International students who want to study in the U.S must first get an F-1 (Student) visa/status before they can enroll in an accredited U.S. school or university.
While on an F-1 status, there is no limit in the duration of stay in the U.S. provided the F-1 student is making good faith progress towards the completion of his/her academic course work and not engaged in unauthorized activities, particularly employment without authorization.
Engaging in unauthorized employment will be considered a violation of the F-1 status.
To be able to work, the F-1 student must first secure an employment authorization from the schoolís designated school official (DSO) or international student advisor (ISA).
The employment authorization may or may not need prior United States Citizenship and Immigration Servicesí (USCIS) approval depending on the type of employment.
There are limited circumstances when F-1 students may be authorized to work in the U.S.
A. On Campus Employment
For on-campus employment, there is no need for a prior USCIS approval or a separate Employment Authorization Document (EAD). A notation on the studentís I-20 form by the DSO will do.
On campus employment means employment on the schoolís premises, and includes employment with ďon-location commercial firms that provide services for students on campus, such as bookstores, or cafeterias.Ē It can also include work off-campus only if there is an education affiliation between the schoolís curriculum and the work or contractually funded postgraduate research programs.
The employment must be integrally related to the studentís education program. Allowable work is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Full-time work (40 hours) is allowed during vacations or semestral breaks.
B. Optional Practical Training
Under the Optional Practical Training (OPT), a student in valid F-1 status may be authorized to work for a total of twelve (12) months. The F-1 student can use this 12-month period either pre-completion or post-completion of his/her academic course work.
Pre-completion OPT is available only after the first year of study provided the work is related to the F-1 studentís field of study and he/she has filed his/her application for employment up to 90 days prior to completion of the first academic year. The F-1 student may work for 20 hours per week while school is in session or full-time during semestral breaks.
Post-completion OPT must be requested prior to completion of course requirements. The employment or training must be directly related to the studentís major area of study. The F-1 student is allowed to work full-time after completion of his studies of graduation. However, if the F-1 student had receive prior pre-completion OPT, the time used will be deducted from the 12-month total OPT period.
To obtain OPT, the student must have the written authorization of the designated school official on his/her I-20 form. For post-completion OPT, the student has to wait for the USCIS to issue the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before he/she can engage in employment. All OPT must be concluded within 14 months following completion of studies.
Should the F-1 student decide to pursue further studies (i.e. from Bachelorís to Masterís or Masterís to Ph.D.), then he/she becomes eligible for a new one-year (12 months) OPT period..
C. Other Off-Campus Employment
Other off-campus employment may be available to an F-1 student who is experiencing unforeseen economic hardship. To be eligible, the student must have been enrolled for at least one full-year academic study and show an unforeseen change in economic circumstances and unavailability or insufficiency of on-campus employment opportunities to meet the studentís financial needs. It is necessary for the student to apply for an EAD card with the USCIS by filing the appropriate forms and proofs of unforeseen change or circumstances and economic hardship.
Editorís Note: REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For further information, you may call him at 212 695 5281 or log on to his website at http://www.seguritan.com/