Working in the USA
As an international student you have the opportunity to work in the USA – both off and on-campus. Working “off—campus” means working for any company outside the university or college, and working “on-campus” means working for the university or college, or for a company located within the university/college area (campus). Keep reading to find out how it all works and what your job options are as an international students in the USA.
Generally you are allowed to work part-time (approximately 20 hours) during each semester and full-time during any breaks, such as summer or winter breaks. Most international students work on campus since working off-campus is typically only granted under special circumstances. Be aware that you are not allowed by law to work off-campus until after you have finished your first academic year. This and more will be covered below.
Do not rely on employment to pay for your education. As you are more than likely to be working part-time for minimum wage, the money you make ($400 to $600/month) will only help contribute towards rent and food, but not much more. Remember that according to U.S. federal law, any international student aiming to enroll at an U.S. higher education institution is required to submit proof of sufficient funding to meet the cost of all first-year expenses. This means that you are expected to already have enough money to pay for living expenses (rent, food, transport etc.) and all your educational cost (tuition fees, textbooks etc.). So you should consider part-time employment as a supplemental income and not your primary income.
Before being able to work in the USA, you have to first obtain a social security number (SSN). It is a nine-digit number issued to US citizens, permanent residents, and temporary workers by the U.S. government. It was initially issued for federal tax (social security) purposes but is now also used for identification purposes.
Speak with your international student advisor or visit the International Student Office at your institution and they will be able to help you with your SSN application and anything else related to obtaining employment in the USA.
You have the following employment options as an international student:
On-campus employment is a popular form of employment for international students in the USA. As an F-1 visa student you can work on-campus while the semester is in session and full-time during breaks, such as summer and winter breaks. Many departments on campus, such as the bookstore, library (reception or tutor), dorms, dining hall, international student office, bursar’s office, gym reception, and cafeteria, usually hire international students on a part-time basis and are well informed of the procedure of hiring an international student. Although most on-campus jobs will not be related to your degree, the jobs are very popular among students and they fill up very fast – sometimes even before the semester has started. You do best in applying as early as you can as these positions are limited.
The following rules and requirements apply for international students:
The university/college will pay you for your work and the International Student Office can normally help you with the paper work required for on-campus employment.
Below we are giving you additional information about two specifi job opportunities that you may not know about, but which are popular among international students. The departments offering these positions are usually very competent when it comes to hiring international students.
Tutor: It is generally another student working part-time for the university/college giving study help to other students. Normally the tutor is giving help in classes that he/she has already taken and received the letter grade B or better in. Tutor positions are often one of the on-campus jobs you can apply for as an international student and normally you have your tutoring sessions in the library.
Residence Assistant (RA): Is a student employed by the university/college to supervise and assist those living in the dorms (also called student housing or residence hall). Generally you will have to have lived in the dorm (residence hall) for one year, taken a certain amount of credits/units, and maintained a specified minimum GPA in order to be considered for the role. It is not uncommon for the RA to live in the dorm free of charge as a form of payment. Typical duties include checking-in and checking-out students, help during orientation, supervise the common areas, arrange events and activities for students living in the dorms, serve as a source of information regarding dorm and campus matters, and administrative duties etc. Many international students work as resident assistants. RA is also an acronym for Research Assistant, which in turn is an employment opportunity for graduate students.
Although it is an available option, you should not count on this opportunity as a viable means of supporting your studies in the USA. Only under extraordinary circumstances does USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) grant and authorize students to work off-campus due to economic hardship.
International students that experience economic hardship can apply with the help of international student office to USCIS for authorization to work off-campus while enrolled in a US university/college. A student must prove that its economic situation has changed drastically and that it was beyond their control. The student must also prove that there are not any on-campus employment opportunities available or that on-campus employment does not meet the students financial need.
Examples of what constitute economic hardship:
USCIS evaluate economic hardship for students on a case-by-case basis and even if you have valid reasons you may not always be approved. Students that are approved by USCIS can work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week during each semester and full-time during breaks.
It is a temporary job opportunity designed to allow a person to draw from academic knowledge and gain practical training and skills in a professional environment. An internship can be paid or unpaid and you could potentially even receive credits/units towards your degree.
Although you could be an intern (the person performing the internship) during the semester, it is more common for students to perform an internship during the summer and winter break, or after graduating. Unless required as part of a class or program, internships are optional and the application process is competitive.
You might find on-campus internship opportunities at the institution’s marketing department, PR & communications department, administration etc. If you prefer to pursue an off-campus internship, you are typically responsible for finding an intern position by yourself. In some cases the internship has to be approved by the university/college.
Contact both your international student advisor and the International Student Office for guidance and help. It could be worthwhile asking your professors and lecturers as they could have established business relationships with companies in the region.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
As an F-1 international student you can be allowed to obtain up to a total of 12 months of full-time employment to gain work experience after completing your undergraduate, graduate, or post graduate degree.. For the sake of simplicity, you can think of it as a one-year work permit that you can apply for after graduating. The work must be directly related to your pursued major and you must be a full-time F-1 student in good standing for at least one academic year. Sometimes the university/college may be able to recommend local companies that you can contact, but generally it is your responsibility to find a company that is prepared to hire you for up to one year.
You can apply for OPT after each degree you complete. This means you can apply for OPT after completing your Bachelor’s degree and then one more time after completing your Master’s degree.
Under certain circumstances you may be authorized to apply for OPT before completing your degree. This is called Pre-completion OPT. In order to qualify you must have completed one academic year (approximately 9 months) and be in good academic standing. Students can work up to 20 per week during the semester and full-time during breaks.
STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students are qualified for a 17-month extension, resulting in a total OPT period of 29 months. The extension can only be used after the completion of the original OPT and cannot be divided into more periods. Further, it can only be used once per student and not after every degree that you graduate.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training or CPT is a work opportunity offered to students who study a degree where the practical training is part of an established curriculum or academic program. This allows the student to have a job for which academic credit is awarded. The work is a requirement in the degree program or requirement for a course and students can be paid for their employment. CPT may be part-time (up to 20 hours per week) or full- time (more than 20 hours per week) and there is no limit of how many hours you can work. The hours you spent working on CPT do not count towards your OPT, however if you work full-time for 12 months or more you will not be eligible for OPT. If you work part-time or full-time for less than 12 months you can still apply for OPT. The international student office
handles the authorization for CPT and they will determine if you qualify for CPT.
As an international student holding an F-1 visa status you can work for an international organization. These organizations engaged in a full range of important global issues, such as peace and security, human rights, economic development, global health, and climate change. The Red Cross, World Trade Organization, and United Nations are examples of international organizations. For more information regarding international organizations, visit the State Department's website.
In order for students to start working for an international institution they must have a job offer and sponsorship within the student’s field of study. After receiving an offer from an employer on the list of international organizations you can apply to USCIS for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Regardless if the position is part-time or full-time, you must uphold your F-1 status during the entire course of employment. The benefits of working at an international institution are that it does not affect your OPT eligibility and it does not have to be a requirement for your degree program. Your international student advisor or an individual from the international student office should be able to determine your eligibility and assisting you in completing the application.
The application time is between two to four months and you are generally required to submit the following as part of the application:
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