How to Work in the US as an International Student

Explore the comprehensive guide for F1 visa international students on how to legally work in the U.S. Learn about on-campus jobs, CPT, OPT, and navigating the complexities of employment regulations, ensuring a smooth transition from education to professional experience in America.
Ania Piasek
5 min

How to Work in the U.S. as an F1 Visa Student?

As a non-native studying in the US, you may wonder what kind of jobs for international students are available. It is hard to get by in any country as an international student, especially in America.

You may look for a job to cover your living costs, part of your tuition fees, or gain some productive work experience. Whatever the reasons are, it is essential to understand that international students with F-1 visas can only work under specific regulations. You cannot simply get any job you desire. The last thing you want is to work illegally and get yourself in trouble with the US government! 

In this article, we will dive deep into the details of the working opportunities and how to work as an international student in the US. 

Can International Students Work in the US?

International students can work on a student visa in the US, however, there are certain conditions that are required to be followed. The availability of employment will be limited by the law but fortunately, you have several options. To better understand the requirements while ensuring they are being met, it is best to contact your Designated School Official (DSO).

Employment Opportunities for F-1 Students

There are currently four ways for international students to work in the US on an F1 student visa, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They are:

On-Campus Employment 

This form of employment is generally on-campus, except for off-campus locations affiliated with your university, such as funded research projects assigned at the post-graduate level (many colleges have buildings or campuses scattered throughout a town).

On-campus employment refers to jobs that international students can get within campus grounds such as library jobs, dorms, bookstores, cafeterias, etc. In cases where the jobs take place off-campus due to educational affiliation, you may work at an off-campus location such as working at a lab under your college for research work. 

You can apply for this type of employment about 30 days before your classes commence. Expect to start working within your first academic year. Students having on-campus employment are allowed to work for 20 hours a week while classes are still in session. However, you may be allowed to work full-time (40 hours weekly) during vacations/holiday seasons.

Off-Campus Employment 

You will only be allowed to get off-campus employment if you have completed at least one entire academic year and qualify for economic hardship or emergent circumstances. This DHS guideline discusses in detail the criteria for F-1 off-campus employment.

According to the DHS, off-campus employment is a benefit available to F-1 students who are: 

  • Experiencing economic hardship.
  • Seeking special student relief (for international students from countries that are experiencing emergent circumstances).
  • Participating in an internship with an international organization.

Contact your Designated School Official (DSO) to apply for off-campus employment. Your DSO is required to approve your reasons and suggest this form of employment as the initial part of your application process. 

You will only be allowed to work once your application is processed entirely by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Once approved, the working hours are limited to 20 hours weekly.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) 

CPT is an existing part of your college curriculum and is usually catered to provide jobs for international students and national students. It aims to provide real-world experience in your field of study (similar to internships). This article by DHS provides more clarity on the criteria for F-1 curricular practical training.

There are two types of CPT:

  • Required CPT: Academic program that requires practical work experience for all students in order to graduate.
  • Optional CPT: Work experience directly related to your field of study that is not required.

You may apply for CPT once you've completed at least one entire academic year or if you are a graduate whose program mandates an immediate CPT. The DHS advises seeking your Designated School Official (DSO) as the first step. Working hours depend on whether you pursue a part-time or full-time CPT (part-time being 20 hours a week and full-time being more than 20 hours a week).

It is noteworthy to mention that you will be unable to apply for an Optical Practice Training (OPT) if you participate in a year or more of full-time CPT. However, it is not the case with part-time CPT and will not interfere when you apply for an OPT. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a temporary form of employment relating to a student's field of study where eligible students may receive upwards of 12 months of OPT employment. Similar to CPT, OPT allows international students to get real-world work experience related to their respective fields of study.

There are two general types of OPT which are:

  • Pre-completion OPT: For students who have completed one entire academic year at a US college or university. Working hours are 20 hours weekly while classes are in session and full-time during holiday/vacation periods.
  • Post-completion OPT: For students who have completed their degree or studies at a US college or university. Working hours are assigned either part-time or full-time depending on the specific scenario. However, in most cases, it is mandatory to be full-time (over 20 hours per week).

You are advised to speak to your Designated School Official (DSO) and get approval, as they will endorse your application and help it reach US Citizenship and Immigration Services. There are complex rules and guidelines that apply to OPTs and therefore any OPT requests entered into SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) are required to comply with federal regulations. 

It is also essential to remember that participating in both types of OPT will result in the 12-month work period limit being divided between the two. For e.g. participating in 6 months of pre-completion OPT as a student will mean you can only participate in 6 months of post-completion OPT after graduation. 

STEM OPT Extension

According to the DHS, "The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student's program of study in an approved STEM field"

To be eligible for this extension, your employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify program, and you must be a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) degree graduate. You can find the complete list of STEM-designated degrees before making your application. 


Job hunting can be very stressful, and when it comes to jobs for international students, the process can be even more difficult and strenuous. While there are employment opportunities for international students, it can still be quite a hassle. This is why we built Algorizin, a platform that assists international students to land their dream jobs in the US, hassle-free.

Whether you’re searching for CPT, OPT, STEM OPT extension, or you simply want to change your student visa status, Algorizin can help you. We have helped many international students, like yourself, to land high-paying jobs and live out their American Dreams.

Get in touch with our team here to understand your options.

Note: Algorizin is currently only taking in international students studying in the STEM category.


Can international students legally work in the US?

International students can legally work in the US under specific regulations. Those who are working outside of these regulations will face legal consequences from the US government. To better understand the requirements while ensuring they are being met, it is best to contact your Designated School Official (DSO).

How can international students find work in the US?

International students can find work using their college's resources or off-campus jobs, CPTs, and OPTs. Using school resources is the optimal way since your school’s officials are more than likely to have experience helping international students with employment. Connecting with alumni in your field can also be useful for job-searching tips.

Is it hard for international students to find job in the US?

It can be difficult for international students to find work in the US if they don’t have access to the right resources and guidance. However, for you to find work as an international student, it’s advisable to start early with your applications.

Where can I get OPT as an international student in the US?

The best approach for getting OPT as an international student in the US is to request your college or university's Designated School Official (DSO) to recommend an OPT for you. Your DSO can aid you by endorsing your Form I-20 and creating the appropriate documentation in the SEVIS. 

Can international students find jobs in the US after graduating?

International students can find jobs in the US after graduating, especially if they are aware of industry requirements, market conditions, and proper approach to interviews, etc. According to a survey by WENR, nearly 82% of the international student applicants received a job offer within 6 months of graduation.

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