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What is the purpose of the F1 visa?
The intent of an F1 visa is to allow an alien - a person who is not a US citizen or US national - to study in the United States. The F1 visa is not intended as a work visa. The F1 visa does permit some very specific kinds of work while you are studying in the United States and immediately thereafter.
The reason for these work limitations is that F1 Visas are “single intent” visas, which means that the United States government created the F1 visa program so that aliens (non-US persons) can pursue an education in the United States and return to their home country after the education. The intent of the F1 visa is not to pursue work in the United States.
Why are there F1 visa work rules?
While you are on an F1 visa, your primary purpose is to study in the United States. There may be lots of good reasons why you are interested in working during your studies - you may wish to earn spending money or engage in an internship to help learn practical skills in your field. The F1 visa does afford an opportunity to do specific types of work, typically related to your field of study.
What kind of work can I do on campus with an F1 visa?
On an F1 visa, you are allowed to work on campus:
- Up to 20 hours per week during regular full-time quarters or semesters
- More than 20 hours per week between quarters or semester
- More than 20 hours per week during school breaks (like winter or summer break)
On campus work is typically at on campus locations such as the cafeteria, library, research labs, or admissions office. In these instances, you are usually an employee of the university. You can work in more than one job but you must comply with the hour restrictions above across all of the jobs. The work may also be for a vendor on campus that directly serves students (for example, you can work in a Jamba Juice in the cafeteria or for a vendor that provides janitorial services in the dorms). However, it can’t be for a vendor that happens to work on campus but does not directly serve students.
Under emergent circumstances, the 20 hour rule may be waived. Speak to your Designated School Official (“DSO”) if you believe you may qualify for a waiver to work on campus for more than 20 hours a week.
For more information about on campus work while you are on an F1, visit this ice.gov page.
If I am a graduate student, am I permitted to have a teaching assistant (TA) job or research assistant (RA) job?
Yes, if you are a graduate student, this type of work is considered on campus work and is permitted up to 20 hours per week during the school year and more than 20 hours when school is not in session. It is permitted during your first academic year and all subsequent academic years.
Some jobs on campus are described as “work study” jobs - can I do those while I am on an F1 visa?
Work study is part of federal financial aid and those on F1 visas are usually not eligible for this kind of position or compensation. However, sometimes all positions on campus will be described as work study but they might still hire international students if they are not planning to use federal financial aid funds. Contact the hiring manager or department for more information about whether you are eligible to apply.
What should I do if I want to pursue on campus work while I am on an F1 visa?
If you want to pursue authorized on campus work while on an F1 visa, you should speak to your DSO and request a certification letter to present to the Social Security Administration in order to receive a social security number. You need a social security number in order to be paid and to prepare your taxes.
Examples of forbidden work on an F1 visa:
Example 1: Working more than 20 hours per week in the library during the semester. Why? This violates the 20 hour a week on campus work rule
Example 2: Working for a construction firm that is constructing a building on your school’s campus. Why? This firm is not providing services directly to students and it is probably not directly tied to your field of study, so it doesn’t qualify under CPT or OPT
What kind of additional work can I do on an F1 visa?
Important! The following applies only after your first academic year
After your first academic year in the US, you can continue to pursue up to 20 hours per week of work on campus during the academic year and more than 20 hours per week of work on campus during breaks.
In addition, you can participate in 3 and only 3 types of off-campus employment:
Type 1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- CPT is temporary authorization for training directly related to your field of study. It can be paid or unpaid. It is typically used for things like summer internships, co-ops, or internships that you are earning academic credit for during the academic year or on your annual summer break. In order to use CPT, you must earn academic credit for any work performed.
- To use your CPT, request Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” from your DSO. Here’s an example of an I-20 form.
- CPT can be full-time or part-time.
- If necessary for your course of study, you can get CPT approved in your first semester. Speak to your DSO.
Type 2 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- OPT is temporary employment in the US that is directly related to your field of study. You can receive up to 12 months of OPT authorization pre-completion (before you have finished your studies) or post-completion (after you have finished your studies). Pre-completion gets deducted from post-completion, so the cumulative amount is 12 months. So if you work a summer internship for 12 weeks between your junior and senior year of college and use your OPT instead of your CPT, that will get deducted from your allotted OPT and you will only have 9 months of work authorization left after graduation. You do not need to receive academic credit for OPT work.
