F1 Visa Work

Updated on January 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • International students on an F1 visa can work on-campus during their first year with restrictions, allowing 20 hours per week during the academic term and full-time during breaks.
  • On-campus jobs for students range from food service to tutoring, providing various opportunities to gain work experience.
  • For off-campus work, options include Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which is for off-campus training required by the degree program, and Optional Practical Training (OPT), allowing students to work off-campus in their field of study.
  • STEM majors can extend their OPT for 24 months through the STEM OPT Extension program. Students are advised to contact their school’s international and financial aid offices for assistance and information on available opportunities.

As an international student, supporting yourself financially while in the United States can be extremely difficult. The costs of international tuition, travel, living expenses, and even the US port of entry for F1 visa holders on the way in can put a large stress on your already stressful student life, affecting you negatively academically and mentally.

Many international students studying in the US on an F1 visa choose to work in order to meet their financial needs. Since working while on a student visa can be complicated, we created this guide to help you with this process!

Working On-Campus with an F1 Visa

For most international students on an F1 visa, obtaining an on-campus job is the most feasible option for part-time work. In fact, this is the only option available for F1 students during their first academic year in the US.

With on-campus work, there are hour restrictions for the employment in order to not jeopardize your student visa status. While the school term is in session, students are limited to 20 hours per week. However, during breaks, students are able to work full time – up to 40 hours a week.

Although on-campus work can be limiting, many schools have jobs that are considered on-campus, yet are spread out in areas past the college campus. Many of the work often includes food service or clerical work although you can find on-campus jobs that range from tutoring to managing the school sports teams.

To help you find on-campus work, you should contact your school’s international office and financial aid office. They often are well versed in helping students find on-campus work and may also have connections to departments that are hiring. In addition, they can help you understand your financial aid and how it can help offset some of your student costs.

Working Off-Campus with an F1 Visa

For students who have completed their first academic year in the US, your options for work greatly open. There are three main types of off-campus employment that are available for these students:

  1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  2. Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  3. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

In the next section, we will discuss each of these options in depth so you can determine which would work best for you!

What is OPT for International Students

The Optional Training Program allows students to participate in an off-campus job or internship as long as the work is within the student’s field of study. For example, a business student could intern with an accounting firm or a physical therapy student could gain some practical experience with a local physical therapy office.

Applying for OPT

In order to start OPT, you first must apply and become approved.

Applying for the OPT (commonly referred to as an OPT Visa) is a simple process which begins by asking your school to make a recommendation for the OPT in your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System record. The school does this by endorsing your Form I-20 (Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) and updating your SEVIS record.

After the recommendation is made, you must then file a Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorisation) and provide documentation about your identity and program enrollment. Once the form is processed, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document and can begin working!

The 2 Types of OPT

There are two main types of Optical Practical Training: the pre-completion and post-completion OPT.

Pre-Completion OPT

The pre-completion OPT is for students who have yet to have graduated from their degree program. Just like an on-campus job, these students have limits on the number of hours they can work. While school is in session, this limit is at 20 hours a week, whereas when school is not in session, students can work up to 40 hours a week.

Pre-completion OPT is a great opportunity for students to gain valuable experience before they enter the workforce. The OPT can help you learn about the industry you plan to work in and will put you ahead when it comes to applying for a full-time job after graduating.

In addition, if your OPT is paid, this can tremendously help pay for college expenses and the cost of international living.

Post-Completion OPT

The post-completion OPT is for students who have recently graduated from the degree program. This OPT allows students to remain in the US for up to 12 months while participating in Optional Practical Training, without the need of another visa or employment permit.

OPT Extensions for STEM Majors

STEM majors are able to extend their OPT for an extra 24 months making the total OPT period 36 months. This allows US businesses more time to recruit highly desirable graduates which can lead to an H1B visa and even a green card for permanent residency.

STEM degrees refer to degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This also includes military technologies, medicine, and physical sciences.

What is CPT for International Students

The CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training, and it allows students to participate in off-campus training/work/internships when it is required by their degree program. For example, many college degrees require an internship to graduate, and the CPT allows students to fulfill this requirement on a student visa.

When completing CPT, most programs require students to enroll in a class along with the CPT. You can find out more about the CPT requirements for your particular program by talking with an academic counselor or international student counselor.

For most programs, a course is required to be taken along with CPT. You can learn more about whether your school requires CPT through an international student counselor or academic counselor. Many schools have a dedicated office to help students apply for and enroll in CPT.

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International students face many more expenses compared to their peers, yet their options for work is much more limited. We hope this article has helped find options for you to help pay for your time in the United States.

Stilt is an online lender that strives to help international students and immigrants. If you have any questions regarding working on an F1 visa, let us know! We would love to help you out.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.