Working while in F-1 status
Once a person is initially admitted to the U.S. in F-1 status, he may work on-campus only. During the school year, an F-1 student is allowed to work up to 20 hours per week on-campus. He or she may work 20 hours or more per week when school is not in session (e.g. spring break, Christmas vacation, etc.) On-campus employment is no longer permitted after the student has completed his or her degree program.
A student in good standing, who has been enrolled on a full-time basis for one academic year, may ask permission from the Designated School Official (DSO) to work off-campus under certain conditions.
- Severe economic hardship: An F-1 student who qualifies based on economic hardship can work up to 20 hours per week when school is in session and 20 or more hours per week when school is not in session. An application for this type of employment authorization should be discussed with the DSO and must be filed with the USCIS. In certain circumstances, a fee waiver for the employment authorization application may be granted by the USCIS.
- Internship with an international organization: The F-1 student must obtain an internship offer with an approved international organization. A list of approved organizations is available here. After discussing the internship opportunity with his or her DSO, the student must apply to the USCIS for employment authorization.
- Special student relief: An F-1 student from a DHS-designated country that is currently experiencing an emergency may be eligible for off-campus work authorization and course load reduction. As of December 2012, these benefits are available to eligible students holding Haitian, Syrian or Libyan citizenship. Students who received funding from Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines who have held F-1 status continuously since June 24, 1998 may also be eligible. In certain circumstances, a fee waiver for the employment authorization application may be granted by the USCIS.
Please note that the employment in these circumstances does not need to relate to the F-1 student's program of study.
A student in F-1 status who has been enrolled as a full-time student for one academic year may apply for practical training as long as it is directly related to the student's course of study, and its purpose is for practical training, and the training is not for English language proficiency.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is typically in the form of work/study, internships, cooperative education, etc. A job offer and DSO authorization are necessary to pursue CPT. CPT may be available to graduate students as early as their first academic term, depending on the school's curriculum and requirements.
Applications for CPT are submitted to and approved by the DSO. The authorization will be reflected on page three of the F-1 students Form I-20. Although completion of a year of full-time CPT disqualifies the student from Optional Practical Training (OPT), part-time CPT does not affect OPT eligibility.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available to F-1 students during their studies ("pre-completion OPT") or after completing their degree program ("post-completion OPT"). A total of 12 months of full-time OPT is available to F-1 students for each progressive degree level. Applications for OPT must be discussed with the DSO and filed with the USCIS. An EAD will be issued by the USCIS for the requested period of work authorization.
Students in F-1 status who elect to use pre-completion OPT will be limited to part-time employment authorization (no more than 20 hours per week) while classes are in session. Students may apply for full-time pre-completion OPT for periods when school is not in session. A separate application must be made to USCIS for each requested period of pre-completion OPT.
Any time used for pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the student's post-completion OPT period. If an F-1 student has received part-time pre-completion OPT authorization, then that time is deducted at a half-time rate from the post-completion OPT period.
USCIS will accept applications for post-completion OPT from eligible students in F-1 status as early as 90 days prior to the student's degree completion date but no later than the 60th day after degree completion. The student's degree completion date will be listed on his or her I-20 and does not necessarily correspond with the date of his or her graduation ceremony.
It is not necessary to have a job offer at the time of filing an OPT application. However, it is important to remember that F-1 students may not accrue more than 90 total days of unemployment during their post-completion OPT period. Any time a student spends jobhunting after his or her degree completion date is counted toward the 90 days of unemployment.
A student in F-1 status may avoid accruing unemployment by working at least 20 total hours per week, regardless of the number of employers, or by volunteering at least 20 hours per week, so long as this work does not violate labor laws.
Students who have completed a degree in certain science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields may be eligible an additional 17 months of OPT. For more information, see OPT extension for STEM degree students.