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Many international students come to the United States to pursue their education and gain valuable academic and professional experiences. As an international student, you may want to explore opportunities to work while studying or after completing your degree. This blog post aims to guide you through the process of obtaining a work visa or permit as an international student in the United States.
- Understand Your Student Visa
Before seeking employment in the United States, it’s essential to understand the terms and conditions of your student visa. Most international students in the U.S. hold an F-1 visa (for academic programs) or a J-1 visa (for exchange visitor programs). Both visa types come with specific regulations regarding employment.
- On-Campus Employment
As an F-1 student, you are generally allowed to work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year and full-time during school breaks. You do not need a separate work permit for on-campus employment, but you must maintain your status and receive approval from your Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Officer (RO).
- Off-Campus Employment
Off-campus employment for international students is limited, and you will typically need specific authorization for these opportunities:
a. Optional Practical Training (OPT): OPT is a work authorization program that allows F-1 students to work in a job related to their major field of study for up to 12 months (or 24 months for STEM degree holders) after completing their degree. To apply for OPT, work with your DSO and submit the necessary forms to USCIS.
b. Curricular Practical Training (CPT): CPT is another form of work authorization that allows F-1 students to engage in off-campus employment directly related to their program of study. You must obtain CPT authorization from your DSO and meet specific academic requirements.
c. Severe Economic Hardship: In cases of severe financial hardship, F-1 students may apply for off-campus work authorization. Approval is subject to USCIS discretion and requires demonstrated need.
- J-1 Visa Holders
If you are on a J-1 visa, you may have access to different work opportunities, such as Academic Training (AT). AT allows J-1 students to work in positions directly related to their field of study for a specific period, typically determined by their program sponsor.
- Post-Graduation Employment
After completing your degree, you may apply for the following work visas:
a. H-1B Visa: This visa is for individuals in specialty occupations. It’s often pursued by international students who have found employment with a U.S. employer.
b. Optional Practical Training Extension: STEM degree holders may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT, known as the STEM OPT extension.
c. Employment-Based Green Card: Some international students eventually pursue a green card through employment-based categories, which can lead to permanent residency.
- Consult Your School’s International Office
Your school’s international student office or advising center is a valuable resource for guidance on work opportunities and visa-related matters. They can provide information, assistance, and support throughout your employment journey.
Obtaining a work visa or permit as an international student in the United States is a multi-step process that requires careful planning and adherence to immigration regulations. It’s essential to understand the terms of your student visa and explore the various options available to you for on-campus and off-campus employment. Additionally, consult with your Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Officer (RO) for guidance and ensure that you comply with all U.S. immigration requirements. By following the proper procedures, you can pursue valuable work experiences and potentially secure employment in the United States after completing your studies.