F1 visas are intended for full-time students and are not designed as work visas. You may need to seek approval from the Department of Homeland Security and the International Office at your school first because working illegally while on an F1 visa is a serious violation of the regulations and could result in deportation.
F1 visa holders are eligible for off-campus work for up to 12 months under the Optional Practical Training program. It covers; part-time work during the F-1 student’s studies, full-time work during periods of recess, or after graduation in a field related to the program of study. Some options are;
Working On-Campus with an F1 Visa
Getting an on-campus job is your best option. It is, however, only available for F-1 students during their first academic year in the U.S. With on-campus work, you have hour restrictions for the employment to avoid jeopardizing your student visa status. When the school term is in session, you can only work for 20 hours a week. During breaks, you can work full time-40 weekly hours.
Your school can have on-campus jobs that spread out past the college. Make sure you contact your school’s international office and financial aid office for any assistance in finding on-campus work in hiring departments and how the financial help can offset your financial needs.
Working off-campus with an F1 visa
Students who have completed their first academic year in the U.S. have more work options to explore. You have several off-campus employment options. They are;
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
It allows students to participate in off-campus jobs or internships as long as the role is within their field of study. To apply for OPT, you first need to get an OPT visa. You do so by asking your school to make a recommendation for the OPT in your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System record. The school endorses your I-20 and updates your SEVIS record.
After the recommendation, you must file a Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and provide documentation on your identity and program enrollment. Once the form is processed, you receive the Employment Authorization document and can begin work.
Types of OPT
The pre-completion OPT is for students who are yet to graduate from their degree program. It has limitations on work hours; 20 weekly work hours when school is in session and 40 hours when on holidays. It is an excellent opportunity to gain valuable experience before getting employed. It also gives you a feel of the working environment and boosts your chance of getting hired when you apply for a full-time job after graduating. If the OPT is paid, you can use the money for college expenses.
They are designed for students who are recent graduates of a degree program. Under it, students can remain in the U.S. for up to 12 months while undergoing Optional Practical training without getting another Visa or employment permit.
CPT for international students
Curricular Practical Training lets students participate in off-campus training/ work/ internships as required by their degree program. For example, internships are required as part of a college degree. Most CPT programs will require students to enroll in a class alongside the CPT. Consult an international academic counselor or student counselor for assistance in applying and enrolling in CPT.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) OPT
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) or Military technologies, medicine, and physical science majors have the option of extending their OPT for another 24 months to a total of 36 months. This gives them more time to get hired and recruited and possibly get an H1B visa or a green card.
For both F-1 and M-1 students, any off-campus training employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized before starting any work by the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.
Students under F-1 may also be eligible to work off-campus on a case-by-case basis due to special situations such as severe economic hardship or special student relief.
For any international student experiencing severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, you may request employment authorization to work off-campus (if you meet specific regulatory requirements).
Examples of unforeseen circumstances typically include;
- Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment (through no fault of your own);
- Substantial fluctuations in currency value or exchange rate;
- Inordinate increases in tuition or living costs;
- Unexpected changes in the financial condition of your source of support;
- Medical bills; and
- Other substantial and unexpected expenses.
Suppose you meet the criteria and wish to apply. In that case, you must submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, together with a copy of your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and any other supporting materials to USCIS.
Your Form I-20 must include the employment page completed by your Designated School Official. It certifies your eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship following unforeseen circumstances beyond your control that would require you to obtain an additional source of income.
Once approved, you may be able to work off-campus in one-year intervals up to the expected date of completion of your current course of study as directed by the school. You are eligible for off-campus employment authorization if you;
- Are the citizen of a country specified in a Federal Register notice;
- Have been lawfully present in the United States for the period indicated in the Federal Register notice;
- Have reported on time to your Designated School Official and been enrolled in a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school since the particular situation;
- Are currently maintaining F-1 status; and
- Experiencing severe economic hardship.