The Ultimate Guide to Working on an F1 Visa

The Ultimate Guide to Working on an F1 Visa

Moumita Basu

This is it. This is the place you have dreamed to be. You have the approved F1 visa in your hand and your acceptance letter from your desired college. The US is home to some of the best universities in the world. But, deciding to study in the US comes with many pressures and expectations.

As a next step, you might want to hear the sound of the dollar hitting your bank account and ride the high of what is considered the best currency in the world. But where do you begin? What are the rules of working in the US as an international student on an F1 visa? If these are the questions running through your mind, then this is the blog that you need.

On-campus opportunities with an F1 visa

There are a few ways by which international students in the US can work and earn while studying. But it comes with a catch. It is crucial that, as a student, you understand the pros and cons that it comes with.

First-year students are eligible for on-campus jobs, which include tutoring, working as a library assistant, cashier at university stores, and many other such positions. But it is crucial to keep in mind that students won't be allowed to work more than 20 hours per week when your school is in session. But international students are permitted to work 40 hours per week during session breaks.

For on-campus work, the student has to follow the below rules:

  • The F1 visa status must be valid
  • International students on an F1 visa are permitted to work 20 hours per week when school is in session
  • Full-time jobs are permitted during holidays and vacation periods provided the course in continuing
  • The employment shouldn't take the job away from a US resident

Off-campus employment with an F1 visa

While the rules for on-campus employment are reasonably straightforward, the rules for off-campus employment are a little trickier. While off-campus are not that difficult to come by, they are offered to students who have completed at least one full academic year or have an economic hardship that qualifies for the Department of Homeland Security's emergent circumstances.

The US also offers Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs for students who want to gain experience in their field of study. Let's discuss these two programs in detail below.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

International students with a valid F1 visa are eligible to work off-campus in optional practical training (OPT), both during and after their completion of the study course. All OPT employment approvals come from US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and your school's International Student Office.

Some of the requirements for OPT are:

  • The job must be related to the student's major
  • Students must have a valid F1 visa
  • Interested candidates must apply for OPT before finishing their course
  • Students who have already completed 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
  • Students are eligible to work under OPT for a maximum of 12 months

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an off-campus employment option for an F1 visa and is a vital part of the academic course. It is often described as an alternative to work/study, internship, or education; employers often sponsor it and agree with the school.

To be eligible for CPT employment:

  • You need to be enrolled full-time in school for one year on a valid F1 visa
  • CPT employment has to be relevant to your study course
  • The job offered you received must be relevant to your field of study

One of the significant differences between OPT and CPT programs is that there is no limit to how long you can work in a CPT program. If you work part-time on CPT or full-time on CPT for less than 12 months, you are still eligible for all of your allowable OPT. But, if you work full-time on CPT for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for OPT.

What are other ways an F1 student can work?

Any F1 student going through 'severe economic hardship,' as defined by the USCIS, is eligible to work off-campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full time during semester breaks.

To be eligible for severe economic hardship, a student must:

  • Have a valid F1 visa for at least one academic year, or nine months
  • Be reasonable in your studies
  • Provide evidence of economic hardship
  • Show proof that on-campus employment is not available or is insufficient

Employment with an international organization

You've learned about F1 visas, employment, and English for International Students. Now it's time to learn the final employment category for international students in the US on F1 visas; this is the "recognized international organization" category. To qualify, an organization must be on the official State Department list, and listed organizations include the Red Cross, African, Asian Development Banks, the World Health Organization, and many other similar but less well-known organizations.

It's a good alternative for many students because it does not have the universal application of OPT or CPT. Only students with a job offer and sponsorship from one of the listed organizations are eligible.

Some of the requirements to work for an international organization under an F1 visa are:

  • Applicant must have an internship with a recognized international organization
  • The employment has to be within the scope of the organization's sponsorship and relevant to the student's field of study
  • It is compulsory to have a valid F1 student visa
  • Should come from an excellent academic background

If you meet these requirements, you can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS. It usually takes three months to process an EAD, and you can start working only after that.

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