All you need to know about the International Student Work Visa in USA
After long and rigorous research on your side, you’ve decided that you want to move in the US and become a full-time student. You’ve arranged almost everything: your papers, your accommodation, your curriculum; however you still need to consider extra funding for your student experience.
You start searching for suitable opportunities, which won’t interfere with your lectures and you learn very quickly that you need a certain kind of visa that allows you to work as an international student. Although the process is pretty straight forward, it is still a bureaucratic process and may contain some irregularities.
So here we will try to present the information in a more condensed and clear manner; however, we still recommend you to thoroughly check the available information on the internet, including contacting the respective institutions.
In this case, the most important one is your university’s international student office. You may also find some useful links in the end of this article. So, what do you need in order for you to work as an international student?
There are two options for non-immigrant student work visa in USA
They are commonly referred to as the F-1 and M-1 type.
The typical international student employment visa is F-1. It offers unique benefits that allow international students to pursue internships and full-time employment in the U.S.
The F-1 visa is for full-time student at an academic institution of any kind (college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, language training program etc.).
In order to be eligible, you need to cover these criteria:
- You must be already enrolled as a full-time student in the respective institution.
Your school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
You must speak English fluently or be enrolled in a certified English course.
You must have sufficient funds available to you for at least 1 year. This is required as you may apply for work after being enrolled for such a period.
You or your family must maintain a residence abroad, which you have no intention of giving up.
F-1 students are allowed to work in the United States, but only under the strict conditions and guidelines issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
There are several available categories of employment for international students:
- On-Campus Employment (OCE)
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Economic Hardship
- Work for an international organization
1. On-Campus Employment (OCE)
This type of employment is the most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations and it does not require its approval. The OCE includes the following types of work:
- Work conducted in the university’s facilities directly for you school, such as the
for commercial firms, located on campus, which provide services to the students,
off-campus, which is educationally affiliated with the institution. This should be library, administration offices, dormitory etc. such as cafeterias and bookstores. synchronized with the university’s curriculum or the research project to which you are assigned. In any case, the employment must be an integral part of your educational program. You can work up to 20 hours per week while the school is in session and up to 40 hours a week on holidays and vacation periods.
However, due to the nature of the OCE, the possibilities for work are limited and the US residents always have priority over other candidates. In addition, the work is not connected with your studies and you cannot rely on it as a stable financial support as the paid amount is quite small.
Something to remember: This type of work is heavily dependent on your school’s support, so make sure to seek assistance from your international student office.
2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
This is an off-campus employment opportunity that is directly connected with your studies. It needs to be an integral part of your curriculum; in other words, if the academic program requests from you to cover some sort of internship during your studies, which will award you credits, the same will pass through the CPT regulations.
In general the CPT employment is defined as 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.
In order to be eligible for this program, you must have been enrolled for more than 1 year and you will need to have a job offer that qualifies before you submit your CPT authorization request. This, as usual, needs to pass through the international student office and USCIS.
Once you are approved, you may only work for a specific employer within an approved time period. Further to this, you may work as long as you like, there is no time limit for this project, as long as the period is covered in your request. The employment could be paid and could be both 20 hours per week or full-time; however you may work only part-time during your studies.
It is good to know that if you work full-time on CPT for more than 12 months, afterwards you won’t be eligible for the Optional Practical Training (OPT).
3. Optional Practical Training (OPT)
This type of work is implemented by USCIS and it should be related to your program of study. In addition, all employment authorizations have to pass through USCIS and your school’s international student office. You will also need to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), provided by USCIS.
You may do this whenever you want. Contrary to the CPT, here you don’t need to have a job offer in order to apply, however we recommend it to be early as the approval process might take up to 90 days.
The OPT includes working for companies, NGOs and international projects that are connected with your area of study. You may even start your own business or a startup company as long as you comply with the OPT requirements.
The practical training is very useful as you are permitted to work off-campus both during and after you finish your degree. It enables students to remain in the US for 12 additional months after they have completed their studies to pursue full-time employment anywhere
in the country. The work hours` arrangement is 20 hours per week with the option to work full time on holidays and vacations. You may also work full-time after the completion of all coursework; however the application must be done before that.
Something to remember: Be mindful of the travel regulations governing F-1 students on OPT. Check this in the university within the International student office.
4. Economic Hardship
As per USCIS regulations, students suffering from severe economic hardship, are also eligible to work off-campus for 20 hours per week during studies and full-time during holidays and vacations.
You will need to be enrolled for at least 1 year with valid F-1 visa and have good academic record. You will also need to present a proof for economic hardship caused by events that are outside of your control such as:
- Unanticipated illness resulting in large medical bills or other expenses
Drastic change in tuition fees and/or living costs
Dramatic differences in the value of currency or exchange rate
Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment due to unforeseen events
To serve as conclusion:
No matter if you are fully funded student and do not need the extra aid, it will be very useful for you to obtain the working visa. It will allow you to participate in internships, courses of any kind and research projects funded by various companies, as these opportunities will no doubt become available at some point in your student career.