One of the most frequent questions we receive here at InternationalStudent.com, is regarding how students can support themselves and pay for their studies as they go. Unfortunately working in the USA as a student, with the way the visa system is setup, is not that easy and not really a viable option to pay for school. The F1 visa (which is the most common visa category for students coming into the USA to study) does not allow you to work whilst you are studying to pay for your education – you will need to show proof that you can pay your way through school before you visa will even be issued.
It is very important that you make sure you are aware of your visa requirements when it comes to work, failure to adhere properly to these guidelines could see your visa status being revoked and you could be asked to leave the country. So there is a lot riding on that fact that you know what to do and how things work.
REMEMBER – if you have any questions about your working status, or need further clarification, get it from your school or from an immigration lawyer who will be best placed to help you get the right information. You can find more information about this on our “Visa and Immigration Center”
The F1 visa does allow you to work under the following categories:
- On Campus Employment
- OPT and CPT
- Economic Hardship
- International Institutions
On of the most common forms of employment is through on campus jobs, where F1 students are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week on your schools campus, directly for your school. You do have to be in school to take advantage of this, and during holidays you can work full time (as long as you plan to come back to school in the next semester). It can offer international students a great way to earn some extra money, but in our experience on campus jobs are often very hard to find, especially if your school has a large contingent of international students all looking to do the same thing.
OPT and CPT are great ways to get training in the working environment while you are still in school, and be paid for it. For OPT (which is the more common version) students can work both during school and up to 29 months after school for an employer where the job is related to your degree. OPT is not that easy to organize, you need to wait 9 months from the start of your degree before you can begin working, and you have to file a work authorization with the USCIS for them to approve the job. When still in school, OPT only allows you to work 20 hours per week, while after completion of your program you can work full time.
If you do suffer economic hardship, you can also file with the USCIS to work off campus for up to 20 hours a week to make ends meet. This should only really be used as a last resort and in the cases where something has happened which has resulted in the loss of income you were traditionally receiving.
The final way students can work, is through the often overlooked International Institutions category. Where students can apply for employment at one of the listed international institutions that are listed with the US State Department. This list includes organizations such as the red cross, world health organization and the world trade organization. One of the major benefits of this type of employment is that it does not need to be related to your degree – so you can apply for any post, regardless of its relevance.
There is much more detailed information about these types of employment for students who are studying in the USA on our “Working in the USA” section of our Study in the USA Center.
Let us also know about your experiences as an international student and what you did to make ends meet? Were you able to work on campus? Did OPT work out for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.