In our continuing series on student immigration topics, Laurie Woog, our guest-blogging attorney whose practice is devoted to immigration and naturalization law, comments on how international students can work while they’re in the United States attending college.
If you plan on coming to the United States as an international student, do not plan on paying your tuition through a lucrative full time job. In general, students cannot work. There are, however, several important exceptions to this rule.
In contrast to off-campus work, prior authorization is not needed to work on-campus. On-campus work is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and can be full-time during official school breaks.
Schools offer something called Curricular Practical Training (CPT), during which foreign students can engage in employment. CPT usually takes the form of a required internship within an academic program; that is, the internship is an integral part of an established curriculum, such as working in a physical therapy clinic if you are studying to be a physical therapist in school. In most cases, the student must be registered for at least one academic year before applying for CPT authorization from the school. There is no fee, but the student must receive authorization prior to employment.
More commonly utilized for employment right after graduation is post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). A student on OPT must apply to USCIS for approval before graduation by submitting: Form I-765, the filing fee and required documentation. The student’s job must be related to his or her program of study. A student does not need to have a job to apply for OPT; however, only 90 days of unemployment are allowed.
Students on OPT are still on an F-1 visa and are given one year of work authorization for every level of school completed. For example, if you complete your bachelor’s degree in fine arts, then you can request a year of OPT and work in an art gallery. If you return to school and obtain a master’s degree in art history, then you can request another year of OPT and work in a museum or other art-related setting.
Even more useful these days, if you are in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics-related field (STEM), you can request an additional 17 months. Permissible STEM fields for the OPT extension are found at: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm. Utilizing a STEM extension often gives technology-savvy foreign students the time to find an employer who will sponsor them for a work visa such as an H-1b in order to remain legally in the United States after the OPT expires.
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