Students: Types of Employment Authorization

If you are an F-1 student, you are probably aware that there are restrictions on working. When you initially obtained your SEVIS I-20 form and F-1 visa, you had to show that you could afford to go to school without working, since F-1 students generally are not authorized to engage in regular employment. However, there are some circumstances under which an F-1 student may be employed. Information on all these options can be obtained from the Designated School Official (DSO) at the university or school. In most cases, the DSO must also authorize or recommend the employment of a foreign student. It is advisable to speak to the DSO prior to beginning any employment while in F-1 status.

On-Campus Employment

F-1 students are not allowed to work during their first academic year, with the exception of on-campus work. This can include jobs on campus such as in the library or at certain businesses located on campus that have an educational or business affiliation with the school. When school is in session, work is limited to 20 hours per week. The student can work on campus full time while school is not in session, such as during scheduled summer and winter breaks.

Work Authorization Based on Unanticipated Economic Hardship

As mentioned above, in order to obtain a student visa or student status, most applicants need to establish that they have a source of financial support to pay tuition and other fees and living expenses. However, sometimes unexpected things happen. Events such as currency devaluation, the death or serious illness of a person who was supporting the student, or other unanticipated disasters beyond one’s control, can leave a student without the anticipated support. If the student is able to present documentation of hardship to the satisfaction of the USCIS, then it can be possible to obtain work authorization from USCIS, with the assistance of the DSO.

Internship with an International Organization

Certain international organizations sponsor internship programs and, if the work is within the scope of that sponsorship arrangement, the DSO can place the appropriate work authorization on the student’s Form I-20. The student then applies to USCIS for a work authorization card within 30 days after the DSO endorses the SEVIS I-20. The DSO at your school should be able to provide information as to what organizations would qualify for this program.

Practical Training: “Curricular” or “Optional”

Employment for the purpose of practical training must be related to the course of study and cannot be for English language training. As with all student employment (with the exception of on-campus work), it cannot be undertaken during the first academic year (9 months). However, there are some exceptions to this restriction for certain special graduate programs. There are two types of practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). For either type, it is necessary to have the DSO provide a recommendation or authorization for employment.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is an internship, cooperative education program, or other employment that is an integral part of an established curriculum in the student’s program of study. The duration of CPT can vary depending upon the program. CPT can be authorized by the DSO fro full-time or part-time employment. However, if a student obtains one year or more of full-time CPT, it is not possible to engage in OPT after completion of the school program.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is for employment directly related to the major area of study. OPT must be authorized by the USCIS (Form I-765) upon a recommendation by the student’s DSO. There are two types of OPT – pre-completion and post-completion OPT.

The maximum period for OPT is 12 months. OPT during the study program and after graduation are added together to reach that maximum. For example, if a student had 3 months of OPT while in school, the student can have a maximum of 9 months of OPT after the completion of studies. All post-completion OPT must be finished within 14 months of graduation. In addition, students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs are eligible for a 17-month extension of the regular 12-months of OPT. While the standard 12-months of OPT may be authorized again for a higher educational level, there is a lifetime limitation of the 17-month STEM extension.

While some aspects of immigration have changed in significant ways in the years since MurthyDotCom began publishing articles in 1994, there is much that is still the same. From time to time, we at the Murthy Law Firm refer our clients to articles, like this one, which remains relevant.


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