Foreigners that wish to study in the United States of America as full-time students can do that under the two nonimmigrant visas F-1 and M-1. The F-1 visa is issued to international students who want to attend educational institutions in the U.S. It covers levels from elementary school to university and graduate school, including other degrees. If one of these institutions accepts you, then you apply for the F-1 visa.
There are some requirements that the international student must fulfill in order to be eligible for the F-1 visa as: to be enrolled in an educational institution in the US which is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, proficient in English, have sufficient funds to support himself / herself during the whole period of studies, etc.
Can International Students Work in US on an F-1 Visa?
International students are allowed to work in the U.S under the F-1 visa, however they are not permitted to work outside of the University campus during the first year. Moreover, the student is allowed to work inside the campus under some restrictions and conditions.
After completing the first year of studies, the international student that is an F-1 visa holder can work outside of the campus but the working possibilities are still restricted.
Whereas, under the M-1 visa the student is permitted to engage in practical training only after the end of their studies.
Working Under the F-1 Visa
International students who have come to the US to work under this type of visa during their first year of studies can engage to work at the campus of their university for a maximum of 20 hours per week, and 40 hours per week during the breaks.
Starting from their second year of studies, these students can engage in three types of work off-campus:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
F-1 visa holders are eligible to work at their University Campus during the first year of their studies. The US department of Homeland Security defines on-campus employment as “work that takes place on campus or at an off-campus location that is affiliated with the school.” This means that the students can find work in places inside the university campus, or other facilities that are affiliated with the educational institution they are attending which provide service to the students of the institution, as for example:
- Research assistantship, etc.
There are some conditions that an international student must fulfill in order to be able to work on-campus in the US:
- The job must not displace a US citizen,
- The Student can only work part-time (which means no more than 20 hours per week),
- The student is permitted to work full-time (40 hours per week at maximum) during school break (holidays and vacations),
- The student must report his / her work to the designated school official,
- The student must possess a certification letter to show to the Social Security Administration in order to have a Social Security Number.
You can work on-campus during your whole period of studying. However, once you graduate, you will no longer be eligible to do such work. During the whole period that you work on-campus, you will be receiving the paycheck from your university.
Before starting to work you must check if the job you wish to take is considered as on-campus, because sometimes, some type of jobs are not considered as on-campus even if they are located inside of the University facilities. If you start working one of them, even unknowingly, you will be considered as an illegal employer. You might lose a lot if you engage in such activity. To avoid such mistakes, check if the job you wish to take is considered as on-campus with an International Student Adviser.
During your first year of studies in the US as an international student, by no means you are allowed to work outside the university campus. Only after the end of the first year you are permitted to look for an off-campus job. Still, you will have to fulfil some requirements in order to be able to do so. Including:
- You should obtain an authorization / recommendation by the Designated School Official (DSO)
- You must be going under some extreme financial hardship caused by unforeseen circumstance beyond your control (like medical bills, sharp increases in the cost of tuition, loss of financial aid at no fault of your own, devaluation in the currency of your home country, etc.)
- You should be in good academic standing (determined by DSO)
- You should qualify for the job you wish to take
- You should obtain the final work permit by the USCIS
Remember that you are still not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week, at maximum. However, during school breaks you are permitted to work 40 hours per week, maximally.
The international student is not allowed to take every type of job, as at a motel, gas station, etc. Find listed below, under what opportunities a foreign student in the US can work off-campus, what are the restrictions, requirements and options.
What is the Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
The OPT is a temporary employment or training that is directly related to the major area of study of the international student who wishes to work off-campus. The main idea behind Optional Practical Training (OPT) is to give to foreign students the chance to gain practical experience by working in their field.
A student can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT. There are some requirements that an international student has to fulfill in order to be able to get an OPT authorization.
- Your job must be related to your field. For example, if you are studying journalism you can work at a radio station, but not at a retail store.
- Students enrolled at an English language program as the main course of study are not eligible for an OPT
- Must not have completed 12 months of Curricular Practical Training (explained below)
Below are the steps one needs to follow in order to be able to work off-campus in the US under an F-1 visa:
- Take the approval from your DSO
- Submit the approval to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (you will have to pay a fee for that)
- Wait until you get the employment authorization from USCIS (which can take up to 90 days)
Note: You can start working only after you receive the authorization.
Types of OPT
There are two types of OPT:
- Pre-completion OPT – which means you can work part time, while at school
- Post-completion OPT – which means you can work full time, upon your graduation for up to 12 months
It is necessary to keep in mind is that if you choose to do your OPT parallel with your studies then you are only allowed to work half time, whereas if you choose to do it upon graduation you can work full time for up to 12 months. You can choose to do only one, and not both.
However, if you split your OPT in two, which is possible, then your pre-graduation OTP reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part time for 4 months, you can work full-time for up to 10 months)
You can apply for a pre-completion OPT authorization only after you have completed one successful year of academic studies in the US. You must be enrolled in school full-time and you are permitted to work 20 hours per week while school is in session. You are still permitted to work full-time during the summer and other breaks as long as you intend to return to school after the break.
You are also permitted to work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and you are making normal progress towards the degree.
Upon graduation, your OPT work must be full time, which is 40 hours per week. The OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree, the latest. Therefore, you should submit your application for post-completion OPT at the USCIS before the completion of the degree.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
This is a practical training program, part of the curriculum of every educational institution, that aims to give to its students the real-world experience in their field of study. This can be:
- An internship,
- A cooperative education job,
- A practicum,
- Any other work experience that is required for your degree.
What differs the CPT from other international student employment opportunities, is that it can be full time, with no weekly hour limit. Also, you will not have to apply for a work permit for the CPT, which is a major advantage of it.
- Must have completed one year of academic studies
- CPT must be a part of your program of study
- You must have a job offer
Keep in mind that if you complete 12 months or more of the CPT you will not be eligible to apply for an OPT.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
Any student majoring or completing a graduate degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics is eligible to apply to extend their OPT for an additional 17 months.
In order to fully qualify for a 24 month extension you must:
- Have been granted with OPT and currently be in the valid period of OPT,
- To have graduated with a bachelor, master or doctoral degree from an educational institution certified by SEVP,
- Work for an employer that fulfills the EM OPT Employer Responsibilities.
The USCIS website gives detailed information in this regard.
Employment With an International Organization
There is also another employment opportunity that most of the international students in the US overlook. You can always find a job at a recognized international organization like the Red Cross, World Health Organization. World Trade Organization, etc. However, in order to be able to do sot you have to fulfil the following requirements:
- Have finished at least one full academic year
- Have a job / internship offer by an international organization
- The work must be in the scope of your field of study
- You must be in good academic standing
You can apply at the USCIS for an Employment Authorization Document, the issuance process of which might take up to 3 months.
If you start working at an international organization, no matter how long you work there, you will still be eligible for a 12 months post-completion OPT.
Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardship
Students who are going through economic hardship and need to work in order to make ends meet, are eligible to work outside the campus for up to 20 hours per week. During summer break and other holidays, these students are allowed to for 40 hours per week.
In order to be permitted to work under the “severe economic hardship” the student must meet the following conditions:
- Must have completed at least one year at university
- Be in good academic standing
- Show evidence of economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances
- Show proof that the on-campus employment is not available nor sufficient