Many international students are interested in working in the US to gain valuable skills that can boost their resume and open doors for future employment opportunities. Income from student jobs can also help pay for daily expenses and personal purchases, too. But getting a job is not an automatic process: When it comes to jobs for F-1 students in the US, some special considerations apply.
Currently, the US allows international students to be employed while attending classes and after graduation, but certain restrictions and requirements apply. When looking for jobs for F-1 students in the US, it is important to be aware of these restrictions so you can maintain your status as an international student.
Before you begin the process of finding a job, make sure to contact your Designated School Officer (DSO). If you are already enrolled at a US university, you likely made contact with your DSO upon arrival. If not, any school official can point you to the right person or department. Your DSO will help you apply for a Social Security Number — a requirement for all US students — and guide you through all the necessary steps toward finding eligible work.
To help you learn more about how to get a job with a F-1 visa, this guide will take you through the requirements of working while on a F-1 visa, the different types of jobs available to you, your options for work after graduation, how to file your US taxes, and more.
Working While on a F-1 Visa
With your F-1 visa, you are permitted to work in the US, but there are certain guidelines you must follow in order to maintain your visa status. Work guidelines for students with F-1 visas specify what type of work you are allowed to do, how many hours F-1 students can work, and where you can work.
There are five different categories of employment:
On-campus employment – most common type of employment, no more than 20 hours a week
Severe Economic Hardship
Approved International Organization
Opportunities for jobs in these categories are designed for international students and can be a good fit for you while studying, as they typically offer flexible schedules that can accommodate your classes and other academic commitments. To discuss your university’s employment options, visit the International Student Services advisor at your university or academic program before applying for jobs for F-1 students in the US.
Each category of employment is different and carries its own set of restrictions, requirements, and opportunities. Learning about the specific categories allows you to identify which opportunities would be most suitable for your goals in the US.
On-campus employment refers to any form of employment that is available with your university’s departments and/or facilities. As a student on a F-1 visa, you are able to start off with on-campus employment to gain work experience while adjusting to life in the US.
You may be able to apply for certain off-campus opportunities if they are educationally affiliated with your institution. According to the Department of Homeland Security, being educationally affiliated means an organization meets at least one of these two criteria:
Related to the university or college’s established curriculum
Related to contractually funded postgraduate research projects
In other words, you could work somewhere on your school’s campus, such as a bookstore, library, dorm, or cafeteria, or an off-campus research lab affiliated with your school if you have approval.
On-campus employment is the only type of employment you can pursue in your first academic year, and you must apply as early as 30 days before your classes start. You may also be required to obtain permission from your university International Student Office before accepting on-campus employment.
F-1 students who obtain on-campus employment need to follow certain restrictions while working:
F-1 visa status must be maintained.
You may only work up to 20 hours per week while class is in session.
You may be eligible to continue working on campus after completing your program of study, but you may need to file Form I-765 for employment authorization.
Your employment may not displace a US resident.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training is an off-campus employment opportunity for international students looking for jobs for F-1 students in the US. OPT allows you to gain hands-on experience aligned with your academic degree program and pursue training while studying and after graduation.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) governs the implementation of OPT and establishes its rules. All OPT employment requires approval and prior authorization from the USCIS and your school’s International Student Office.
You can begin looking for OPT opportunities after you have been enrolled in your program for at least nine months. You also need to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS, and this requires one year of enrollment before employment.
Your OPT employment can be anywhere in the US! Be sure to start your application process early — the USCIS can take up to 90 days to process your application. Make sure to work closely with your school’s International Student Office to learn all the requirements, including F-1 internship requirements.
There are many documents required when applying for OPT. Of the many requirements, Form I-765 for employment authorization must be submitted along with the OPT application. These documents are important as your eligibility to work is based on maintaining your F-1 student status.
There are a few requirements and regulations which must be followed when applying for OPT.
General OPT Requirements
Employment must be directly related to your major.
You must maintain lawful F-1 status.
You must apply for OPT before completing all work toward a degree.
You may work before or after the completion of the degree, or both.
You may stay and work in the US for up to 12 months after completing the degree and course of work.
OPT Before Degree Completion
You must be enrolled full time in a university or college program.
You can work only 20 hours per week when school is in session.
You can work full time during breaks, as long as you plan on returning to university.
You can work full time on completion of required coursework if a thesis or dissertation is required.
Work must be 40 hours a week.
