Can I Work in the US on an F-1 Visa?

Each year hundreds of thousands of international students are granted the nonimmigrant F-1 student visa that allows them to come to the United States in the pursuit of higher learning. These international students bring a vital perspective into the American university system, and undoubtedly use this opportunity to study in the U.S. to plan the next stages of their personal and professional lives, either in the U.S. or internationally.

The F-1 student visa allows international students to attend an academic program or an English language Program at a U.S. university or college. Those holding an F-1 visa need to take a minimum required course load to maintain full-time student status. To qualify for the F-1 visa students must demonstrate that they have the proper financial support to study in the U.S. and must prove that they maintain ties to their home country, including maintaining a residence abroad with no intention of giving that residence up while studying in the U.S.  Students must also attend a university or college that is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program.

While the F-1 student visa allows for these students to take their education to the next level in the U.S., it is a very particular visa that only allows for certain activities in the U.S.  One aspect of the F-1 visa that is overlooked by international students is its limitations in regard to working and employment.

United States Customs and Immigrations Services clearly defines what sort of work experience is and is not allowed for F-1 visa holders:

F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

For international students hoping to nab a part time job or research position off campus before that first year of holding the F-1 visa, doing so could potentially damage your future plans if you wish to remain in the United States after graduating. After that first year is complete, F-1 students may be able to work during their studies as long as their position is related to what they are studying on campus. International students cannot work more than 20 hours a week during the school year (with the exception of holidays and school breaks), and if F-1 students are caught working outside of these conditions, it could result in a number of consequences ranging from problems when reinstating your status to even deportation.

Keep in mind however that it is up to the Designated School Official, or the person on campus authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and USCIS. 

Because it is up to the Designated School Official to decide whether the F-1 student’s potential position is related to their studies or not, there is no dependable rule of thumb on which jobs or positions are acceptable through F-1 that can apply for F-1 holders across the board. If there is any doubt as to whether or not your proposed position falls within your line of study, be sure to discuss this with your DSO. Working in an unapproved position is not worth running the risk of possible deportation, which could alter your long-term goals within the United States.

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