Employment Opportunities That Require Explicit USCIS approval

Off-Campus Employment for Economic Necessity

Generally F-1 students are not allowed to work off campus, etc. However, some alien students may be eligible for USCIS authorized off-campus employment because of economic necessity. To be eligible for such employment, the student must demonstrate that he needs to work because of severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control. Some examples of this include:

  1. Substantial fluctuations in the value of exchange rates or currencies;

  2. Unexpected medical bills or other substantial, unexpected expenses; or

  3. Loss of on-campus employment or financial aid, where the student was not at fault for such loss.

In addition, the student must (1) demonstrate that suitable on-campus employment is not available; (2) demonstrate that he or she has completed one full academic year and is in good academic standing; and (3) obtain a recommendation letter from his or her foreign student advisor in favor of such employment authorization. The student is required to apply for work authorization with the USCIS and if such work authorization is granted, the student is limited to 20 hours a week for work when school is in session.

Optional Practical Training

Under USCIS rules, foreign students in the U.S. are permitted to engage in practical training. Practical training may either be pre-graduation or post-completion. Pre-graduation practical training is available (1) whenever school is not in session, so long as the student is attending a college/university and is eligible to register for the next semester (or term) and intends to do so; or (2) when the student has finished his course of study.

Usually, an OPT is for twelve months. For those alien students who are in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and their employers participate in E-Verify system, they may extend their OPT for another seventeen months. For more information about OPT extension, please click here.

The USCIS refers to the above-described forms of practical training as "optional practical training." Under USCIS rules, all optional practical training must be completed within a fourteen-month period after the student has completed his or her studies. Any pre-graduation practical training is subtracted from the twelve month maximum on all optional practical training. Note, however, that part-time pre-graduation practical training of 20 hours a week is subtracted from the twelve-month period at only half the full-time rate.

The following are some additional features of optional practical training:

  1. An alien student cannot engage in optional practical training if he or she spent twelve months (or more) employed full-time in a curricular practical training program;

  2. An alien student enrolled in language training programs is not permitted to engage in optional practical training;

  3. Generally speaking, an alien student needs to have been in F-1 status for a minimum of 9 months to receive permission to engage in optional practical training;

  4. An alien student who departs the U.S. for a period in excess of 5 months before returning and resuming their studies as a part of a new course of study is considered to be undertaking a new period of study in the U.S. Consequently, they will be eligible for a new 12 month period of optional practical training;

  5. Under optional practical training, employment authorization can be issued for only a fourteen-month period following completion of studies. Thus, if a lengthy delay occurs in the employment authorization application process and employment authorization is not granted until more than two months after the completion of studies, it is possible that the student will not be provided with a full twelve-month period of practical training. This is true even if the student did not previously utilize any optional practical training periods. Therefore, if an alien student seeks a twelve-month period of post-graduation practical training, he must be sure to apply for an employment authorization before he completes the studies, or as soon as possible in two months after he completes his studies to avoid the loss of any time due to USCIS processing delays;

  6. Under USCIS rules, an alien student may apply for optional practical training up to 120 days before the start of employment and up to 60 days following the completion of studies;

  7. Optional practical training is terminated automatically whenever the alien student changes schools.

The alien student seeking to obtain optional practical training must apply directly to the USCIS. Before applying, however, the student must receive a favorable recommendation from the foreign student advisor. A favorable recommendation would be granted if the foreign student advisor is convinced that the practical training is strongly related to the student's major area of study and at par with the student's level of education.

If employment authorization is granted, the student will receive an employment authorization document (EAD). The EAD will be mailed directly to the student or the student will be instructed to pick it up at the nearest USCIS district office. For more information about EAD, please click here.

If the employment authorization is denied, the student is not eligible to appeal the decision.

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations: 8 CFR §§ 214.2(f)(5), (10); 274A.12(b)(6)

(Updated 10/12/2012 by AD)

For more information about F-1 visas, please click on one of the following links: