How Do I Get a Work Permit with an F1 Visa?

Over 1.1 million immigrants attended a university or college in the U.S. in 2019. To do so, they must have applied for an F1 visa that allows applicants to attend higher education institutions and pursue a diploma or certification.

Applying for any visa can be difficult, and there are many restrictions for those who have one. However, students with an F1 visa can apply for work permits while in the United States. Read on to learn how.

F1 Visa Qualifications

To study full-time in the U.S., immigrants need to have a student visa. A visa allows immigrants to study and live in the United States throughout the duration of their degree or certification program.

The criteria for an F1 visa are as follows:

  • Applicants must be enrolled in an academic, language, vocational, or training program
  • The institution must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
  • Applicants must be enrolled as a full-time student
  • Applicants should be proficient in English or enrolled in courses to gain English fluency
  • Applicants must have money to support themselves during their program
  • Applicants must have a residence abroad that they have no intention of giving up in favor of permanent residence in the United States

All academic programs should result in a degree, certification, or diploma to be a qualifying institution according to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Employment Under an F1 Visa

Immigrants with an academic visa cannot work off-campus during their first year, but they can have on-campus employment through a work study or campus office. Not all universities and colleges offer work studies to international students, so it’s important to check with your institution to see what opportunities are available. After freshman year, international students can apply for off-campus jobs.

Students can only apply for one of three types of off-campus employment, including:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

International students can also apply for jobs off-campus if they struggle financially or due to other unforeseen circumstances. The USCIS defines these circumstances as occurrences that are outside of the student’s control and affect their ability to meet the terms of their visa and status.

F1 Visa employment authorization is given to international students who are affected by the following:

  • Loss of financial aid or employment through no fault of their own
  • Substantial changes in currency value and/or exchange rate
  • Extreme increases in tuition and/or living costs
  • Unexpected changes in the financial condition of their source of support
  • Medical bills

To apply for special off-campus employment authorization, you must submit a Form I-795, Application for Employment Authorization, with a copy of your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. You should always include an employment page as proof of certification from your Designated School Official. International students who receive approval can work off-campus in one-year intervals until they complete their academic program.

In some cases, Special Student Relief is given to students who are from countries experiencing emergent circumstances like a natural disaster, war or military conflict, or a financial crisis. Applications for Special Student Relief can be found here.

CPT and OPT Employment Options

Curricular practical training and optional practical training are two types of off-campus employment available to international students. CPT and 

OPT provide training related to your degree program and valuable opportunities for industry experience and extracurricular education.

Curricular practical training or CPT is an integral part of your curriculum directly related to your area of study. For example, if you are studying education and your degree program requires you to earn credit through a practicum, it qualifies as CPT.

Even if CPT is an elective, it may still qualify for off-campus employment if it is listed in your school’s catalog and has an assigned faculty member in charge. As mentioned previously, always check with your school’s administration to see what additional restrictions may apply to CPT.

You don’t need USCIS permission to do CPT, but you should have approval from your Designated School Official (DSO), who reports your authorization to do CPT to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

Optional practical training or OPT does not have to be a part of your degree program, but it does need to be related to your degree program. Referring to the previous example, if you are pursuing an education degree, you can apply to be a tutor as optional practical training.

You must do your training for 20 hours a week or less and complete it within 14 months of graduation. Optional practical training must become full-time after graduation. If you complete one or more years of full-time OPT during your degree program, you could lose your eligibility to work after graduating. STEM students have a two-year extension of OPT.

Applying for Work

To apply for CPT or OPT, check with your Designated School Official to see what options are available for your degree program and your immigration status. DSOs can help you discover opportunities in the community that are educational and fit the requirements for off-campus work, according to the USCIS.

Employers must complete Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to get approval from the USCIS. Always check to make sure that your employer submits their designated documents on time. More information about Form I-9 and employment verification can be found here. For a list of regulations and participating schools, visit here.

If you need help completing immigration forms or have questions about your status, contact Maghzi Law Firm, LLC.