What Is an F-1 Visa?

The F-1 visa allows an individual to come to the U.S. in order to attend an academic program as a full time student. F-1 students are issued Form I-20 by their sponsoring school, and apply for their F-1 visas at a U.S. consulate abroad. F-1 students are allowed to remain in the U.S. for the time period required to finish their educational program, as evidenced by Form I-20. Usually, F-1 students will be issued an I-94 card upon entry to the U.S. with the annotation “D/S”, meaning duration of status.

Can I Become Employed?

It depends on the following situations.

In general, all students maintaining valid F-1 status are eligible to work on campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and 40 hours per week during periods of vacation. Authorization from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is NOT required for this type of employment.

The INS has issued new rules temporarily suspending the regulations on employment authorization for international students whose financial support comes from Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, or the Philippines, AND who were in valid, F-1 status by June 10, 1998. Please see the International Student Advisor at your institution for further information and assistance in filing this application.

The INS has placed a rigorous standard of proof on work authorization due to economic hardship. The student must show:

  • That he/she needs to work due to “severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control.” Examples of unforeseen circumstances may include devaluation of student’s home country currency, unexpected medical bills, or unexpected financial change in the student’s source of support,
  • That on campus employment is not available,
  • That he/she has been in valid, F-1 status for a period of at lease nine months prior to filing the employment authorization application, and
  • That he/she is in good academic standing.

Please see the International Student Advisor at your institution for further information and assistance in filing this application.

F-1 visa holders are eligible for work authorization. Enrolled F-1 students, as well as recently graduated foreign students, may be eligible to engage in “practical training” in the field in which they studied. There are two common types of Practical Training:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
What Are the Differences between CPT & OPT

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is issued to students currently enrolled on a full-time basis at an approved educational institution to obtain work experience in their field of study. This is defined as an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. The student usually receives academic credit for this training. CPT is granted by the university and the student’s INS Form I-20 is endorsed with the dates the student is eligible to work, as well as the number of hours per week. A student with CPT must present an original Form I-20 indicating CPT approval to an intended employer before employment may lawfully commence.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is granted to students who wish to work in their field of study but are not going to work as part of their academic program. OPT is granted for a maximum of 12 months throughout the student’s academic career. Students can work during their vacations or during the school year, or save OPT to be used after graduation. If working during the school year, the student is only permitted to work 20 hours a week. If used after graduation, OPT must be completed within 14 months of graduation. For OPT eligibility, the student must apply with INS for an EAD card (Form I-688B – Employment Authorization Document). The F-1 OPT employment cannot begin until actually receiving the EAD card in hand from the INS. (Upon approval, INS will mail this card directly to the applicant).

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