the US. In fact, right now, with the immigration crack downs, even if you are not a student, you are having a death wish if you work
    -Never go out there with an intention to violate the rules
    The little joy you get is not worth the possible many years of pain if found out or if you get out of status

    -Canada is generally allowing students to work full time (soon)
    -see Canada Makes Life Better for International Students

    -ca is now the friendliest place for students.
    -there have been some changes of late, but they are also tightening the rules.

  • By Mwangi, May 14, 2008 @ 3:29 am

    @mwalimu: Thanks for that :) I will update the blog post and make sure everyone reads your comment. Thanks for sending me the link as well.

  • By majonzi, May 14, 2008 @ 6:29 am

    gr8 post as per kawa.

    On working in the US. Student are allowed to work 20hrs on campus, and during school breaks they can up these to 40hours. Of course, campus jobs are limiting and low in pay.

    There is a way out. I think I wrote about this in another of your posts. After your first year, you are eligible for a work permit. This permit allows you to work off campus during the school year for 20hr and 40hrs off campus. This helps a lot. I know it is very tempting for students to work outside so that they can live the life. But as you have said in your post, it is not important.

    There are other ways to fund your education. Scholarships are in abundance, especially for minority students. Talk to your financial aid office to find which ones are open to who. And there are some great scholarship sites.. will require work, but are worth is… granted my freedom from financial stress in college.

    Another way to make money and “pimp” your cv is getting involved in student led university organizations where for some you get a stipend. And any leadership role in college is an almost sure guarantee to scholarships!

    Try it… it worked for me :)

  • By Mwangi, May 14, 2008 @ 6:35 am

    @majonzi: Thank you for making the job of writing this blog so much easier. The information you have given is worth at least a couple of posts so I hope anyone reading this comments section takes advantage of all the free tips you have provided. Why don’t you update your blog anymore?

  • By mwalimu, May 14, 2008 @ 6:55 am

    A student is never allowed to work off campus without USCIS authorization ( via I-765 filing, which can take upto 6 months ). If this worked for you, please do not generalize. Provide such advice with caution, seeing especially that most students from E.A already have an inflated and unrealistic picture of US study opportunities.

    Scholarships plenteous: please be cautious again. while individual cases vary, it is never generally true that scholarships/FinAid is easily available to international students. There are many factors, e.g. graduate students on STEM are more likely to land scholarships/FinAid compared to UGrad students in the non-STEM areas.

    If it was easy sailing as you suggest, we would not be having such great # of students having problems with graduating/being out of status( i do not think it is just a matter of them being sidetracked)

  • By Mwangi, May 14, 2008 @ 9:18 am

    @mwalimu: Go easy, I am sure majonzi gave the tips in good faith so please offer criticism in the same spirit.

  • By acolyte, May 14, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    I’d tell you the other methods Kenyans out here use to work outside uni lakini sitaki makarao wa huku waanze kunitafuta so hiyo stori sitoboi, pole :(

  • By majonzi, May 14, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    @mwalimu, It’s not a generalization. I worked on campus at the International Student Office and saw this happen, not just to me, but to many students. I suppose when I said that students are eligible for a work permit, I should have mentioned that they need to apply for it from USCIS. It is called an economic hardship work permit. Basically, all one has to do is show that their financial situation has change since their one year of being in college. The reasons can be anything from loss of a job from parents, other siblings joining college, reduced hours or none at all on a campus job etc. I would advice folks to refrain from lying about death of parents, as USCIS (formerly INS) will ask for proof.

  • By majonzi, May 14, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

    @Mwangi.. maze things are thick.

  • By Mwangi, May 14, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

    @aco: Don’t worry….such is the nature of the immigrant community sometimes…..

  • By majonzi, May 14, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

    just remembered another thing about the economic hardship work permit… a fluctuating economy in your home country. More: if your grandparents are sick and your parents/sponsors are footing the bill. In fact, wacha I look for evidence to support my comments.

  • By Mwangi, May 14, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

    @mwalimu and majonzi: I think the most important thing is that majonzi has expanded people’s sense of possibility by showing there are way more possibilities than one might be inclined to believe.
    In my experience, we as African immigrants have this sad habit of grossly underestimating how much opportunity is all around us.

