Many international students look for jobs while studying in the U.S. to support their finances. However, there are rules and regulations for international students working in the U.S. To understand them, let us first go through the three types of visas offered to international students in the U.S.:
- F-1 Visa: This is the most popular type of visa issued to students. F-1 visa holders are allowed to work part-time in the U.S. while studying. They are allowed to take part in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for 20 weeks or less. They can also take Optional Practical Training (OPT) for up to a year after completing their degree, and an extension of two years for STEM degree holders.
- J-1 Visa: This visa is for the students or scholars coming to the U.S. for research or training programs. They are allowed to work only under the terms of their exchange program.
- M-1 Visa: This visa is issued to international students who come to the U.S. for vocational studies. They are not allowed to work while studying in the U.S.
There are five categories under which an international student can work. You will need to verify which of these following five options are the most suitable for you.
1. CPT (Curricular Practical Training)
F-1 visa holders are allowed to take part in Curricular Practical Training (CPT). This can be a great option, as it allows students to explore the professional world in the U.S. in their chosen field. There are certain requirements for CPT for international students. Make sure you are well aware of them before accepting a job. While there is no limit on the time frame that you can work, if you work for 12 months or more, then you will not be eligible for OPT after completing college.
2. OPT (Optional Practical Training)
F-1 visa holders are also allowed to complete Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students can work under OPT for up to 12 months. You must have finished at least one year of your courses. While CPT needs to be completed while you are studying, OPT can be completed after the study program. Also, if you are a student of STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics, or Engineering), then your OPT can be extended up to 24 months. For OPT, you will need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) at the DHS service center.
3. International Organization Employment
Not many students are aware of the opportunity to work under the International Organization Employment program. One of the major benefits of this is that your working time is not counted towards OPT. Therefore, even if you were to work for a year under the organization, you would still be able to apply for OPT after graduating. However, there are certain rules and regulations that you must be aware of:
- The organization must be on the official State Department list
- The employment offered must be within the scope of the sponsoring department and also related to the student’s field of study
- The student must have a valid F-1 visa for at least one academic year
- You will have to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to work under the International Organization Employment program.
4. On-Campus Employment
This is one of the most popular work categories that international students can opt for. You do not need USCIS approval when working on campus. Also, you are allowed to work for up to 20 hours per week on campus while classes are in session. However, some schools might require their international students to receive permission from the school’s International Student Office.
Here are some of the facts to consider when working on-campus:
- You must maintain F-1 visa status
- You can work during holidays and breaks
- Both F-1 and J-1 visa holders are eligible for on-campus jobs
- The International Student Office might not allow first-semester students to take on-campus jobs
5. Severe Economic Hardship
Any international student who is facing severe economic hardship, as defined by the USCIS, can work off-campus. Students can work for up to 20 hours per week when classes are in session, and up to 40 hours per week during holidays and breaks.
Here are the eligibility criteria:
- Must have a valid visa
- Required to have a good academic record
- Need to provide evidence of facing severe economic hardship
- Must provide evidence that on-campus jobs are neither available nor sufficient to support finances
- Required to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
Important Tips for International Students Looking to Work in the U.S.
- Start searching for the companies that are willing to sponsor work visas.
- Make sure to explore rules, opportunities, eligibility criteria, and possible deadlines.
- Stay in contact with the International Student Office and Career Advice Center of your college to get information about any work opportunities.
- Attend career fairs and get in touch with a career coach to take advantage of suitable opportunities.
- Join student groups and forums to get updates on job openings.
- Do not wait for your study program to be over. Start searching for jobs before you graduate to make the most of the post-graduation grace period.
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