By: Richard E. McDorman
The direct but not-so-simple answer to this question is, it depends.
According to U.S. government regulations, there are two classes of F-1 students: academic students and language students.
Academic students are those students who are enrolled in a certificate, diploma or degree program in an academic field of study (such as the humanities, sciences, social sciences, business, medicine or law).
Language students are students who have enrolled in an intensive English program (or IEP), such as Language On’s intensive English course.
The rules for working while in the United States are different for each class of international student.
However, the most important rule applies equally to both academic and language students:
international (F-1) students may not work in the United States unless they have received formal, written authorization from an authorized school official, known as a designated school official or DSO.
It is also important to keep in mind that neither academic nor language F-1 students may operate a business while in the United States. If you wish to open and run a business in the United States, then you must apply for and receive an E-2 (treaty investor) visa.
Both academic (i.e., degree, certificate or diploma seeking) students and language students may work on campus for up to 20 hours per week as long as their school offers on-campus employment for international students.
Such employment must be related to the school’s provision of student services.
However, it is relatively uncommon for SEVP-approved language schools to offer on-campus employment to their F-1 students.
This is the only type of employment available to F-1 language students, as under U.S. immigration law F-1 language students may never work off-campus.
Subject to written approval by a school official, F-1 academic (degree seeking) students may engage in three types of off-campus employment after they have completed their first year of full-time study. The three types of off-campus employment available to academic (but not language) students are known as:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) and
- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) optional practice training extension.
In all cases, off-campus employment must be related to the academic student’s area of study and must be authorized in advance by a designated school official at the student’s school.