- To use your OPT, request Form I-20 from your DSO. Also mail in Form I-765 “Application for Employment Authorization” to USCIS and pay the filing fee. USCIS will mail you back Form I-766 “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD).
- Don’t start working until you receive your EAD!
- If school is in session, you can work under your OPT for up-to 20 hours per week. If school is not in session, you can work more than 20 hours per week.
- You get 12 months of OPT at each education level. For example, you would get 12 months at the Bachelors level and 12 months at the Masters level.
Type 3 STEM Optional Practical Training Extension (STEM OPT Extension)
- Certain F1 students that receive science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees can get an additional 24 month extension of their OPT.
How are CPT and OPT different?
CPT is a part of your curriculum and you must receive course credit for the work performed, whether it is paid or unpaid work. You do not need to earn credit for OPT.
- Students On An F1 Don’t Have To Pay FICA Taxes - Read Here
- 60% Of Families Don’t Have a College Savings Strategy - Read Here
Summary of Hours Of Work Permitted While On An F1
First Academic Year
≤ 20 hours per week
Not Academic Semester
>20 hours per week
*CPT allowed during the first academic year under special circumstances. Ask your DSO.
Second Academic Year
≤ 20 hours per week
>20 hours per week (CPT)*
≤ 20 hours per week (OPT)
Not Academic Semester
>20 hours per week
> 20 hours per week (CPT)*
> 20 hours per week (OPT)
Note: If you work more than 40 hours per week, you will typically be paid overtime (extra wages) but not always. Read more about overtime wage regulations.
*If you do more than 12 months of full-time CPT, it starts to cut into your OPT. But part-time (<20 hours per week) CPT doesn’t impact OPT.
Other Things You Should Know About Working On An F1
What about freelancing on an F1?
Freelance work is considered “self employed.”
It is a version of work and it is regulated for those on F1 visas.
During the first year of school on an F1 visa, you can not engage in freelance work. You can engage only in on campus work, as outlined above.
After the first year of school, you can use OPT in order to perform freelance or self-employment work that is directly related to your field of study. This OPT can be used pre-completion or post-completion of your studies. This freelance work counts against your 12 months of allotted OPT time, so it is generally not recommended.
Make sure to speak to your DSO if you are planning to pursue self employment because they will help you with the paperwork.
What if I win a prize or leadership award or earn an honorarium and am asked to complete a tax form 1099 to get paid? Is that considered unauthorized work on my F1?
Typically, one-time prizes or honoraria are permitted. If the amount is extraordinarily large or if it involved any component of your work or labor, speak to your immigration attorney before completing the 1099 and accepting the payment. You may also be required to submit paperwork including: form 1099, form W-8BEN, your passport, a copy of your visa, a copy of I-94 departure record, a copy of you I-20 form, and/or your employment authorization card. An entity may refuse to pay you if you do not have an EAD card. You will also have to pay taxes on prizes like this, as they are considered income. If there is no withholding (if you receive the whole prize now), then you should speak to an accountant and be prepared to prepare your taxes immediately or during tax season (usually January - April of the next year).
What if I receive a tuition credit or discount or waiver or scholarship? Is that taxable to me or considered unauthorized work?
In most instances, as long as you are a degree candidate, waivers for required tuition and course-related expenses are not considered income.
What happens if you violate the work restrictions while you are on an F1 visa?
If you go over the 20 hour limit in your on campus job, the payroll department may notify your DSO and you may lose your F1 status.
If you violate your status, you may be required to apply to reinstate your F1 status. While you are being reinstated you can continue to attend school but you should stop working. You also should not apply for any other F1 benefits like CPT or OPT.
If you engage in unauthorized employment, consequences can be severe. If discovered, you may be ineligible for reinstatement of your F1 visa status. You may be deported or have trouble re-entering the United States in the future.
If you feel you have violated the F1 visa work rules, speak to your immigration attorney.