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Work while studying in the USA 

US Employment Rules for F1 Students

 

Most international students in the United States hold an F1 visa, which allows them to work in the United States, but only under certain conditions and in accordance with complex guidelines and restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). There are several categories of employment available to international students which are: 

 

1. On-Campus Employment

 

On-campus employment is the category most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations, and it does not require USCIS approval. Most international students are able to work up to 20 hours per week on-campus while school is in session. You should seek guidance and approval from your school's International Student Office prior to accepting employment.

During extended holidays, breaks and summer sessions, you can work full time (up to 40 hours per week).

 

The definition of on-campus employment includes:

  • Work performed on the school's premises directly for your school, including work affiliated with a grant or assistantship.

  • Work performed for on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria.

  • Work performed at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school. The educational affiliation must be associated with the school's established curriculum or related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level. In any event, the employment must be an integral part of the student's educational program.

Since your status is always contingent on your school's support, you must seek guidance and clearance from your International Student Office prior to applying for or accepting any employment. 

 

2. Optional Practical Training (OPT)

 

International students in the U.S. in valid F1 immigration status are permitted to work off-campus in optional practical training (OPT) status both during and after completion of their degree. Rules established by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) govern the implementation of OPT, and all OPT employment requires prior authorization from USCIS and from your school’s International Student Office.

You can apply for OPT after being enrolled for at least 9 months, but you cannot begin employment until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS, and you have been enrolled for at least a year. 

General OPT Requirements:

  1. Employment must be "directly related" to the student's major

  2. Student must maintain lawful F1 status

  3. Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree

  4. Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT

  5. OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total – part-time OPT (while still in school) reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part time for 6 months, you can work full-time for up to 9 months)

 

;2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

If you've been enrolled at a college or university in the US on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year, you may be eligible to apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT is an integral part of your major curriculum and allows you to participate in an internship, practicum, or cooperative education program off-campus. You must receive course credit for your work and the CPT must be completed before you graduate. Prior authorization by your school’s International Student Office and notification to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is required.

To be eligible for CPT employment:

  1. You must have been enrolled in school full-time for one year on valid F1 status (except for graduate students where the program requires immediate CPT)

  2. The CPT employment must be an integral part of your degree program or requirement for a course for which you receive academic credit

  3. You must have received a job offer that qualifies before you submit your CPT authorization request

  4. Your job offer must be in your major or field of study

Your International Student Office must authorize you for CPT. Your CPT authorization will specify the terms of your employment. 

Employment with an International Organization

 

The final category of employment for international students in the U.S. on F1 visas is employment with a "recognized international organization." To qualify, an organization must be on the official State Department list, and listed organizations include the Red Cross, African and Asian Development Banks, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and many other similar but less well-known organizations. Because it does not have the universal application of OPT or CPT, this category of employment is often overlooked. Only students with a job offer and sponsorship from one of the listed organizations are eligible. However, for those lucky students who do have such sponsorship, there are clear benefits of this employment category.

Requirements to work for an international organization:

  1. The student must have an internship/employment with a “recognized international organization.” The employment must be within the scope of the organization’s sponsorship, and within the student’s field of study.

  2. The student must have been in valid F1 status for at least one full academic year.

  3. The student must be in good academic standing.

 

If you meet these requirements, you can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). You can start to work only after you receive your EAD, which can take up to 3 months.