Many students are surprised to learn that an international student under an F-1 visa may, in limited circumstances, engage in paid work in the course of their study program without CPT or OPT. However, the range of allowed activities is narrow, and it is important to ensure that your activities fall within the range of permitted work activities, such that you are not unintentionally engaging in “unauthorized employment.”
A student may engage in “on-campus employment,” less than 20 hours a week while school in session, and full-time during vacations or when school is not in session, provided that their job does not displace U.S. residents.
“On-campus employment” should be a job that is performed on the school’s premises, which includes working at establishments on-location which provides services for students on campus (e.g., school bookstore or café). This normally includes serving as a research or teaching assistant.
“On-campus employment” also includes work at an “educationally affiliated” employer at an off-campus location, pursuant to a school’s established curriculum or contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level. Work authorized under this definition must be an “integral part” of the student’s educational program.
Before starting an on-campus employment arrangement, the student should consult with the school’s designated school official (DSO) for immigration matters, and obtain a letter from the school official certifying that the job qualifies as on-campus employment. The DSO is also required to keep records concerning the F-1 student’s employment in the school files.
Off-Campus Employment (without CPT or OPT)
Normally, a student would pursue off-campus employment through practical training authorizations, which takes the form of CPT or OPT.
In cases where a student does not obtain CPT or OPT, there are limited circumstances under which an F-1 student may still receive permission from USCIS to engage in off-campus employment on a case-by-case basis, based on (1) severe economic hardship or (2) emergent circumstances. The student must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year, is in good standing, enrolled in full-time studies, and show severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control which cannot be adequately met with on-campus employment opportunities. A student needs to first obtain permission from the designated school official (DSO), who will issue an I-20 endorsed to that effect. Then, the student may file a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization.” Such authorizations, if granted, will allow a student to work off-campus for one year.
Such employment cannot exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session, but can be full-time during vacations and when school is not in session.
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