All work must be completed within 14 months after completing your degree.
The application for post-completion OPT must be sent to the USCIS before completing your degree.
There are a few more conditions to keep in mind, like travel regulations governing F-1 students. If you leave the country after completing your degree, but before you receive your EAD and obtain employment, you may not be readmitted back into the US. You can leave the country after completing your degree if you have obtained your EAD and obtained employment.
Here is a list of documents you need to bring with you on your return to the US:
Valid EAD card
Valid F-1 visa
All your I-20 forms with page 3 endorsed for travel by your international student advisor within the past six months
Letter of employment including dates of employment and salary
If you graduate with a STEM-related degree, you can apply for an additional 24 months of OPT for a total of three years eligibility to work in the US! This extension is only available for those who are employed by companies enrolled in the E-Verify program. Students are also required to study one of the following subjects:
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT allows international students to temporarily gain work experience directly related to their major through employment, paid or unpaid internships, or cooperative education. You are allowed to work while you are studying in the US, but there are certain restrictions.
If you are wondering, ‘can international students do part-time jobs in the USA?’, CPT is often the answer. CPT employment opportunities include internships, practicums, or work/study programs, any of which can benefit your future career.
To apply for CPT, you must first find a job offer that matches your major and then request a CPT authorization from your DSO or your school’s International Student Services Office.
To be eligible for employment with CPT, you must:
Only participate in CPT before completion of your degree.
Work in an area that provides practical experience and training directly related to your major field of study.
Only work for the specified employer during the authorized duration of your employment.
Your CPT authorization also lets you know if you are approved for part-time work (up to 20 hours a week) or full-time work (20 hours or more). While your academic term is in progress, you are authorized to work up to 20 hours a week.
However, this limitation does not apply to how long you can work. There is no limit to how long you can be employed, but it does affect your eligibility for OPT. If you work full time on CPT for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for OPT employment.
With the support of your DSO, you can learn about the general rules and regulations applied for CPT employment. There are differences to these rules depending on the type of education — PhD, graduate, or undergraduate — and your DSO can guide you to make the right selection for your visa type and long-term goals. Many US universities and colleges also offer immediate CPT employment through their work-study programs, which allow international students to cover some educational costs and gain valuable work experience.
Severe Economic Hardship
International students on a F-1 visa can apply for off-campus work authorization if they are facing economic hardship. However, there are a limited number of employers that are approved for this type of authorization. Speak with your Shorelight advisor for more information and to determine approved employers near your campus.
According to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), USCIS makes case-by-case decisions for off-campus employment for students who show that new and/or unexpected circumstances have led to difficult economic hardship.
Typically, students who are eligible for Severe Economic Hardship work authorization may have experienced:
Loss of financial support
Loss of on-campus employment
Expensive medical bills
Large increases in tuition or living costs
Loss of financial aid
Other expenses that were unexpected
To be eligible for Severe Economic Hardship employment, you are required to:
Maintain a valid F-1 status for at least one academic year (nine months)
Be in good academic standing
Provide evidence of economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond your control
Prove that on-campus employment is neither available nor sufficient
Make a good effort to locate employment on campus before applying
Do not forget to apply for an EAD, too, and start the process as early as possible, as it may take up to 12 weeks to obtain and you are not allowed to work until you receive it. To obtain your EAD, you are required to submit several forms and documents together with fees and photographs. Once you receive your EAD, you can work for any employer in the US. However, you should also remember your employment authorization is terminated if you are unable to maintain a valid F-1 status.
Employment with an International Organization
This is the final category of employment for international students looking for jobs for F-1 students in the US. Employers under this category must be on the official State Department list to qualify; speak with your advisor to determine eligible organizations near your campus or companies offering virtual work opportunities.
A common concern of many international students is ‘does a F-1 visa require sponsorship for an internship?’ It is important to remember this type of employment is not applicable to OPT and CPT employment. Only students with a job offer and sponsorship from one of the listed organizations are eligible to be employed with an international organization.
To work for an international organization, your:
F-1 status should be valid for at least one academic year
Employment must be within the scope of the organization’s sponsorship and your major field of study
Full-time student status must be maintained
Job offer should be from an eligible organization
You will need an EAD for this type of employment as well and this may take up to three months, so make sure to apply early!
