4 Ways to Work in the U.S. with a Student Visa

Posted by on in Study Abroad

Few experiences can match the personal growth, cultural insights, and opportunities that studying abroad provides. For this reason, many international students seek out U.S. schools each year.

At some point, many of these students set their eyes on a job, whether for the money, the experience, or just to lighten the load of their tuition.

Below are four ways to work in the U.S. on an F1 (student) visa that won't land you in hot water with the U.S. government.

First, here are the four main categories of employment available to F1 visa students, as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security:

  1. On-Campus
  2. Off-Campus
  3. Curricular Practical Training
  4. Optional Practical Training

On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment is the most freely available to F1 students, and refers to "work that takes place on campus or at an off-campus location that is affiliated with the school," as defined by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security.

The latter part of that definition is worth emphasizing, as most colleges and universities have buildings and educational partnerships all over town.

on campus employment work on student visa in u.s.

According to Immihelp, if the workplace is “educationally related" or “affiliated" with the school, it's considered on-campus.

Common examples are your school's bookstore, library, dorm, or cafeteria, but can also include research work for a professor who has a grant that doesn't come from the school, writes Immihelp.

This is the only type of employment you can pursue in your first academic year, and you may apply as early as 30 days before classes start.

Work hours are limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session, but you can work full time during holidays and vacation periods. Compensation can include money, room and board, or other benefits.

Still need to get your F-1 visa? Here's everything you need to know.

Off-Campus Employment

Jobs outside of your school are only available to students who have completed one full academic year, and who have a qualifying economic hardship.

off campus employment work on student visa in the u.s.

According to government sources, a qualifying financial hardship entails "new, unexpected circumstances beyond [your] control," like medical bills, sharp increases in the cost of tuition, or loss of financial aid at no fault of your own, among others.

To apply, seek your Designated School Official (DSO). He or she must approve the reason for your emergent economic hardship and recommend off-campus employment as the first part of the application process.

Note that you cannot begin working while your application is still being processed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Apply early so you'll be ready to go when you receive an offer of employment. If approved, you may work 20 hours per week.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT should be part of your school curriculum, designed to give you real-world experience in your field of study, like an internship or practicum with a partnering employer, the DHS explains.

curricular practical training work on student visa in the u.s.

Unlike other employment categories, CPT can be full time, with no weekly hour limit.

To qualify, the DHS states that you must have completed one full academic year, unless you're a graduate student whose program requires immediate CPT.

In any case, the DHS advises seeking your DSO as your first step.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT refers to temporary employment relating to your field of study (working at a TV station, for example, would qualify if you're studying journalism). You can apply for OPT either before or after you finish your study program.

optional practical training work on student visa in u.s.

You'll need approval from your DSO, who will then endorse your application and help you submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

You may apply for 12 months of OPT at each educational level (that's 12 months at the bachelor's level, plus another 12 months at the master's level), per government guidelines.

According to the International Student portal, students pursuing certain degrees can extend their OPT for an additional 17 months, up to a total of 29 months.

That extension, the portal explains, is only available if your employer is enrolled in the E-Verify program, and you are studying one of the following:

  • Actuarial Science
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Engineering
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Military Technologies
  • Physical Sciences
  • STEM Designated Degree Programs (full list here)

One Overlooked Opportunity

Employment with an International Organization

International Student points out an additional work category that's often overlooked: employment with an internal organization.

To qualify, a recognized international organization on the official U.S. Department of State list (e.g. Red Cross, World Health Organization, and many others) must offer you a job and sponsorship, and the work must be within the scope of your field of study.

One Overlooked Barrier


If you're considering running your own side gig (like this student who turned his dorm room into a restaurant), know that the U.S. government views that as a job.

To make it legal, you'd have to qualify and apply for OPT, which we covered earlier.

Be sure to check out these challenges for international students in the U.S.!

What To Do First

Contact your Designated School Official (DSO). That's the person your school designated to assist international students. You likely already made contact with him/her when you arrived, and any school official should be able to point you to the right person or department.

Your DSO will help you apply for a Social Security Number (required for all students working in the U.S.) and guide you through the appropriate steps.

how to work on a student visa in the u.s.

You may also find this cheat sheet helpful, courtesy of the University of Washington.

As you take the next steps toward employment, be mindful that working without adequate authorization can lead to deportation and your inability to return to the United States.

Don't risk it. It's not worth jeopardizing all the effort and expense you've invested this far. Use the resources available to you, starting with your own school.


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