When in the United States on a student visa such as the F-1 visa, you may be wondering if you can work while you are studying. Indeed, you can! There are various options available to students to get work authorization depending on their studies and the type of work experience they are looking for. Read on to learn more about the different options for F-1 visa holders.

What is an F-1 Visa?

An F-1 Visa is a non-immigrant student visa that enables foreign nationals to get a degree, diploma, or certificate for their education in the United States at an authorized school. The F-1 visa is specifically for students pursuing their education full time.

Here are five different options available to work on a F-1 student visa while in the U.S.:

Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

The OPT program is for students who seek off-campus employment in their field of study. For example, a student studying history at the university level could use OPT to obtain an internship at a local history museum. To participate in OPT, you must ask your school to make a recommendation on your behalf by endorsing your completed Form I-20 and updating your records. Once the recommendation is complete, you will need to file a work authorization application with USCIS, and provide identification documents and verification of your school enrollment. From there, you can start OPT once you get approved.

Pre-Completion OPT is for students who have not yet graduated from their degree program. Because F-1 Visa holders are full-time students, there are limits to the amount of hours per week that you can work during the school year. However, it still provides students with an excellent opportunity to get career experience before they graduate and to network for post-graduation professional opportunities.

Post-Completion OPT

Post-Completion OPT is for students who are recent graduates from a degree program. It enables F-1 Visa holders to remain in the U.S. for at most 12 months without needing to seek another visa or work authorization while they complete the program.

STEM Optional Practical Training Extension

Students with fields of study in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) can extend their OPT for an additional 24 months, making the total period allotted for completion of OPT 36 months. This extension exists so U.S. businesses can recruit highly skilled graduates in these fields that they may be able to transition to long-term employment.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is designed for F-1 Visa holders who are seeking to participate in off-campus employment that is required by the degree program they are in. For example, if a university requires a student to complete at least one internship before graduation, they can take advantage of CPT. Most CPT programs require a course to be taken along with CPT, so it is important to check with your school counselors to see if this is required for the CPT program you seek.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

TPS for people from countries on a designated list functions as a shield for people in the United States with dangerous situations in their countries of origin. Some of the current countries on the TPS list include Venezuela, El Salvador, Haiti, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. People who are currently in the United States and come from one of these designated countries are able to obtain benefits such as work authorization and safety from deportation. F-1 Visa holders can file for TPS, while on their existing student visa, which would allow them to obtain a work permit.

It’s important to understand what work authorization option best fits your situation and to follow all the legal procedures to obtain it. Failure to legally obtain work authorization could threaten your visa status and present a hurdle if you ever decide to apply for Lawful Permanent Residence or citizenship in the future. Keep in mind that you cannot have more than one work authorization at the same time. For example, if you file for work authorization through an OPT stem-extension, you cannot also apply for work authorization through TPS. You will have to assess which option is better for obtaining work authorization depending on your individual circumstances.

If you would like to learn more about obtaining work authorization while in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, and discuss your various options, contact us for an assessment. We will walk you through your options and help you obtain work authorization!


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