Understanding Your Work Permission

F-1 students can obtain a job off-campus through one of two ways:  economic necessity or practical training.   Both ways require endorsement by your international student advisor in the Center for Global Study and Engagement.

Economic Necessity Work Permission - If you experience extreme financial need, which is defined as “severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond (your) control”, you may qualify for a work permit from the INS.  This type of permit is the most difficult to qualify for.  To obtain this type of work permission, you must also:

  • Have completed one full year of college (defined as 9 full months), and be in good academic standing
  • Obtain a recommendation from the international student advisor
  • Complete an extensive application form, which includes submitting proof of economic hardship

The type of work you are allowed to do with this work permission is not limited to your particular field of study.   You may work up to 20 hours a week during academic semesters, and full-time during summer and semester breaks, provided that you are registered for the next school term.

Practical training allows you to work off campus for a period of up to 12 months in order to supplement your education.   The work needs to be related to what you are studying and appropriate for your level of education.  This means, for example, that a Mathematics major cannot apply for a position as a youth counselor.    There are two types of practical training, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).   See below for more information about these options:

CPT – Students who have declared a major that requires an internship or work experience may be eligible
for CPT. After securing an internship or work experience, contact your international student advisor for an
appointment. You will need to provide your employment offer letter and a letter of endorsement from your
academic advisor. Using this documentation, your international student advisor will be able to endorse your
I-20, which can be used as a legal work permit for your internship.

Be sure to carefully monitor the amount of time you spend working in CPT – if you work 12 or more months
in full-time CPT you will not be eligible for OPT after graduation.

OPT – Most international students find that they are able to utilize Optional Practical Training to work in
the U.S.   F-1 students are allowed to use OPT to work for one year, either during college or after graduation,
which are respectively entitled pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT. However, OPT is strictly held
 to a 12-month limit, so any time spent in OPT during college reduces the amount of time you are able to work
 in OPT after graduation. OPT must be approved by USCIS and may take 2 to 3 months to process. Contact your
 international student advisor early in your job search to make an appointment.

H1-B Visa
This type of visa is issued to those who want to work in the US and who meet certain requirements.   The H1 – B visa may be used to extend your employment after your post-completion OPT expires.  Each year, the US government sets up a quota system to issue the H1-B.   The quota period runs from October 1st  - September 30th of the following year.   If you apply for an H1-B Visa after the quota has run out, your application will not be processed until the next October.   The submission period for H1-B petitions begins on April 1st of each year.

If you are approved for an H1-Visa, you are authorized to work with your sponsoring organization for 3 years, at which time you can apply to renew for another 3 years.    The total time limit on this visa is 6 years.  After 6 years you must either leave the country or change your visa status.   Since an H1-B Visa is sponsored by the employer, you cannot use the same H1-B Visa if you change employers.

To apply for an H1-B Visa, you must have a degree from a 4-year institution or 10 years of related experience.   You need to find a company that will hire you for a position directly related to your degree, issue you an offer letter, and sponsor your H-1 B status, which currently costs the employer $610.00.    The employer must then file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor.

The process of filing an H1-B application can be complicated.    It is commonly recommended that you or your employer hire a lawyer to file the application and to take care of all the issues regarding your tax status.  

Green Card
A green card is the common term for an “Alien Registration Receipt Card”. The green card identifies the holder as a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States.  LPR’s have more rights than holders of non-immigrant visas, yet have fewer rights than U.S. citizens.

There are several ways for international students to obtain a green card: employment based preferences and the green card lottery.   Read on for more information about each:

  1. Employment-Based Preferences – an employer who is currently sponsoring your H1-B visa may offer you a permanent job.   Because of the current 6-year limitation on working in the U.S. with an H1-B visa, you would need to obtain a green card to take such a position.   To hire you in this way, your employer must prove that you will be paid a normal wage and that the job cannot be filled by U.S. citizens. 
  2. Green Card Lottery – every year the U.S. government issues 50,000 green cards through a lottery system.   Applicants are selected randomly through a computer-generated system.   For more information, please visit the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs page.

Review iStudentCity.com for an up-to-date listing of immigration updates that may affect your job search.