    With that having been said, I would love to hear success stories or any practical stories ala majonzi’s comments from other folk? Aco, surely there must be some tips that are on the up and up?

  • By Mwangi, May 14, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

    @majonzi: The investigation is much appreciated so thanks in advance

  • By majonzi, May 14, 2008 @ 2:25 pm

    Hi, this is Mwangi. For some reason majonzi was unable to post the links below and so I will cut and paste what she emailed to me, enjoy: . HIAS is an immigration agency.. historically began working with the Jews, but is now representative of all immigrants– the oldest immigration agency in the US. (

  • By mwalimu, May 15, 2008 @ 12:56 am

    Now that is better when you explain the circumstances, otherwise, your initial post would create a wrong impression, which we ALL agree, is at the root of most of the problems immigrants from kenya face: not being armed with enough correct information.

    @mwangi; i am not beating on majonzi. Just proding for more accurate information, which he has provided.

  • By mwalimu, May 15, 2008 @ 1:01 am

    Another Note on the document which is quited dated:
    Since 2007, some field offices have not generally been agreeable in providing the interim EAD (i will check whether it has been pulled out altogether), so anyone thinking along these lines should plan for the possible 6 months time.

  • By Mwangi, May 15, 2008 @ 5:04 am

    @mwalimu and majonzi: Thank you both for making this comment section infinitely more useful than the post itself….much appreciated.

  • By majonzi, May 15, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

    @Mwalimu thanks for checking out on what the latest is. You are right, it is only ethical that we arm folks with full disclosure.

  • By Mo Ma, May 16, 2008 @ 12:22 am

    In Malaysia, you’re technically allowed to work 20 hours a week; you just have to visit the International Office at your campus and they’ll do the paperwork to allow you to do so. I do know a few international classmates that work though and the rules are not really enforced AFAIK. Anyway, don’t pin much (or any) hope on getting a job if you’re African; the locals barely tolerate us (for the most part) and you’ll bluntly be told ‘Only Malaysians hired’ just to go there the next week and see some non-black foreigner working there.

  • By Mwangi, May 16, 2008 @ 12:25 am

    @Mo Ma: Why people from the Asian continent, Indians included, look at us with such contempt when we are so similar, widespread poverty for one thing, I will never understand.

  • By acolyte, May 16, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

    @ Mwangi
    Part of contempt of asians to black folk is rooted in their religion. They even look down on dark skinned Indians. It’s a deeply rooted problem among them I tell you! As for the sino Asians they hate everyone who is not from their country, white folk too!

  • By Mwangi, May 16, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

    @Acolyte: I didn’t know it was a religious thing with them…..hmmm…I knew about the caste system but I didn’t think people were classified purely on complexion, that is very tragic. I remember when I read “God of Small Things” I got really miffed when I read a page where one of the characters was insulting dark skinned Africans.
    As for the sino Asians, why can’t they be like the Africans who sometimes even like foreigners more than they like their own…we should give them some lessons ;)

  • By @ryan, September 11, 2008 @ 7:29 pm

    well…that’s not exactly true, not all asian people hate foreigners, it depends on the person so we can’t tell that all asian people hate foreigners, as far as i know asians are the most friendliest people in this world,you myt know if you have visited these asian countries like bangladesh,malaysia,sri lanka….other than people in europe,africa…etc, but also there are few who pretend like they hate foreigners…and reasons for these are mainly because they are not fluent in english,and of course in india there are cast ,religion etc etc things but they don’t hate foreigners….

  • By Mwangi, September 12, 2008 @ 5:00 am

    @ryan: You are right, it isn’t ALL Asian people and it was wrong to make such a blanket statement. The problem does exist but it isn’t everyone who has this problem. Thanks for stopping by tDA.

  • By faran, September 8, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

    In Australia, if a student work more than permitted, is it possible for immigration to understand that by checking the annual income and tax paid? I want to know if I work more, but take all your above advices, how much is it possible to get caught?

  • By Mwangi, July 11, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

    @faran: Though I in no way condone it, people rarely get caught unless it is reported. The ATO has bigger fish to fry

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment