In the USA, it is allowed to work legally with the student visa F-1, but with some restrictions. Below are the available options.
Work at an educational institution (On-Campus Employment)
Students can work at the institution up to 20 hours a week during the study and up to 40 hours on holidays and vacations. Usually, it is administrative work: coordination of student events, work at the library, the admission office etc.
Training on CPT and OPT programs
Those who study at the universities or colleges can get a job out of campus on the CPT or OPT programs (it is officially considered as an internship). Both programs provide both full and part-time employment.
CPT (Curricular Practical Training) — training during the study: the university delegates to a commercial company the right to teach some subject to the student. Then, the training report is checked at the university and gets a mark. So, the internship is a subject at the university.
How to get CPT
- Make sure that your educational institution provides CPT.
- Find an employer that is ready to take you for an internship. The job shall match your specialty at the university.
- Get an official job offer.
- Before the beginning of the semester, make an application for getting CPT and attach your job offer. Manage to do it before the last date of applying for CPT. The dates vary from university to university; usually, it is December or January (for the spring semester) or August or September (for the fall semester).
- In a few days, you will get a new I-20 form with the permission to work at your company during the semester. In the next semester, you will be able to apply for CPT again.
- Get the social security number (SSN) at the local Social Security Office if you haven’t gotten it before. Everyone who works in the USA needs this number.
OPT (Optional Practical Training) — training after graduating. It is provided after finishing the study and getting the bachelor’s degree (BA or BS), master’s degree (MA or MS) or MBA. OPT lasts one year.
Since 2016, the students with technical specialties (STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) get two more years of OPT. So, for them, the OPT program lasts 3 years.
CPT and OPT restrictions
- It is necessary to study at a university or college (not at a language school).
- CPT or OPT is given only after 8 months of being in the USA in the F-1 status, but not necessarily at this educational institution. For example, you can study at a language school and then transfer to a university.
- The training shall match the specialty at the university, but some variations are possible. For example, a student studying mathematics can work as a programmer.
- Not all educational institutions provide CPT and OPT or can have their own rules of getting and extending these programs, so the details are always to clarify at the university.
- If a student took CPT many times during the study, he or she can lose the opportunity to take OPT. This shall be clarified at the university.