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Study abroad : Career Prospects

Working and interning abroad: Know your rights

What are you entitled to when interning abroad during your studies? Find out and make sure you’re not being taken advantage of...

Intern and supervisor

Rights to a wage

An intern’s rights depend on their employment status. If an intern is classed as a worker, then they’re normally due the National Minimum Wage in that country. Internships are sometimes referred to as ‘work placements’ or ‘work experience’. These terms have no legal status on their own though. The rights they have depend on the employment status and whether they’re classed as a worker, volunteer or an employee. If an intern does regular paid work for an employer, they may qualify as an employee and be eligible for certain employment rights.


National Minimum-Wage Law

If you are performing as a worker for an organization you are entitled to be paid and there is significant legislation, most notably the minimum-wage requirement, which is in place to protect you as an individual. If you are a student and have to do a  ‘placement’ as part of your higher-education course (while studying, individuals often spend six months working for a company to learn the practical aspects of the job) or if you are a volunteer (usually for a charitable organization) your employer will not have to pay you. However, in almost all other circumstances you will be entitled to be paid.


Why are unpaid positions so popular?

There has been recent press coverage and several complaints expressed to governments over the issue of unpaid internships. Unpaid internships and work experience placements are becoming increasingly sought after, usually by students or those just leaving higher education. They have also become more acceptable and thus offered more widely by a number of organizations. One of the reasons for this has been the increasing number of people graduating from university and the ever-decreasing job opportunities due to the current economic climate. This has left students who leave university in debt having to work for long periods of time without any pay whatsoever.

Some firms are clearly taking advantage of this situation by making young people work long hours for no pay. As students often have little choice but to take these roles (in practical terms if they are to get ahead), a vicious circle has begun with certain firms now finding it far more cost efficient to simply hire free interns than give out paid work. This has led to calls for government intervention.

With the legal position being that if you do work (aside from volunteering for a charity or government institution), you are entitled to be paid, it is clear that the ever-increasing length of internships will come under more scrutiny. Whilst a number of firms have tried to get round this problem by paying travel or lunch expenses, this is still not in line with the minimum wage – technically speaking there will be a number of people in volunteer schemes across the county who are legally entitled to be paid. Whether these individuals will bring claims against firms in a time when they are desperate to impress them, remains to be seen.


When interns aren’t due the National Minimum Wage...

Student internships - Students required to complete an internship for less than one year as a part of a higher education requirement

School work experience placements - Work experience students of compulsory school age, ie: under 16

Voluntary workers - Workers aren’t entitled to the minimum wage if they’re working for a charity, voluntary organization, associated fund raising body or a statutory body.  They won’t get paid, except for limited benefits (i.e. reasonable travel or lunch expenses)

Work shadowing – Where an internship only involves shadowing an employee i.e. no work is carried out by the intern and they are only observing.


Read more:

Read our full guide to internships

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About Author

Intern and supervisor

Alyson Blech recently graduated with degrees in Public Relations and Media Studies, along with minors in Journalism and Art History from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Alyson has lived in Iowa her entire life, but decided to cross the pond to gain internship experience in London, England. In her spare time she obsesses over dogs, pizza and zumba.