by Elizabeth R. Blandon

Employment is permitted on a limited basis for students (F visa) and exchange visitors (J visa). The article discusses the differences in employment authorization for person who hold each status. On campus employment refers to work conducted in connection with the school, such as working at a library or in research. Off campus employment refers to all other employers, such as restaurants, offices, and private companies.

ON-Campus Employment BEFORE Graduation
On-campus employment is permitted for full-time foreign students for no more than twenty hours per week during the regular academic year. Full- time on-campus work is allowed during summer vacation and during breaks.

F-1 students do not require authorization from the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS, formerly INS) for work on campus.
J-1 students must first obtain approval in writing from the program sponsor.

OFF-Campus Employment BEFORE Graduation

F-1 Visa Holders F-1 visa holders have several possibilities for off-campus employment before graduation:
Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Students in valid F-1 status receive 12 months of OPT, which may be used before or after graduation. Most students save it for use after graduation. OPT requires that the student receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from CIS.

Part-time employment (20 or fewer hours per week) under OPT is deducted at a half-time rate (i.e., if you work part time for six months before you graduate, you will have seven months of OPT left).

Students must have been in valid F-1 visa status for at least 9 months before applying for OPT.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

This is defined as off-campus employment which is undertaken as part of a student’s academic program. Students must have been in valid F-1 status for the academic year (9 months) before applying for CPT. Part-time (i.e., 20 hours or less per week) CPT is not deducted from OPT. There is no limitation upon the length of time you may participate in full-time CPT but it may limit the amount of time of OPT available.

Internship with an International Organization

This work authorization may be granted if the employment is based with a recognized international organization (i.e. Organization of American States, The World Bank). Students are required to receive an EAD from CIS before beginning employment.

Economic Necessity

Limited employment authorization may also be given to F-1 students who can demonstrate that they have been placed under severe financial hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond their control which arose after their arrival in the United States. This type of employment is authorized by CIS in very rare cases. Unlike the other three options for employment, this alternative does not need to be related to the student’s academic field of study.

J-1 Visa Holders

Off-campus employment prior to graduation is available to J-1 visa holders but Curricular Practical Training is NOT. CPT may be authorized for the length of time necessary to complete the goals and objectives of the training, provided that the amount of time is approved.

CPT offers a variety of employment situations to supplement an academic program in the United States. It may not exceed the period of full course of study or 18 months, whichever is shorter. The exchange visitor must first obtain approval in writing from the sponsor

Limited employment authorization may be authorized to J-1 students who can demonstrate that they have been placed under severe financial hardship due to circumstances beyond their control which arose after their arrival in the United States.

Off-Campus Employment AFTER Graduation

F-1 Visa Holders
As previously mentioned, most students use their OPT time after they graduate. In this way, they extend their F-1 status in the United States.
The time frame for first year students to apply to CIS for their EAD is no earlier than 90 days prior to the date of graduation. Students do NOT need to have a job offer in order to qualify for OPT. Note: Sixty days reflects the period of time F-1 students are still in status before departing from the United States.
J-1 Visa Holders
For CPT during and after completion of a program the limit is 18 months which includes all Training, whether before or after completion of studies, and the training period may not exceed the amount of time spent in the full course of study.

Employment of Dependents (EAD) (F-2 and J-2 visa holders)
Although dependents of F-1 visa holders are not permitted to work in the United States, J-2 visa holders (dependents of J-1 visa holders) may apply to CIS for employment authorization. J-2 visa holders do not need a job offer in order to apply for the EAD.