Are you an F1 student looking for summer work opportunities?

There are ways to do this! Read on…

After a full year at school, you could be eligible for off-campus employment. Approval for this requires special authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In order to apply for this kind of employment authorization, you must receive a recommendation from your DSO and file a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” with USCIS. After USCIS approves your employment, they will send you a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD).

If you decide to work, the first step is always to talk with your designated school official (DSO).  There are a few different paths for F-1 students to obtain off-campus employment authorization:

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Severe Economic Hardship
  • Qualifying International Organization

Note: If your DSO knows you are working without permission, your DSO must report it through SEVIS and your record can be terminated. That means that you will have to leave the United States immediately, and you may not be allowed to return. There are many opportunities to work and getting permission is not that difficult.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

F-1 students in the U.S. may be permitted to work off-campus in optional practical training (OPT) status both during and after completion of their degree. Guidelines established by USCIS govern the implementation of OPT, and all OPT employment requires prior authorization from USCIS and from your school’s International Student Office.

General OPT Requirements:

  • Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
  • Student must maintain lawful F-1 status
  • Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
  • Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
  • 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)

Students can be authorized for 12 months of OPT for each successive level of degree achieved. Therefore a student can do 12 months of OPT after receiving an undergraduate degree, go back to graduate school, and then do 12 months of OPT after receiving a graduate degree. Pre-completion OPT (students are still in school) and post-completion OPT (students have completed their degree) each have different rules:

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

17-Month Extension for STEM Students:

  • If qualified, eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT (total of 29 months)
  • Only available for STEM students in the subjects of actuarial science, computer science applications, engineering, engineering technologies, life sciences, mathematics, military technologies and physical sciences
  • Must be employed by a company enrolled in the E-Verify program and provide that E-Verify information on Form I-765

In order to obtain your EAD, your DSO needs to provide you with a new Form I-20 indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment, and you must submit a Form I-765 to USCIS. Your EAD card will come from USCIS. Just as with other work authorizations, you are restricted to a 20-hour work week while school is in session.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

When practical training is an integral part of the established curriculum or academic program for F-1 students, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an off-campus employment option. CPT employment is defined as “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 be eligible for CPT employment:

  • You 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)
  • The CPT employment must be an integral part of your degree program or requirement for a course for which you receive academic credit
  • You must have received a job offer that qualifies before you submit your CPT authorization request
  • Your job offer must be in your major or field of study

Once you receive CPT authorization, you can only work for the specific employer and for the specific dates authorized (unlike with OPT or severe economic hardship off-campus employment, where you can work anywhere in the US). Your CPT authorization will also specify whether you are approved for part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) CPT employment. While in school, you can only be approved for part-time CPT.

Regardless of whether you are approved for full or part-time on CPT, there is no limit to how long you can work. However, if you work full-time on CPT for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for OPT. If you work part-time on CPT, or full-time on CPT for less than 12 months, you are still eligible for all of your allowable OPT. So make sure you watch the dates and hours closely – don’t jeopardize your OPT!

In order to qualify for CPT your DSO needs to provide you with a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status” indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment.

Severe Economic Hardship

Any F-1 student suffering “severe economic hardship” is eligible to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and full-time during breaks. Examples of severe economic hardship as defined by USCIS include: 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; or medical bills or other substantial and unexpected expenses. To be eligible under “severe economic hardship:”

  • You must be in valid F-1 status for at least one academic year (9 months)
  • You must be in good academic standing
  • You must provide evidence of economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control
  • You must show that on-campus employment is neither available nor sufficient
  • You have made a good faith effort to locate employment on campus before applying

International Students and Entrepreneurship

Because starting your own business constitutes work, you must  qualify and apply for OPT to start a business while in F-1 status. OPT, and thus the business, must relate to your program of study and can occur either before (pre-completion OPT) or after the completion of a program of study (post-completion OPT). You can learn more on the International Students and Entrepreneurship page.

Resources: (1/22/15) (2/25/16)