Employment guide for international students in the USA

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Employment guide for international students in the USA


When studying in the USA there is a great opportunity for students to gain work experience. Being an international student in the USA you have the opportunity to work part time while you are studying. When you are a student in the USA you will most likely have an F-1 visa.

If you are an international student in the USA you are allowed to work but there are certain conditions, guidelines, and restrictions by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).  You must follow these terms and restriction of the F-1 visa.

There are different categories in which you could work in the USA under the F-1 visa.

  • On-Campus Employment
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Economic Hardship
  • International Institutions

For more information on all types of employment click here.

On-Campus Employment


Working on campus is one of the easiest available options permitted by the USCIS regulations. Most of the times these jobs will not be related to your studies. Also you should not rely on these jobs to provide the funds for you schooling. These jobs will give you great experience and some extra money for when you are living abroad. Many schools will want you to get permission from the International Student Office before accepting an on campus job. On campus employment may not be given in the student’s first semester of the year.

To work on campus with the F-1 visa you must follow these rules:

  1. Must have a valid F-1 status
  2. Work up to 20 hours a week during the school year
  3. You can work full time during holidays/vacation periods only if you will register for the next school semester
  4. The employment may not displace (take a job away from) a U.S. resident

You will need to seek guidance from you school to make sure that you fill out all the appropriate forms with the USCIS and receive and necessary approval from the USCIS. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

An international student with a valid F-1 status can work off campus during and after completion of their degree. This is called an Optical Practical Training (OPT).  You will require authorization from the USCIS and the school’s international Student Office before you are allowed to work off campus in OPT.

You can apply for the OPT after you have been in school for at least 9 months. You cannot begin working until you have your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS. You do not need to have a job offer before you apply for the OPT EAD. The OPT can occur anywhere in the USA. You will want to start early if you want to apply for the OPT. ‘USCIS takes up to 90 days to process your application’. Work with your school’s International Student office, they are there to help you! The OPT permission is based off of maintaining the F-1 status, work with your Student Office to make sure you are maintaining your status properly.

General OPT Requirements:

  1. Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
  2. Student must maintain lawful F-1 status
  3. Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
  4. Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
  5. OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total – part-time OPT (while still in school) reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part time for 6 months, you can work full-time for up to 9 months)

OPT before completing a degree:

  • Students must be enrolled in school full-time
  • Students may only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
  • Students may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as the student will return to school after the break)
  • Student may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree

OPT after completing a degree:

  • After completion of your degree, OPT work must be full time (40 hours/week)
  • All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree
  • Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS before the completion of the degree

NOTE: if you leave the country after you complete your degree but you have not received your EAD and obtaining a job, you will NOT be readmitted in the country. You can leave the country if you have you EAD and a job after you have graduated. But make sure that you have all the necessary documents with you when you decide to return.

You will need:

  • valid passport
  • valid EAD card
  • valid F1 visa
  • all your I-20s with page 3 endorsed for travel by your international student advisor within the past 6 months
  • letter of employment, including dates of employment and salary

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is when a F-1 student works off campus because it is a requirement for their curriculum/ academic program. CPT is an  “alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.” 

To qualify, the work experience must be required in your degree. You can get paid for this CPT employment. Again you will need authorization from your school’s International Student office and notification to the USCIS is also required. Once you receive your CPT authorization you can only work for a specific employer and specific dates. The CPT authorization will also say whether or not you are approved for part time (20 hours per week or less) or full time (more than 20 hours per week.) While in school you can only work part time.

To be eligible for CPT employment:

  1. must have been enrolled in school full-time for one year on valid F-1 status (except for graduate students where the program requires immediate CPT)
  2. The CPT employment must be an integral part of your degree program or requirement for a course for which you receive academic credit
  3. You must have received a job offer that qualifies before you submit your CPT authorization request
  4. Your job offer must be in your major or field of study

Information via InternationalStudent.com

Whether you are approved for full time or part time on the CPT there is no limit to how long you are allowed to work. But if you work on the CPT for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for the OPT. If you are working part time on CPT or full time but less that 12 months, you are still able to apply for OPT. Make sure you are really keeping track of how long you are working for.

Severe Economic Hardship

If you are a F-1 student suffering “severe economic hardship” (defined by USCIS) is eligible to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while they are in school. They can also work during the breaks. You must apply for an EAD to be eligible. Your International Student Offices will help and guide you through this process. You will need to provide several documents and forms when you apply for EAD. Processing time can take up to 12 weeks or longer. Remember you must maintain your F-1 status employment authorization or you will automatically terminated!

You may work at any job, with any employer anywhere in the USA.

To be eligible under “severe economic hardship”, a student must:

  1. Be in valid F-1 status for at least one academic year (9 months)
  2. Be in good academic standing
  3. Provide evidence of economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control
  4. Show that on-campus employment is neither available nor sufficient
  5. Make a good faith effort to locate employment on campus before applying

Below are some examples of “severe economic hardship”:

  • loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student
  • substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate
  • inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs
  • unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support
  • medical bills or other substantial and unexpected expenses.

Employment with an International Organization

The last category is employment with a recognized International Organization. To qualify for this type of employment it needs to be on the official State Department list.

Some examples;

  • Red Cross
  • African and Asian Development Banks
  • the World Health Organization
  • the World Trade Organization
  • and many other similar organizations

NOTE: Only students with a job offer and sponsorship from one of the listed organizations are eligible for this type of placement.

Requirements to work for an international organization:

  1. The student must have an internship/employment with a “recognized international organization.” Click here to see a recent listing of all “recognized international organizations.”
  2. The employment must be within the scope of the organization’s sponsorship, and within the student’s field of study.
  3. The student must have been in valid F-1 status for at least one full academic year.
  4. The student must be in good academic standing.

If all these requirements are met, you will need to apply for you EAD, just like the other work programs.

Information via InternationalStudent.com. 


On Campus Employment

International students are legally able to work on campus part-time, which is considered 20 hours a week or less. These programs allow students to begin working during their first semester enrolled in classes.

Off Campus Employment

The majority of Work Study CPT programs offer employment or paid internships off campus. Students are able to work a minimum of 40 hours a week.

To learn more click HERE.


Are you interested in studying in the USA? Get started with your application TODAY by going to www.applyboard.com! ApplyBoard is here to help students from all over the world apply to schools in Canada or the USA!

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