Work while you Study in the US
United States (US) is a popular destination for higher studies with some of the best institutions of learning offering a wide range of courses, research opportunities and vocational programmes that are internationally recognised and instrumental in shaping a student's life.
For most international students applying for undergraduate, postgraduate, research or vocational programmes, getting accepted to a US university also means supporting their tuition fees and living costs. For this reason, you can explore the option of working while studying in the US to achieve both goals.
How to get started?
The type of student visa category being granted to you determines your work opportunities during studies. Your visa will fall under one of the following categories depending upon your study goal in US and your eligibility:
- F-1 student visa: The F-1 student visa allows you to enter US for a full-time course that leads up to a degree, diploma, certificate or language training at a US college, university, high school, elementary school, seminary or conservatory approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Programme and Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
- M-1 student visa: The M-1 student visa allows you to study vocational or non-academic programmes. This, however, does not include language training.
- J-1 exchange visitor visa: You will be granted a J-1 student visa if you are participating in a specific educational or cultural exchange programme such as LASPAU, DAAD, Fulbright, AmidEast, etc. and at least 50 per cent of your course's tuition fee is sponsored by sources like a government agency, official sponsorship agency, employer, etc.
Eligibility criteria to work while you study in US
Different student visas have different rules and limits for allowing international students to pick up part-time jobs during their course of study in the US. In order to work while study in US, you must fulfill the following criteria:
- Hold a valid F-1, M-1 or J-1 student visa.
- Be enrolled in a US institution approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Programme and Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
- Have authorisation by the Designated School Official (DSO) on your Form I-201D or have received Form I-766, also known as the Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be authorized to work during studies in the US.
- Must have completed one year of study in the US to be eligible for off-campus employment under the F-1 visa.
- Your off-campus employment under F-1 or M-1 visa must be related to your area of study and be authorised beforehand by the DSO (person authorised to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.
What kind of work can you take up?
As an M-1 visa holder, you may engage in practical training, but only upon completion of your studies. If you are an exchange visitor on J-1 visa, you cannot accept any form of paid employment in the U.S other than what is included in your programme (academic training).
If you are a F-1 visa holder, you can look at two types of employments:
On campus employment: You can accept on-campus jobs at your university without seeking permission from USCIS. You can opt from the following:
- On-campus work with a commercial establishment that is under a contract with your institution and provides services like cafeteria, bookstore, etc.
- Off-campus work as part of a scholarship, fellowship, assistantship, post-doctoral appointment at a workplace that is educationally related or affiliated with your campus. For example, a research project with a professor on a grant provided from outside the school.
Check with the employer or DSO if the job on offer is considered on-campus employment in case your university campus is spread over a large area in a town or city.
Off-campus employment: After completing your first academic year, you can engage in any of the following off-campus employments upon authorisation by the DSO:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
Bsically, these 3 options mean that your work has to be related to your field of study
Off-campus job permission for international students is also granted in case of economic hardship or emergent circumstances if recommended by the DSO and approved by USCIS, which issues an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and similarly for internship with international organisations like the UN.
How to find work
You can approach on-campus job opportunities the moment you land at your university on basis of a valid I-20 form issued by your school. For off-campus employment, follow the steps below:
- Approach your DSO for work permission, who will recommend you in the SEVIS database, and provide you with Form I-20 or "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status".
- File Form I-765 with USCIS within 30 days, including the fee and a signed Form I-20.
- USCIS will determine your application by considering the forms I-765, I-20 and additional supporting materials. You can check your application status on the USCIS website using the application receipt number.
- You will receive a Form I-766 or "Employment Authorization Document," and a letter if your application is approved.
Speak to advisors at the International Student Office at your campus and look for resources online to stay updated on job opportunities that allow working part time while studying.
Total hours permitted for work during studies
Unless you have obtained a special permission by the DSO, you cannot take up work in the first year at the US university, college or institution. You can work for a maximum of 20 hours per week on-campus while the university is in session, and 40 hours per week during vacation period. For off-campus employment, either during the course or upon course completion, you can seek authorization to work for up to 18 months or for the duration of your program (whichever is shorter); Ph.D graduates can extend this time period to 36 months.
Jobs F1 Visa Students should NOT take up while Studying in the US
Unlike American students, Indian or international students on F1 visa or not allowed to take up off-campus jobs like working at gas stations, hotels etc. Taking up such jobs is illegal and could lead to revocation of your visa and even deportation!
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