International students in valid F-1 status are permitted to work under certain circumstances. Employment options are limited, but may include both on-campus and off-campus, full-time or part-time, opportunities as described below. Keep in mind that unauthorized (illegal) employment is a clear violation of your F1 terms, and will have serious consequences. If you are uncertain whether a particular employment would be allowed, speak to an foreign student advisor at your school before accepting any job offer.
Employment is defined as any type of work or service in exchange for money, tuition, food, room or other form of compensation.
F-1 students can work on-campus up to 20 hours per week when school is in session, and full-time during school break periods. If you maintain valid F-1 status and are in good academic standing, you do not need additional authorization to accept on-campus employment. However, upon completing your program of study, you must seek special authorization such as Practical Training to continue working, even on-campus.
On-campus employment includes:
F1 students may seek off-campus employment if they meet certain requirements. There are several options for off-campus employment, but these general rules apply:
Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides F-1 students an opportunity to gain practical work experience in the US, in a field directly related to their academic program. A foreign student is eligible to participate in OPT for up to 12 months per educational level. This means if you have used 12 months of OPT after obtaining a Bachelor's degree, you may apply for another 12 months if you complete a Master's degree program.
Although most students choose to use 12 consecutive months of OPT after completing their studies, it is possible to use OPT in segments throughout the program, as long as the total does not exceed 12 months.
Certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students are eligible for a 17-month extension of OPT, for a total of 29 months. The 17-month extension is only available for post-completion OPT, cannot be split into two or more periods, and can be used only once per student (not per educational level). See here for more information the OPT extension.
To apply for OPT, you need to receive recommendation from your school's international students office and submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You may file I-765 up to 90 days prior to your program's end date, and no later than 60 days after its end date. Note that this is a new rule which went effective April 8, 2008. Your school's website may still have the old rule indicating that you must file I-765 before you complete your studies. You may file I-765 even if you do not yet have a job offer.
If you work using OPT, you are allowed to have brief periods of unemployment and still maintain legal F-1 status. If you are on the initial 12-month of post-completion OPT, you cannot accrue more than a total of 90 days of unemployment. If you are on a 17-month extension, you cannot accrue more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month period.
F-1 students may be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) if it is "an integral part of an established curriculum." DHS defines CPT as "alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school."
Your school's office for international students is able to authorize CPT with a new I-20.
CPT may be part-time or full-time. The time you spent working on CPT does not count toward your Optional Practical Training (OPT). However, if you use 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you will not be eligible for any post-completion OPT. (very important!)
F-1 students may be authorized to work for a recognized international organization, such as the United Nations or the World Trade Organization. You must have a new I-20, and apply for and be granted EAD by USCIS, before you can start working.
F-1 students who experience severe economic hardship may apply to USCIS for off-campus employment authorization. You must demonstrate that the hardship is substantial and beyond your control, and on-campus employment is unavailable to you or is insufficient to meet your financial needs. USCIS grants such work permit on a case by case basis.