As an international student studying abroad, you may decide to engage in some jobs to help take care of your tuition fees, pay some bills, or gain some working experience before graduation. But be careful to abide by the working ethics of a student.
As an international student on a visa in the united states, you are not allowed to just go out and work in any place of your choice. Working illegally in the united states can cause a lot of troubles for you with the government. There are certain rules and regulations that you must follow if you decide to work as an international student while in the united states.
What you must do
As an international student in the united states, you are designated a school official (DSO) who sees to assisting international students. Before you embark on any job hunt, it is wise you seek the advice of your designated school official. Your school DSO will guide you through the appropriate steps to follow and help you secure a Social Security Number that will enable you to apply for a job as a student.
Job opportunities for international students
As an internal student in the united states, the Department of Homeland Security has listed four ways you can legally work in the country using the F1 (student) visa:
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
This is the most freely available type of employment for students on the F1 visa. This type of employment enables you to work on the campus or at an off-campus organization that is affiliated with education.
If you are to work in an educationally affiliated firm off-campus, then the firm must meet at least of the following criteria according to the Department of Homeland Security:
Associated with the school’s established curriculum
Related to contractually-funded research projects at the post-graduate level
This type of employment is the only type of employment you can apply for starting from your first academic year even before classes starts. Places you can on the school campus include the library, bookstore, dorm, or cafeteria. You may get to work in one of the off-campus research lab affiliated with your school.
You get work full time during vacation and holiday periods, but when school is in session your work hours are limited to just 20 hours per week whether you work more than one on-campus job or not.
Off-campus jobs are mostly for international students that have completed a full academic year and have a qualifying economic hardship or an emergent circumstance (that is, an unexpected financial circumstance that is beyond your control).
The following qualifies as an economic hardship according to the DHS:
Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment (if the student is not at fault)
Large increases in tuition or living costs
A 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
Emergent circumstances, in this case, are referred to as world events that affect a certain group of F1 students and can lead to severe economic hardship. It should be noted that it is not just limited to natural disasters, wars, and military conflicts, national and international crises.
Special Student Relief is a type of program that tends to limit certain regulatory requirements for students from parts of the world experiencing emergent circumstances.
Before applying for off-campus employment, you need to contact your DSO first. Your DSO is the first person to approve and recommend off-campus employment having reviewed the reason behind it. It is the first part of your off-campus application process. It is illegal for you to begin working while your application is still processed by the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
You need to have completed one full academic year for you to qualify for CPT, unless you’re a graduate student whose program requires immediate CPT. Nevertheless, always consult your DSO before going for CPT
This type of employment is more like an internship program and forms part of your school curriculum. It is designed to help you gain a better understanding of your field of study in the real world according to the DHS.
This type of employment can be full time with no weekly hour limit, unlike other employment types. You can have more than one curricula practical training authorization at the same time.
It should be known that, that if you participate in a year or more of full-time CPT, you are ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Optional practical training (OPT)
This is a temporary training relating to your field of study. Qualified students can get up to 12 months of OPT employment (for example, a student studying journalism can get to work in a TV station)
Types of OPT
There are two types of OPT, pre-completion and post-completion OPT.
Pre-completion OPT: you get to work 20 hours per week when school is in session and full time when it is not. For you to qualify for this option, you must have completed one full academic year at a U.S college or university.
Post-completion OPT: you get to apply for this option upon completion of your studies. Once authorized, you can work either on a full-time basis or a part-time basis.
Consult your DSO for approval during the application, he or she will be the one to endorse your application and help you submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
You should know that if you participate in both pre-completion and post-completion OPT, you have a 12-month maximum work period is divided between the two.
STEM OPT Extension
You may get to qualify for the STEM OPT extension relating to your field of study if you have finished your studies and participated in the post-completion OPT. STEM OPT extension program runs for a period of 24 months.
It also depends if your employer is enrolled in the E-Verify program and if you have a degree in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) fields on this list.
It will be very unwise of you to work illegally in the united states after reading all of these steps provided above. Don’t risk it. It is not worth your time, effort, and expenses you’ve invested to get to where you are now. Always consult your DSO if you decide to take up any job. Feel free to leave a comment below.