Working in the US

F-1 Visa Holders - J-1 Visa Holders

Working on a Student Visa

Note of Caution: Check with your international student services office before undertaking any form of employment while abroad, whether you are studying for a full or short-term degree, what visa you hold or whether the employment is paid or unpaid, on-campus or off-campus.

Most institutions have similar ground rules for working during your studies, which we aim to summarise below. However, this is meant to be merely a starting point and not official information on your rights to work in the US.

In this section, you will find information for F-1 visa holders and their spouses as well as J-1 visa holders and their spouses.  You will also want to read our sections on taxes and obtaining a social security number for paid employment.

F-1 Visa Holders

Working On-Campus - Working Off-Campus - Dependents - OPT

Working On-Campus During Your Studies

Students on an F-1 visa may work on campus for up to 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours during the holidays, provided you are still a registered student, in a paid or unpaid capacity. Work may be related to your major (tutoring students, working in a research lab, etc.) or casual work (refereeing intramural football matches, working as a Resident Assistant in a dorm). 

On-campus work does not require a change of visa status. However, we recommend that you seek approval for any paid work from your visa sponsor, likely the international students office that issued your I-20. You must receive approval from your advisor before you begin work.

To find on-campus jobs, check first with your careers office and the jobs section of your university website. You may also want to enquire with offices such as your academic department, hall of residence, campus dining, the library and campus recreation centre.

Working Off-Campus During Your Studies

F-1 and J-1 students may not engage in paid, casual work off-campus while completing their degree. In very exceptional cases (called severe economic hardship), you may apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to work in a paid capacity off-campus. In their application, students must provide objective proof that their financial support has been significantly affected due to unforeseen circumstances that were beyond the student’s control and for which on-campus work and CPT do not provide sufficient funds. For example, this could be the sudden withdrawal of a scholarship, large fluctuations in the exchange rate, etc. Though this type of authorisation is granted rarely, check with your international office if you feel you may qualify. 

An F-1 student may be eligible to apply for off-campus employment authorization after completing an academic year in F-1 status. A student who receives authorization from USCIS for off-campus employment may not work more than 20 hours a week when school is in session. A designated school official must request off-campus employment for an F-1 student in SEVIS in support of the Form I-765 which must be filed with USCIS.

Dependents

F-2 visa holders are not permitted to complete paid work under any circumstances. Alternatively, F-2 visa holders may apply for their own visas to study or work in the US. See the US Embassy’s website for more information.

OPT - Working After Your Studies

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an outstanding professional and academic benefit of completing a full academic programme on an F-1 visa.  OPT provides work authorisation for up to 12 months of practical training. Authorised employment may be paid or unpaid and on- or off- campus. However, it must relate to your field of study.

Under new visa regulations, students of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) may apply for an additional 24 months of OPT for a total of 36 months. Students who complete a second full degree in the US at the higher level (ie, a BA and then an MA) would be eligible for OPT twice. That means students who complete undergraduate and postgraduate STEM degrees in the US, and undertake OPT after each qualification, could work in the USA for up to six years in total!

Most students will do OPT at the end of their studies. However, pre-completion OPT is available for those students who would like to complete a paid internship off-campus during their studies, but do not qualify for CPT. Pre-completion OPT will deduct from your 12 months. Part-time pre-completion OPT will count as 50% of the time (so two months part-time, pre-completion OPT will deduct one month from your post-completion OPT).

Most students apply for OPT during their last semester of study. You do not have to have a job offer lined up. However, a Designated School Official (DSO) at your US university must approve OPT before you can apply to USCIS for your Employment Authorization Document. You will also complete the I-765 form and pay a fee. Note this process can take up to three months, so you are encouraged to apply early.

J-1 Visa Holders

Working On-Campus - Working Off-Campus - Dependents

Working On-Campus During Your Studies

With approval from their visa sponsor, students on a J-1 visa may work on campus for up to 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours during the holidays, in a paid or unpaid capacity. Please note you must be issued written approval from your sponsor before you may begin work on-campus. 

To find on-campus jobs, check first with your careers office and the jobs section of your university website. You may also want to enquire with offices such as your academic department, hall of residence, campus dining, the library and campus recreation centre.

Work Off-Campus During & After Your Studies

F-1 and J-1 students may not engage in paid, casual work off-campus while completing their degree. In very exceptional cases (called severe economic hardship), you may apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to work in a paid capacity off-campus. In their application, students must provide objective proof that their financial support has been significantly affected due to unforeseen circumstances that were beyond the student’s control and for which on-campus work and CPT do not provide sufficient funds. For example, this could be the sudden withdrawal of a scholarship, large fluctuations in the exchange rate, etc. Though this type of authorisation is granted rarely, check with your international office if you feel you may qualify. 

The responsible officer must approve the exchange visitor’s participation in the activity. Student employment occurs on campus unless there is serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic necessity. Academic training is directly related to the student’s major field of study and in most cases, occurs off campus and for a specified period of time.

Exchange visitors who are participating as College/University Students (degree and non-degree) are permitted to work and are limited to twenty (20) hours per week, except during school breaks and annual vacation, unless authorized for economic necessity.  Some examples of student employment are:

Scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship:  If the employment is required because of a scholarship, fellowship, or an assistantship, such activity usually occurs on campus with the school as the employer.  In certain circumstances, however, the work can be done elsewhere for a different employer.  For example, an exchange visitor may work in a government or private research laboratory if the exchange visitor’s major professor has a joint appointment at one of those locations and the employment is supervised and counts towards the exchange visitor’s degree;

On campus:  The Exchange Visitor Program regulations allow for jobs on-campus that are related and/or unrelated to study, which stipulates that the work can be done “on the premises” of the school.  The school does not have to be the employer.  For example, exchange visitors could work for a commercial company such as a food service company operating on the campus;

- Off campus:  Exchange visitors may be authorized off campus employment by the program’s responsible officer (RO) when “necessary due to serious, urgent and unforeseen economic circumstances” that have arisen since the exchange visitor’s sponsorship on the J visa.

Academic Training: As a J-1 student, you may be eligible for Academic Training. Academic Training is an outstanding professional and academic benefit of the J-1 visa. This work authorisation can be used during your academic programme and/or after you complete your studies. Academic Training is employment that is considered integral or important to your degree programme. It must be approved by your academic department. Training can be paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time (only part-time for pre-completion). However, you must have an offer in hand before you will be granted Academic Training, and you cannot change employers during your training. Academic training is directly related to the student’s major field of study and in most cases, occurs off campus and for a specified period of time.

The length of time you train is based on the length of time you have been enrolled as a student. If you are enrolled for three months, the length of your Academic Training will be three months; if you have studied for a year, your Academic Training can last up to one year. The maximum period of Academic Training is 18 months regardless of whether you have studied longer than that. Your allotment of time may be used solely during or after your studies or split between the two.

Dependents

Unlike F-2 visa holders, J-2 visa holders may work in the US.  Spouses should apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for employment authorisation.  However, they may not begin work until they have received an Employment Authorization Document from USCIS. This can take up to two to three months, and you need to be in the US to apply. Check with your international students office or visa sponsor for more guidance. In most cases a J-2 visa holder can seek employment. To work, a J-2 visa holder must obtain an Employment Authorization Document from USCIS. Money earned by a J-2 cannot be used to support the principal J-1 visa holder.

Note: This page is meant to be a general guide to the visa application process. Local US Embassies are the official source of information on visas, and any information provided to you by the US Embassy supersedes information on this webpage.