Generally speaking, an F-1 student is not allowed to engage in employment without explicit authorization from the USCIS. However, in some situations, explicit authorization from the USCIS is not required. For example, an F-1 student may engage in some types of on campus and "work/study" employment without explicit authorization from the USCIS. Similarly, off-campus employment that is related to a scholarship, fellowship, assistantship, or a post-doctoral research appointment does not require explicit USCIS authorization.
On Campus & Work/Study Employment
There are two kinds of on-campus employment that are available for F-1 holders without any authorization from the USCIS:
On campus employment that will NOT displace U.S. residents; and
On campus employment as part of a fellowship, scholarship, assistantship, or postdoctoral research appointment.
In both of these situations, the F-1 holder has to be pursuing a full course of study and is limited to 20 hours of work per week. Note, however, that during holidays and recesses, when school is not in session (including summer), the F-1 holder can work full-time as long as he or she will be registered for the next term. For occupations that will not displace a U.S. resident, the decision on this is generally left up to the school, but the USCIS might raise objections if it becomes obvious (e.g. through complaints to the USCIS by U.S. residents) that violations of the rule have occurred. Perhaps the best guideline to follow in this regard is to determine whether the position has been traditionally filled by students.
The second type of permissible on-campus employment is employment pursuant to a fellowship, scholarship, or assistantship. In this situation, the employment is considered to be a part of the student's academic program and is considered "on-campus" even if it occurs at a location not on school premises. To be considered on-campus, the work site needs to be educationally affiliated with the school. This employment is limited to 20 hours a week while school is in session.
Curricular Practical Training
As a part of their regular curriculum, some schools offer alternative work/study courses within particular programs of study. In these situations, F-1 students are permitted to engage in off-campus employment as required by the work/study program in which the students are enrolled. Moreover, such employment may be undertaken without explicit authorization from USCIS.
In order for a student to be eligible to participate in a Curricular Practical Training program, the student must first meet the following criteria established by the USCIS:
The student must be a full-time student for at least one academic year, normally 8-9 consecutive months (unless a graduate student in a special program);
Training must be related to the course of study;
A job offer is required to apply; and
The student must submit the CPT request to the DSO of the institution and follow the internal procedures established by the DSO.
Furthermore, a student who has been awarded curricular practical training may be granted the training on a part-time or full-time basis. Those who work on a part-time basis are only allowed to work for 20 hours or fewer; those who are on a full-time basis are allowed to work 20 hours or more per week.
However, the foreign students who receive full-time curricular practical training for a period in excess of one year are not eligible for optional practical training (see Optional Practical Training below). Also, with the exception of students who are enrolled in graduate level programs, which require immediate participation in curricular practical training, curricular practical training is not available for foreign students during their first 9 months in F-1 status.
(Updated 10/12/2012 by AD)
For more information about F-1 visas, please click on one of the following links: