F1 Visa Work Options – Working While Studying

International students are allowed to work in the U.S under the F-1 visa

Many Foreigners wish to study in the United States of America as full-time students, and they can achieve their goals under the two nonimmigrant visas F-1 and M-1. The F-1 visa can be obtained by international students who want to attend educational institutions in the U.S. The visa can cover levels from elementary school to university and graduate school, including other degrees. If you fit in one of the opportunities mentioned above, then you can apply for the F-1 visa.

The international students must fulfill some requirements in order to be eligible for the F-1 visa, such as: to be enrolled in an educational institution in the US which is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, proficient in English, have sufficient funds to support himself/herself during the period of studies, etc.

Can International Students Work in the US on an F-1 Visa?

International students are allowed to get a legal job in the U.S under the F-1 visa, but they are not allowed to work outside of the University campus during the first year. Furthermore, if the student wants to work inside the campus, they must know the restrictions and conditions.

After the students complete the first year of studies, the F-1 visa is allowing the student to work outside of the campus but the working possibilities are still restricted.

When it comes to 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

The International students, who have traveled to the US in order to work under this type of visa during their first year of studies, can engage to work only at the campus or their university for a maximum of 20 hours per week, and during breaks, they can work up to 40 hours per week.

After they successfully finish the first year of their studies, they can engage in three types of work off-campus:

  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)

On-Campus Employment

As we mentioned above, the 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 students can find work in places inside the university campus, or any other facilities that are affiliated with the educational institution which will provide a service to the students of the institution, such as:

  • Cafeteria,
  • Dormitory,
  • Research assistantship,
  • Bookstore,
  • Library, etc.

In order for the student on the F-1 visa to work on-campus, they must fulfill some conditions such as:

  • 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,
  • The job must not displace a US citizen,
  • The Student can work part-time (which means no more than 20 hours per week),

You will be able to work on-campus during the whole period of studying. However, after graduation, you will not be able to continue your work on-campus. You will receive a paycheck from your university during your whole period that you work on campus.

Be aware, before you try to work, you should check if the job in question is considered to be an on-campus job, just because some type of jobs are not considered as on-campus even if they are located inside of the University facilities. You will be considered an illegal employee even if you work there unknowingly and you might lose a lot. It is best if you check before you take the job with an International Student Advisor to avoid such mistakes.

Off-Campus Employment

It is important to know that by no means, you are allowed to work outside the university campus during the first year of studies. Only after you finish the first year, you are permitted to look for an off-campus job opportunity. However, you still have to fulfill some requirements in order to be able to do so. Such as:

  • The job must not displace a US citizen,
  • The Student can only work part-time (which means no more than 20 hours per week),
  • You should obtain an authorization/recommendation by the Designated School Official (DSO)
  • You must be going under some extreme financial hardship caused by an 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 must know that you are still not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week, at maximum. As we mentioned during breaks, you will be allowed to work 40 hours per week.

It is important to know that the student cannot get any job they like, at a gas station, at a motel, etc. In the following article, we will mention under what opportunities a foreign student in the US can work off-campus, what are the requirements and options as well as what are the restrictions.

What is the Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

The OPT is temporary employment or training that is directly related to the major area of study of the specific international student who wants to start working off-campus. The main idea behind the Optional Practical Training (OPT) is to give the foreign students to gain some practical experience working in their field.

Any student can apply and receive up to 12 months of OPT.  In order to get an OPT authorization, the international student must fulfill some requirements such as:

  • Students enrolled in 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)
  • 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.

Furthermore, we will point out the steps you need 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 cannot start working until you receive the authorization.

Types of OPT

Generally, 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 important to know that if you choose to do your OPT parallel with your studies, you will be allowed to work only half time, however, if you choose to do it after your graduation, you can work full time up to 12 months. You can only choose one of the procedures above.

Pre-completion OPT

Every student can apply from a pre-completion OPT authorization only after they have completed one successful year of academic studies in the US. It is necessary for you to be enrolled in school full-time and you are permitted to work only 20 hours per week while school is in session. During the summer and any other break, you will be able to work full-time as long as you intend to return to school after the break.

Post-completion OPT

Since you graduated, your OPT work must be full time, which is 40 hours per week. You will have 12 months after completion of your degree to complete the OPT. In this case, 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 partial training program, which is part of the curriculum of every educational institution, which tries to give the students real-world experience in their field of study. Such as:

  • A cooperative education job,
  • A practicum,
  • An internship,
  • Any other work experience that is required for your degree.

The CPT is full time with no weekly hourly limit which separates the CPT from the other international student employment opportunities. Furthermore, you must apply for a work permit for the CPT, which is a major advantage of it.

Following are the requirements for CPT:
  • Must have completed one year of academic studies
  • CPT must be a part of your program of study
  • You must have a job offer

It is important to know that if you complete 12 months or more of the CPT, you will not be able to apply for an OPT.

An extension to the OPT for an additional 12 months can be granted for students that are majoring or completing a graduate degree in technology, science, engineering or mathematics.

If you want to get the 24-month extension, you must:

  • 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;
  • Have been granted OPT and currently be in the valid period of OPT.

Employment with an International Organization

Many of the international students in the U.S often overlook one employment opportunity. You will always be able to find a job at any recognized international organizations such as the World Health Organization, Red Cross, World Trade Organization, etc.

However, you must fulfill some requirements in order to be able to apply for this job opportunity such as:

  • Have finished at least one full academic year
  • Have a job/internship offer by an international organization
  • You must be in good academic standing
  • The work must be in the scope of your field of study

The application process starts by applying at the USCIS for an Employment Authorization Document, be aware that it might take up to 3 months.

It is important to know that no matter how long you work at an international organization, in the end, you will still be eligible for 12 months post-completion OPT.

Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardship

Only students that experienced some economic hardships and it is hard for them to make ends meet are allowed to work outside the campus for up to 20 hours per week. Same as any other students, during the breaks they can work up to 40 hours per week.

Every student must follow some conditions in order to be permitted to work under the “severe economic hardship”, such as:

  • Show evidence of economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances
  • Show proof that on-campus employment is not available nor sufficient
  • Must have completed at least one year at university
  • Be in good academic standing