Thousands of students from all over the world join US Universities every year. Some international students pursue short term exchange programs, and others their complete degree program. International students seeking a whole degree in the US must obtain an F1 student visa. The student visa allows international students to work on-campus, off-campus, in paid positions, and unpaid positions. Of course, there are many details students must follow to comply with USCIS regulations. This article covers a list of employment programs for international students in the US.
Pre-completion F1 Student Visa Work: Employment during your studies
International students incur significant expenses during their studies. Sometimes those expenses are a lot greater than national student expenses due to out-of-state tuition costs. But there is good news for international students! You can work and cover part of your costs while completing your degree, as early as the first semester. Generally, you have two options: on-campus and off-campus work.
Most universities in the US offer paid employment opportunities to students. The positions vary, sometimes they are looking for help in the library, in a reception, or need a lifeguard. As an international student, you will be able to apply for on-campus employment. You can start a position as early as your first semester.
In some cases, on-campus job postings are funded by the government or the state and are meant to be only for residents. If that is the case, you won’t be considered for those positions. Ask the international office at your college to get advice on job eligibility.
As an international student, you can pursue any on-campus position that will hire you. The job does not have to be related to your degree. So, feel free to explore different employment options, maybe you want to learn more about research or perhaps improve your interpersonal skills. Even though your on-campus job might not relate to your degree, you can gain valuable experience from it.
Maximum Weekly Hours
- 20 hours a week during the semester
- 20+ hours a week during breaks or summer
Off-campus Employment: CPT
The F1 student visa also allows you to work off-campus. However, there is some paperwork you must complete beforehand and several rules regarding the type of work. The Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program allows international students to work off-campus. International students can participate in the CPT program after they completed their first academic year.
To partake in the CPT program, you must first get a job. The job can be a paid internship, an unpaid internship, a coop, or any other educational work experience. Also, the line of work must be directly related to your major (universities are rigorous in this matter).
Once you have an offer, you must complete related paperwork with the international office at your university before you start working. You can never begin working off-campus without getting approved. More information about CPT employment and salary parameters here:
Maximum Weekly Hours
Similarly to on-campus employment, you must always comply with the maximum weekly work hour limit. Students can work part-time during the semester and full-time during breaks. The rules of employment are strict because the F1 visa is a student visa, and international students must focus on their studies.
- 20 hours a week (part-time) during the semester
- 20+ hours a week (full-time) during breaks or summer
Post-Completion F1 Student Visa Work
Once you graduate from university, you might pursue another degree or maybe work. If you are interested in working in the US after your studies, you should consider these post-completion employment programs: the Optional Practice Training (OPT) and the OPT STEM extension. Both of these programs are part of the F1 visa. When international students pursue these programs, they are still F1 visa holders, and they must maintain F1 status.
The US also issues work visas, which of course, you could apply for if you have an employer that can sponsor you. But applying for a work visa is a whole other topic. Work visas require you to change status. On the contrary, both, the OPT and OPT STEM extension do not require a new visa.
After completion of their program, international students can participate in the OPT program. The OPT allows students to work for up to 12 months in the US without any additional work permits (other than the OPT application/permit). The OPT program is a unique opportunity that can allow you to gain practical experience right after graduation.
International students must find qualified employment on their own. The job must strictly relate to their field of study. Also, the student can hold multiple positions during the OPT period. There is no maximum number of work hour restrictions, but there is a minimum weekly limit. Any week that the student works less than 20 hours per week, counts towards an unemployment day count. Students are only allowed a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. However, the rules of what counts towards employment are relatively lenient. The student can participate in paid or unpaid work, volunteering, and even self-employment.
OPT STEM Extension
The OPT STEM Extension program is a continuation of the OPT. When you graduate from a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field, you are eligible for this extension. The OPT STEM Extension allows students to work for an extra 24-months (after the 12-month OPT) in the US. Again, you must follow the related paperwork and comply with several regulations.
The link below has a full list of majors that qualify for the STEM extension. This list might change through the years as there is more need for other professions.
“If you are an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a previous STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.” [USCIS, 1]
Some rules for OPT STEM Extension employment are more strict than for OPT employment. For example, the OPT STEM Extension does not allow volunteer or unpaid work. Also, self-employment is not valid.
CPT and OPT Limitations
Generally, there is no limit on how many days or months you participate in part-time or full-time CPT employment. However, if a student completes 12 months or more of full-time CPT work during their studies, they will be ineligible for the OPT program. Part-time CPT employment does not count towards the 12-month limit. It is difficult to reach the 12-month limit in 2 year or 4 year program, but if your degree takes longer than that, you might hit the 12-month limit and be ineligible for the OPT program.
I hope you found this article informative. Luckily, several programs allow F1 student visa work during and after a degree. When the time comes to apply for employment, make sure to be in contact with the international office at your university. They will guide you through the process and make sure you complete the CPT or OPT permits accurately and promptly.