Employment Options for Students on an F-1 Visa

If you are an international student in the United States, you have the opportunity of working either full time or part time. It is important to remember, however, that your work options are limited by certain rules because of your visa status. You must remain aware of all the regulations regarding your visa before you can start working.

The F-1 student visa status allows the following categories of employment:

  • On-campus employment: International students can work on campus (for example: in the university center, or as a teaching or research assistant) for up to 20 hours per week during the academic term, and full time during academic breaks including summertime, as long as they are carrying a full course load during the school year. Once you complete your courses, you are no longer eligible to work on campus without special approval.
  • Off-campus employment: Off-campus employment requires written or documented authorization issued by either U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the university.
    • To be eligible for off-campus employment, you must be enrolled as an F-1 student for a minimum of one academic year. Employment, whether on or off campus, is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session but can be full time during vacations or breaks.
  • Curricular practical training (CPT): CPT is off-campus employment or an internship related to your major. You must be registered for a class that will give you credit for successfully completing the training or internship. CPT is limited to part-time hours while classes are in session, but may be full time during breaks. Authorization for CPT is granted by your university’s Office for International Students and Scholars and can take about two weeks. No fee is required.
  • Optional practical training (OPT): OPT is employment or training directly related to your field of study. Through OPT, international students can obtain actual work experience in the U.S. after either:
    • completing their studies (this is known as post-completion OPT), or
    • completing one full academic year (this is known as pre-completion OPT).

With F-1 status, you are allowed 12 months of full-time OPT. USCIS, which grants the authorization to work, can take up to 90 days to process an OPT application. You cannot begin working until authorization has been granted.

  • OPT STEM extension: Recipients of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in certain government-designated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields may be eligible for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility period of up to 36 months). Be sure to research the OPT STEM extension requirements set by USCIS.
  • Employment because of economic hardship: F-1 students are eligible to apply for off-campus work because of economic hardship caused by conditions that were not anticipated. Applications for this work authorization must be submitted to USCIS. Once their applications are approved, students must find long-term employment on campus. USCIS grants authorization in the form of an EAD card that takes approximately 90 days to process and requires a fee; the card is good for one year.
    However, now that regulation 8 CFR 103.2(b)(8) is being interpreted differently (as of September 11, 2018), you may need to use extra caution when applying for an economic hardship work authorization. For F-1 visa holders who plan to apply for work authorization based on economic hardship, be sure to gather all the necessary information and documents upon filing, as you may have limited chances to provide supplemental documents after the initial application. This is key to avoiding a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny.