How to Work Legally on an F1 Visa?

Updated on 10/22/2023

The United States issues more than 360,000 F1 visas to foreign students who wish to study in the United States. If you are studying at a U.S. university on an F1 visa, or you plan to, you may be wondering how to make money when you are not in class. Actually, there are several ways that you can earn a living while in you are in America on an F1 visa. You can also find a way to continue working in the United States after you graduate.

F1 International Students

There is more than one way to work legally in the United States on an F1 visa. Some prefer to find campus jobs, while others prefer to acquire practical training that they can use in their careers.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

F1 students who need an internship or other form of cooperative education to complete their educational program might consider Curricular Practical Training, or CPT. Within this program, students on an F1 visa can gain work experience within their field of study, so long as it is required by their U.S. university.

To be eligible for CPT, foreign students must have been enrolled in school full-time for at least one year in the United States on an F1 visa. Additionally, the student needs to have obtained a job offer related to their academic program before they even apply for a curricular practical training authorization.

In order to start to work, foreign students must contact the DSO in the International Student Office. The DSO will provide you a new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that shows that the DSO has approved you for this employment.

CPT employment can be full-time or part-time as long as the school International Student Office approves it. Full-time CPT means work for more than 20 hours per week while part-time CPT means work for 20 hours or less per week. However, if a F1 international student has 12 months or more of full-time CPT, he or she ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), but part-time CPT is fine and will not stop his or her from doing OPT.

Working on Campus

Foreign students who are not interested in an internship, or are too early in their academic program, might want to get a campus job. Foreign students can make some pocket money by working on campus, as long as they meet certain conditions.

In order to maintain F1 status while working in a campus job, foreign students must meet the following criteria:

One exception is that F1 visa students may work full-time on campus, or 40 hours per week, on holiday breaks and vacation periods. This can be a convenient way to earn money while maintaining the conditions of the F1 student visa.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

After graduating from an American university program, an international student may want to extend their F1 visa a little while longer. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a bit like Curricular Practical Training (CPT), but there are some differences.

One of the most significant difference is that all OPT employment requires prior authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in other words, an international student must file a Form I-765 application for employment authorization with USCIS to get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to start to work.

The general eligibility requirements to apply for an EAD based on OPT are:

An F1 international student may be eligible to participate in OPT in two different ways, Pre-completion OPT and Post-completion OPT. Most international students will apply for Post-completion OPT because if they would like to work before completion of their degree, they may work through CPT rather than Pre-completion OPT. CPT does not require filing of Form I-765 to USCIS which will cost $410 filing fee.

Post-completion OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total. An international student can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, (i.e., you may have 12 months of OPT at the bachelor’s level and another 12 months of OPT at the master’s level).

When you apply for Post-completion OPT, keep in mind that:

Not sure you are eligible for an EAD based on Post-completion OPT? You can free check eligibility through without providing any personal information. 

STEM-OPT Extension

F1 visa holders who have been studying science, technology, engineering, or math may want to consider applying for STEM-OPT. This will allow the foreign national student to explore paid training within their STEM field of study for an additional 24 months beyond their OPT.

The STEM-OPT Extension is available to foreign students who obtained a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree in a STEM major from a currently accredited SEVP-certified college or university. Even if a student is currently working on an OPT in a non-STEM major, they may be able to get a STEM-OPT extension based on a prior STEM degree from an approved U.S. university. The employer from which foreign students are seeking employment under STEM-OPT must have enrolled the E-Verify program.

Same as OPT, foreign students must apply for an EAD for STEM-OPT by filing a Form I-765 with USCIS and paying a filing fee. Foreign students may continue to work on their expired EAD base on OPT up to 180 days while the 24-month extension application is pending if they properly and in a timely manner filed the application for STEM-OPT.

Working under Severe Economic Hardship

Students who are in the United States on an F1 visa may work away from their college campus in limited circumstances. Those who can show the USCIS that they have a “severe economic hardship” may be able to have a part-time position off campus.

This type of qualifying hardship must be beyond the control of the student. Thus, money pressures like unexpected medical bills, loss of financial aid, or a sudden tuition and housing increase may make a student eligible to work away from campus.

To be allowed to work off campus after experiencing sudden, unexpected financial difficulties, the student must also have been studying with this F1 visa status for one year and must be unable to get a job on campus to relieve their financial stress.

Work with your International Student Office to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD), which is required in order to start work. The DSO in the International Student Office will be able to help you with any forms or documents required.

Working with an International Organization

Students who are interested in global studies might find it appealing to work for an international organization. This can be an option for some F1 visa scholars.

Like many of the other work options, the job should be in the student’s field of study, and the organization must be listed as eligible for employment with F1 visa students. Examples of qualifying international organizations include:

Students who wish to apply for a job with an international organization must have held an F1 visa for one year and be in good academic standing.

Spouses and Children of F1 Visa Students

Foreign national students who are married and/or have children may wish to have more than one income to support their household. Unfortunately, the spouse of an F1 visa holder can arrive in the United States on an F2 visa, but they cannot legally work in the United States.

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