There are many advantages of this type of employment in comparison to OPT and CPT:
It does not have to be for credit or for your degree program
It does not take away from your 12-month post-completion OPT, regardless of how much or how long you work
How to Apply for Work While on a F-1 Visa
The process of looking for a job for F-1 students in the US can seem challenging, but you are not alone! Shorelight advisors can guide you with the information and resources you need to find the right job for you.
At Shorelight, we provide dedicated career development to help you understand how to get a job with a F-1 visa while you study in the US.
Some of our services include:
Job board access—Browse hiring notices from organizations actively seeking to work with university students like you.
Networking events—Attend job fairs and career expos, connect with local organizations near your university, and learn more about available opportunities.
Skill workshops—Learn from industry experts and take part in career development seminars and training.
Connecting with recruiters—Make connections with representatives from top organizations and find the ideal job or internship to kickstart your career.
Shorelight also supports students in adjusting to their life in the US through visa assistance services, career development programs, student visa support, how to apply for OPT and CPT status, how to apply for an internship, resume tips, F-1 visa interview questions, and more.
Each employment category has its own application process with different documents required depending on the type of employment:
Applying for Jobs with OPT
Send completed OPT application, supporting documentation, and required fee to USCIS.
USCIS issues an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card as proof of work authorization for the 24 months.
Applying for Jobs with CPT
If you have applied for an internship under the CPT, you need to submit an online application to the sponsoring school. The application usually includes:
Internship start and end dates
Detailed job description
Following US immigration regulations, students who engage in part-time or full-time CPT must still be full-time students during the academic year.
Students do not need to be enrolled full time during official breaks.
Applying to Work Under Severe Economic Hardship Status
First, submit an Economic Hardship application and supporting documents to your school’s international student services (ISS) office.
When your application is complete, the ISS will enter your Economic Hardship application into the SEVIS system, and produce a new I-20 with the Economic Hardship recommendation.
Get your new I-20 form and submit the application and supporting documents to the USCIS Service Center.
If approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from the USCIS Service Center.
Submit it to the relevant online portal of your university’s international student services office.
Applying for Employment with an International Organization
If you are eligible, you are issued an updated I-20 with a recommendation for international organization employment.
Once you receive the I-20 recommending International Organization employment authorization, submit your application to USCIS, including other relevant documents.
If you are eligible, the ISS will issue an updated SEVIS I-20 with a recommendation for international organization employment.
Once you receive the I-20 recommending International Organization employment authorization, you should be ready to submit the I-765 application to USCIS.
Mail your application to the appropriate USCIS Service Center.
If approved by USCIS, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card permitting you to work at the International Organization.
After submitting your applications, employers review your cover letter and resume, and invite you for an interview if you meet their requirements. So, make sure to prepare well and show your skills and capabilities during the interview.
How to File Your US Taxes
Filing your taxes can get confusing, so it is advisable to consult your advisor before you attempt to do so. Most F-1 students are classified under the ‘nonresident aliens’ category by the IRS. To assess your federal income and tax returns, you require a form 1040-NR and form 8843.
When filing these forms, you are required to enter your name, current address, and Social Security Number (SSN) or IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), along with other required information about your employment and earnings. State tax documents may also be required, depending on the state.
F-1 students who plan on residing in the US for more than a year are subject to 30% taxation on their capital gains during any tax year on which they are present in the US for 183 days or more. This may change if tax policies are updated to provide for a lesser tax rate. However, this only applies if your capital gains are not effectively connected with the conduct of US trade or business.
Other forms you may need are:
A W-2 Form, “Wage and Tax Statement”: This is the IRS tax form your employer uses to report wages paid to employees and the taxes withheld.
A 1042-S Form: Submitted by your university, this form will be sent if you received a taxable scholarship.
A 1099 form: This covers your rental income, investment income, or if you worked as an independent contractor.
If for some reason you are unable to file your federal income tax return by the given deadline, you may be able to request a six-month extension. To apply for this additional time, you must file Form 4868, the Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File US Individual Income Tax Return by the original deadline.
Studying in the US can be expensive, and your tuition fee is one of the largest parts of your expenses as an international student. Working in the US can be a great source of secondary income to support your life in the US. As a F-1 student, you can access a variety of job opportunities designed for international students and gain valuable working experience.
Remember to always keep in touch with your advisors, DSO, and any other relevant university departments to ensure you maintain a legal F-1 status and find the right jobs. Jobs for F-1 visa students in the US can help manage your education costs – and start your professional CV that can lead to strong future opportunities.
Reach out to a Shorelight advisor today >