During your time as an international student in the U.S., you may decide you want to get a job—whether it’s to lighten the load of your tuition, gain some work experience, or just have a little extra pocket money to spend.
Keep in mind, though, that as an international student who is in the U.S. on a visa, you can’t just go out and get any job you want. There are regulations you must follow. Working illegally will land you in hot water with the U.S. government. And nobody wants that.
What to Do First
Before you begin the process of finding a job, contact your Designated School Official (DSO). That’s the person your school designated to assist international students. If you are already a student, you likely already made contact with your DSO when you arrived. But if you haven’t, 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.
The Departmenthttps://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/sevis-help-hub/student-records/fm-student-employment/student outlines four ways for international students to legally work in the U.S. on an F1 (student) visa:
- On-Campus Employment
- Off-Campus Employment
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
1. 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 “educationally affiliated off-campus location.
The latter part of that definition is worth emphasizing, as many colleges and universities have buildings and educational partnerships all over town.
So in other words, you could work somewhere on your school’s campus, such as a bookstore, library, dorm, or cafeteria. Or you could work somewhere like an off-campus research lab that is affiliated with your school.
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. If you choose to work more than one on-campus job, your total combined hours per week cannot exceed 20 hours.
2. Off-Campus Employment
Jobs outside of your school are only available to international students who have completed one full academic year and who have a qualifying economic hardship or an emergent circumstance.
According to the DHS, a qualifying economic hardship entails “new, unexpected circumstances beyond [your] control,” such as:
- Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment (if the student is not at fault)
- Large increases in tuition or living costs
- The substantial decrease in the relative value of currency the student depends upon to pay expenses
- Unexpected changes in the financial conditions for a student’s sources of financial support
- Unexpectedly large medical bills not covered by insurance
- Other substantial, unexpected expenses
3. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) should be part of your school curriculum. It is designed to give you real-world experience in your field of study, like an internship or practicum with a partnering employer, the DHS explains.
4. Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (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). Eligible students can receive up to 12 months of OPT employment.