F1 Visa Work: 5 Ways to Work in the US on an F1 Student Visa
If you are planning to come to the United States to study, one concern you may have is how expensive it may be. The costs associated with studying in the US are not insignificant and can add up quickly. With international tuition, on top of travel and living expenses, you may be considering work to meet your financial needs. Although it is legal to do some types of work while in the US on an F1 visa, there are many restrictions to keep in mind, so you do not violate the terms of your visa. Below are 5 ways you can legally work in the US without violating your status.
1. On-Campus Employment
One of the most feasible options for international students to earn money is via on-campus employment. This is because it does not require the filing and approval of Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. During the semesters that school is in session, students are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week. During school breaks, such as spring break or summer break, students are allowed to work up to 40 hours a week. It’s always a good idea to check with your International Student Advisor and make sure that the job you are wanting is considered “on-campus.” Not all employment opportunities found on campus will be allowed under this authorization. For example, a construction company working on the campus may be physically on-campus, but a student does not have work authorization for that job. There are also off-campus employment options for international students, discussed below, but it should be noted that in your first academic year in the US, you are only allowed to have on-campus employment.
2. Off-Campus Employment
Before an F1 visa is approved, an international student must show their ability to afford the costs of school and living expenses in the United States and they should therefore not plan to work off-campus. However, if a student can establish that they are dealing with extreme financial hardship due to unforeseen circumstances that occurred after their enrollment, such as medical emergencies or the devaluation in currency in their home country, they may request and receive authorization to find employment off-campus. Students are required to have completed at least one academic year, be in good academic standing, and receive a work permit from USCIS before starting this type of work. Students with this type of authorization will still be limited to only 20 hours of work a week while school is in session, and they must re-apply for off-campus approval each year. Notably, this type of off-campus employment does not have to relate to the student’s academic course of study.
3. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training differs from other employment options for international students because it is not limited to 20 hours a week, but it does have to relate directly to the student’s major area of study. To be eligible for CPT, you must have already completed your first year of academic studies. However, no Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization is needed to be authorized for CPT. Curricular Practical Training is meant to provide real-world experience in a student’s area of study and allows students to find work off-campus, but it must occur before the student’s program end date on their Form I-20. If you are planning to complete Optional Practical Training, discussed below, you should be aware that one year of full-time CPT eliminates a student’s eligibility for OPT.
4. Optional Practical Training (OPT) (Pre-Completion & Post-Completion)
Optional Practical Training is another option for students looking to find off-campus work. 12 months of regular OPT is available for each higher level of study. For instance, a student who is in a bachelor’s degree program will get 12 total months of OPT. If they then decide to enter a master’s program, they will be given 12 more months. As mentioned above, a full year of CPT will eliminate a student’s availability of OPT, but only OPT at the same program level. For example, if a student did full time CPT during their bachelor’s degree program, they are no longer eligible for OPT while they continue their bachelor’s degree, even if done at a different school. However, once the student enters the master’s program (and they have not done any CPT work at this level), they are again eligible for 12 months of OPT. In contrast with CPT, an Employment Authorization Document from USCIS is required before doing any OPT work.
OPT work must be directly related to a student's field of study and there are two types: pre-completion OPT, and post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT is for students who have not graduated yet from their degree program and are looking to gain experience in their field before they join the workforce, and they can only work up to 20 hours while school is in session. Post-completion OPT refers to any portion of OPT used after the student’s program end date, and this work must be full-time.
5. OPT Extensions: STEM and Cap-Gap
Lastly, if a student has used all 12 months of allotted OPT, there are two avenues to get an extension and continue OPT work. For students who majored in designated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degrees approved by DHS, they can get a 24-month extension of OPT. For students whose prospective employers filed a qualifying H1B-cap subject petition, they can get a Cap-Gap OPT Extension. This requires that an employer timely filed a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with USCIS and requested to change the student’s status to H1B. The purpose of the Cap-Gap extension is to allow individuals to stay in the US with work authorization between April 1 and September 30 while waiting on an approved H1B.
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My name is Michael Ashoori and I'm a U.S. immigration lawyer and the founder of Ashoori Law. As an immigration lawyer, I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship in the United States. If you have any questions about work options while on an F1 visa, or any other immigration-related questions, feel free to schedule a free consultation by clicking this link.
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Michael Ashoori, Esq.
President of Ashoori Law
I’m a U.S. immigration lawyer and I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship to the United States.
Since starting my law firm, I’ve helped hundreds of people from all over the world with their immigration needs. I’m very passionate, hard-working, and committed to my clients.
Got a question? Send me an email.