Are you considering becoming an international student in the United States? In this post, we’ll look at your options for working in the US while studying, and how you can get work experience after you graduate.
First, think about what credential you want to graduate with. In the US, students can receive associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees from a college or a university. While diplomas and graduate certificates are less common, they are available options.
Below, we’ve illustrated what your study abroad timeline might look like and how your work opportunities can change over time. We’ll start with your international student enrollment, and end with how you can gain work experience after graduation.
Working While Studying in the US
You’ll start by enrolling in a post-secondary program. International students usually enter the US on a F-1 Visa (for academic students). The college or university you apply to must be authorized by the US government to accept international students.
During your first year of studies, F-1 visa students may not work off-campus. However, F-1 students may work on-campus only:
- Up to 20 hours per week during regular full-time semesters
- Up to 40 hours per week during scheduled breaks, like winter and summer break
After the first academic year ends, F-1 students may choose from two types of off-campus work:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) – can be done while a student is completing their program or afterwards
F-1 students’ off-campus training must relate to their field of study. Lastly, all training must be authorized by USCIS and their institution’s Designated School Official.
Tip: Because international students have a limited time to secure post-graduation employment, we recommend applying for jobs well before graduating.
How Does OPT Work?
If you find employment in your field, you have the right to exercise OPT (Optional Practical Training) for up to 12 months before and/or after finishing your academic program. This means you can work in the United States for a limited and specific time without a new visa.
Any time spent on OPT while still studying counts towards the maximum 12-month allowance, but the maximum of 20 hours of work per week still applies when school is in session. You may work full-time (40 hours/week) when school is on break. Remember that if you use up your OPT time while studying, you’re not entitled to any post-graduation OPT.
Did you study a program that’s on the STEM Designated Degree Program List? You might be eligible for a 24-month extension to your post-graduation OPT. Refer to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ STEM OPT page for more details.
Applying for Work Visas
The company you’re working for while you hold an F-1 student visa has the option to apply for an H-1B Visa on your behalf, provided it is eligible to do so. They may do this during your OPT, or after it ends. The H-1B is a visa for new foreign workers.
There’s a yearly cap of 65,000 H-1B visas issued, and 20,000 more are available to grads with a master’s degree (or higher) from a US academic institution. However, the number of applicants is always higher than the cap. In the 2022 financial year, there were 308,613 applications.
If you receive an H-1B visa, you may live and work in the US for up to three years. This time may be extended, but usually can’t be longer than six years.
Important: If you’re an F-1 student visa holder, and have filed an H-1B petition and change-of-status request, but your F-1 status will end before your status change, you may be able to get a cap-gap extension.
We hope this timeline and information on studying and working in the US is helpful as you plan your journey as an international student.
Note that this post is not meant as official immigration or residency advice. For the most-up-to-date information, please visit the official USCIS website. If you are interested in learning about ways to stay in the US after completing your degree, please contact a US immigration attorney.