US EMPLOYMENT RULES FOR STUDENT (F1 VISA)
F1 (Academic Studies) students are allowed to work in the United States, but only under certain conditions and in accordance with guidelines and restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
Student must seek guidance and clearance from International Student Office prior to applying for or accepting any employment and should request their particular interpretation of any ambiguous situation. Student will also need the guidance of school to ensure that you file all appropriate forms with USCIS and receive any necessary USCIS approval.
There are several categories of employment during the term of your stay as an F1 student in the United States. On-campus employment is the most freely available, and then there are four categories of off-campus employment:
- On-Campus Employment
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Curricular-Practical Training (CPT)
- Economic Hardship
- International Institutions
- On Campus Employment: On-campus employment is the category most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations, and it does not require USCIS approval. In the USA, the only work available to international students during their first year of undergraduate studies is working within the university. There are many different jobs offered on campus, from working in the writing center, as a teaching assistant, in the cafeteria, to computer centers. Another on-campus option is working for a students’ union. This is a good opportunity to get involved in current issues and to help other students at the university.
Student can work up to 20 hours per week while school in session and can work full-time during holidays and vacations periods if student intend to register for the next academic semester.
- 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 USCIS govern the implementation of OPT, and all OPT employment requires prior authorization from USCIS and school’s International Student Office. Many schools in the US offer work and study programs that coordinate immediate employment through CPT programs.
Student can apply for OPT after being enrolled for at least 9 months, but cannot begin employment until they receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and they have been enrolled for at least a year. Student do not need to have a job offer to apply for your OPT EAD, and their OPT employment can occur anywhere in the US. USCIS takes up to 90 days to process the application and they make sure that student will work closely with school’s International Student Office.
General OPT Requirements:
- Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
- Student must maintain lawful F1 status
- Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
- Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
- 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)
OPT before completing a degree:
- Students must be enrolled in school full-time
- Students may only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
- Students may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as the student will return to school after the break)
- Student may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree
OPT after completing a degree:
- After completion of your degree, OPT work must be full time (40 hours/week)
- All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree
- Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS before the completion of the degree.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): CPTis an off-campus employment option for F1 students when the practical training is an integral part of the established curriculum or academic program. CPT employment is defined as “alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.” Many schools in the US offer work and study programs that coordinate immediate employment through CPT programs.
To qualify, the work experience must be required for your degree, or academic credit must award. And yes, you can get paid for CPT employment. Prior authorization by your school’s International Student Office and notification to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is required.
Once student receive CPT authorization, they can only work for the specific employer and for the specific dates authorized. CPT authorization will also specify whether student are approved for part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) CPT employment. While in school, student can only be approved for part-time CPT. Regardless of whether the approval for full or part-time on CPT, there is no limit to how long student can work. However, if they work full-time on CPT for 12 months or more, they are not eligible for OPT. If they work part-time on CPT, or full-time on CPT for less than 12 months, they are still eligible for all of your allowable OPT.
To be eligible for CPT employment:
- Student 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)
- The CPT employment must be an integral part of the degree program or requirement for a course for which academic credit will be received.
- Student must have a job offer before submitting CPT authorization request
- Job offer must be compatible with major or field of study
d. Severe Economic Hardship: Any F1 student suffering “severe economic hardship” as defined by USCIS is eligible to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and full-time during breaks.
Student must apply for an “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD) with the help and guidance of International Student Office. Student do not need a job offer before apply for the EAD, but several forms and documents are required, together with fees and photos, etc., and processing can take up to 12 weeks or longer and cannot start work until student receive the EAD. Once student receive the EAD, they may work for an employer at any job, anywhere in the United States. Employment authorization is automatically terminated when a student fails to maintain valid F1 status.
To be eligible under “severe economic hardship”, a student must:
- Be in valid F1 status for at least one academic year (9 months)
- Be in good academic standing
- Provide evidence of economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control
- Show that on-campus employment is neither available nor sufficient
- Make a good faith effort to locate employment on campus before applying
The rule gives examples of the types of things that could be considered “severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control.” These circumstances may include:
- loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student
- substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate
- inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs
- unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support
- Medical bills or other substantial and unexpected expenses.
e. 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 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:
- 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.
- The student must have been in valid F1 status for at least one full academic year.
- The student must be in good academic standing.
If student meet these requirements, they can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). And, can start to work only after receiving the EAD, which can take up to 3 months.
Advantages of this type of employment when compared to CPT or OPT:
- Employment does not have to be for-credit nor required for degree program.
- Regardless of how much or how long student work, this type of employment will not take away from 12-month post-completion OPT.