Introduction to Earning While Learning

In order to be secured financially as well as to gain invaluable working experience, many students want to work while attending school. It is no secret that studies and lodging in the United States has become very high, hence trying to work while you are on campus becomes very important.

Many international students look around for work during their time in school, or even after they have obtained a degree. Therefore it becomes very important for them to recognize the work authorization requirements before they commit to any employment opportunities. As we have already discussed, working in the country without proper approval is not legal, and is an infringement of the immigration status. Hence it becomes very important for you to understand all the legal methods of working.

F-1 students can be employed by an employer, but they cannot be self-employed. In order to work as an F-1 student, an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD), Form I-766 along with the certificate of eligibility for the Non-Immigrant student status; Form I-29 is the proof of the employment authorization.

On the other hand, the J-1 exchange visitors, a certificate of eligibility for exchange visitor status showing an employment authorized category of J-1 status or any of the following categories - ‘student’, ‘student intern’ or ‘international visitor’ should suffice, along with a letter from the sponsor providing evidence for your employment.

Optional Practical Training, is available to students holding an F-1 and an M-1 visa. This gives the students an opportunity to practise directly what they are learning. This request should be made to the DSO roughly 90 days before you start your course.

There are two types of OTP –

  • pre-OTP
  • post-OTP. 

For F-1 students, pre-completion OTP is in place to be used before graduation, and it can be received if you have completed minimum one year of school. Under this, the students may work up to twenty hours per week during the session of the school, and may work full time during vacations (when the school is not in session).

The Post OTP scenario provides an opportunity for the students to look for immigration options outside the student visa category, once your graduate program is completed. This is also an opportunity for the students for students to explore options to migrate to a different immigration grouping.

For students having F-1 visa, they can work in post-completion OPT full-time and you can receive OPT for up to one year. Within 30 days after receiving your DSO’s endorsement of OPT on your Form I-20, file Form I-765 - the application for Employment Authorization. This form should contain the required fee and the documents to support, which includes the DSO’s OPT endorsement on Form I-20. Also include your passport, the copies of the I-94 card. A time duration of three to six months should be allowed for evaluation and processing of the Application. Hence, begin this process well in advance, or else you might lose an opportunity to find work and even if you do find one, the time duration will be much less. OPT status has a provision of finding a job within 90 days, or else you might have to stay unemployed.

Also remember that if you are not employed for 90 days, this is viewed as a direct violation of the F-1 status. Also, if you are working for an organization which is not related to your course of study, this may get you debarred from any change in application status in the future.    

Students graduating with an STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) degree are eligible for a 17-month extension of post-completion OPT. You can however be granted a STEM only when you receive a post-completion OPT for one year. Hence, when and if you receive an STEM extension, your training period extends to a maximum of 29 months.

Following are few requirements;        

  • The employer is registered in the E-Verify program.
  • This is the first time that the student has received an STEM extension, and that he has never before received any such 17-month extension
  • The degree program which the student is applying for must be listed on the STEM designated program list. ( check www. Ice.gov/sevis)