Working in the USA on Student (F1) Visa

Studying In the US can be hard for many students, especially funding their education. If you are applying to study as a  fulltime student in the US, you will be required to apply for a F1 VISA. F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions.

On Campus Employment: When you come to the USA with an F-1 visa for studying, finding on-campus jobs is easier. You can start working up to 30 days before your classes begin. As an F-1 student, you’re allowed to work part-time on campus, which means you can work for up to 20 hours per week. But before you start, your school’s official who handles international students (called Designated School Official or DSO) needs to approve your job. They do this to make sure that your job doesn’t take away opportunities from American workers. So, your part-time job should be something that students at your university usually do, like working in the library or cafeteria. Jobs like janitorial work won’t qualify because they’re usually done by American workers, not students. If you have a scholarship or fellowship, you might also be able to work in a job related to your studies. And remember, during school breaks or holidays, you can work full-time.

After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

Curricular Practical Training (CPT):
CPT is a program where students can work off-campus. You can apply for either part-time (less than 20 hours) or full-time (more than 20 hours) CPT. The work you do under CPT should be directly related to what you’re studying. For example, if you’re studying education, you might need to work as a teacher at a school. This type of job would qualify for CPT. Also, the work you do must be an important part of your studies. This means it should be required for your program, or you should get course credit for it.

One good thing about CPT is that you don’t need to apply for a work permit or an EAD with USCIS like you do for OPT. But you still need approval from your school’s international student official (DSO) and their endorsement. Here are some things to remember if you’re interested in CPT:

  • You need your university’s DSO endorsement on your I-20.
  • Usually, you should have completed one year of academic studies, except for graduate students.
  • The work should be part of your study program. For example, if your program requires an internship or work-study, that qualifies for CPT.
  • You need to have a signed agreement or a letter from your employer.
  • There’s no limit on how long you can do CPT, but if you do 12 or more months of full-time CPT before you graduate, you can’t do OPT afterward. So, it’s a good idea to do part-time CPT during your studies and then OPT for 12 months after you graduate. Unlike OPT, you can’t do CPT after you graduate.

Optional Practical Training (OPT):

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.

Types of OPT

All OPT must be directly related to your major area of study. If you are an F-1 student, you may be eligible to participate in OPT in two different ways:

Pre-completion OPT: You may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after you have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. 

If you are authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT, you may work (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. You may work full time when school is not in session.

Post-completion OPT: You may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing your studies. If you are authorized for post-completion OPT, you must work part time (at least 20 hours per week) or full time.

Impact of Pre-completion OPT Employment Authorization on Requests for Post-completion OPT at the Same Education Level

If you have already received 1 year of part-time (20 hours per week) pre-completion OPT, the total time of full-time OPT still available would be reduced by 6 months, 50% of the previously authorized year at the same education level. In this scenario, you would only be entitled to a remaining period of 6 months full-time post-completion OPT employment authorization.

If you have already received 1 year of full-time (40 hours per week) pre-completion OPT, the total time of full-time optional practical training still available would be reduced by 1 year, 100% of the previously authorized year at the same education level. In this scenario, you would not be entitled to any period of post-completion OPT employment authorization.

To be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), you must meet specific criteria:

  • Your job or tasks during OPT must align with what you studied and your education level. For instance, if you’re studying engineering, you can’t work in a restaurant.
  • You need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with USCIS and get permission to work.
  • Before applying for OPT, you should have completed one year of studies.
  • Your OPT period of 12 months must be finished within 14 months of graduating.
  • If you’re applying for OPT after graduating, your application must reach USCIS within 60 days of finishing your program, which might not be the same as your graduation date.
  • You shouldn’t be enrolled in an English language program as your main course of study.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT):

Certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT).

To be eligible for the 24-month extension, you must:

  • Currently be on a valid period of post-completion OPT.
  • Hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) at the time of your STEM OPT extension application.
  • If you’re currently on a 12-month post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may still be eligible for a STEM OPT extension using a previous STEM degree from a U.S. institution. Both degrees must be from accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and you cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree. The work opportunity must also directly relate to the previously obtained STEM degree.
  • For example, if you’re currently on OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but have a previous bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree if it’s from an accredited U.S. college or university and the employment is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
  • If you earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level in the future, you may be eligible for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
  • For instance, if you initially receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in engineering and later earn a master’s degree in engineering, you can apply for another 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.
  • Work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities section.
  • Submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires and within 60 days of your designated school official (DSO) entering the OPT recommendation into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

Please ensure that you understand the working policies as a student in the USA.

We hope that this article was useful!

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