F-1 Student Visas
Employment while in Student Visa Status. F-1 student status has restrictions on lawful employment. Initially, on the SEVIS I-20 and F Visa application, the applicant demonstrates s/he could afford to go to school without working, since F-1 is a non-working status. However, there are restricted circumstances under which an F-1 may be employed. Information on all these options can be obtained from the Designated School Official (DSO) at the university or school. In most cases, the DSO must also authorize or recommend the employment of a foreign student. It is advisable to speak to the DSO prior to beginning any employment while in F-1 status.
Students authorized to work only if employment is authorized on their I-20 by the school's DSO (SEVIS program Designated School Official). I-20 authorized employment can include only the following:
- On-Campus Employment. Generally on campus premises only, but may include work off-campus if there is an educational affiliation between the school curriculum and the work. Generally, the work must be integrally related to the student's educational program. Generally, as long as the student is carrying a full course of study, no prior USCIS approval or EAD is required. Employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Generally these include work-study programs which are part of an established curriculum. Generally a CPT requires a student has been enrolled in a full course of study for a full academic year.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT). F-1 students must apply for an EAD for OPT. OPT is employment or training that directly relates to the student's major area of study and may be available at different times during the student's academic career. An F-1 student may be authorized to engage in a total of 12 months of OPT, and may become eligible for a new year of OPT upon each change to a higher educational level (e.g., one year of OPT upon completion of the undergraduate degree and a new year of OPT upon completion of a graduate degree). An F-1 student may not begin OPT until the date indicated on his or her employment authorization document ("EAD"), Form I-766. During OPT one remains in F-1 status.
- New rules allow for extended OPT for some degrees, see below.
- Other Off-Campus employment may be authorized by the DSO in certain cases of unforeseen economic hardship, provided the student has been enrolled for one full year and the employment is limited to 20 hours per week. The DSO must file Form I-538 indicating that employment opportunities on campus are unavailable or insufficient to meet the student's economic needs. A USCIS EAD is required.
- Students may also be authorized to work through the sponsorship of an international organization. An EAD is required.
Pre-completion OPT: An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT
- After been enrolled for 1 full academic year;
- Pre-completion OPT is directly related to the student's major area of study;
- Student in pre-completion OPT may only work part time (up to 20 hours/week) while school is in session—they may work full time when school is not in session—if eligible to register for the next term and plan to do so.
- Pre-completion OPT is OPT authorized to be worked before the student's program end date
Post-completion OPT: An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post-completion OPT upon completion of studies.
- The post-completion OPT must be directly related to the student's major area of study.;
- Post-completion OPT is OPT authorized to be worked after the student's program end date.
M-1 Vocational Student employment is limited to approved practical training. An EAD is required.
Extended OPT for F-1 students with STEM Degrees.
Effective April 23, 2008, ICE issued new SEVIS policy extending OPT periods for some F-1 graduates. OPT may be extended from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students with degree in science, technology, engineering, of mathematics; if employer is enrolled in E-Verify. Under the prior rules, an F-1 student could be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies.
To be eligible for an OPT extension, an F-1 non-immigrant student must:
- Currently be participating in a 12-month period of approved post-completion OPT;
- Have successfully completed a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) included in the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List from a college or university certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Student and Exchange Visitor Program;
- Be working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student's major area of study;
- Be working for, or accepted employment with, an employer enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' E-Verify program. E-Verify is a free, internet-based system operated in partnership with the Social Security Administration that helps employers to determine the employment eligibility of newly hired employees; and
- Properly maintain F-1 status.
An F-1 student who has attended an SEVP-certified college, university, conservatory, or seminary on a full-time basis for at least one academic year may be authorized up to 12 months of OPT per program level. However, F-1 students who have one year or more of full-time curricular practical training are not eligible for OPT for that degree.
The additional post-completion OPT is available to students working in high-tech industry.
- F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, are employed by employers enrolled in E-Verify, and who have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT related to such a degree, may apply for a 17-month extension.
- This extension of the OPT period for STEM degree holders gives U.S. employers two chances to recruit these highly desirable graduates through the H-1B process, as the extension is long enough to allow for H-1B petitions to be filed in two successive fiscal years.
Eligibility for the 17-month OPT extension is limited to students who have received a degree included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List. The student must have a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate degree included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
This list sets forth eligible courses of study according to Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes developed by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
- The STEM Designated Degree Program List includes the following courses of study:
- Computer Science Applications
- Actuarial Science
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences
- Engineering Technologies
- Mathematics and Statistics
- Military Technologies
- Medical Scientist
- Physical Sciences
- Science Technologies
Eligibility for OPT extension is also limited to students who are currently in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree. Thus, for example, a student with an undergraduate degree in a designated STEM field, but currently in OPT based on a subsequent MBA degree, would not be eligible for an OPT extension.
F-1 students may apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before their program end date and up to 60 days after their program end date. The application must be properly filed with the correct USCIS Service Center. In addition, the application must be properly filed within 30 days of the date the student's DSO recommends OPT in SEVIS.
- Students may apply for an OPT extension at any time prior to the expiration date of their current OPT period.
- A student may file the request for post-completion OPT no more than 90 days prior to the student's program end date.
- Students cannot have a requested start date that is more than 60 days past the student's program end date.