Employment Options for F-1 Students

Center for International and Cultural Education

Gustavus Career Development is an important resource for you in finding internships and careers. It normally takes a concerted effort by each student and advice from Gustavus Career Development. It is best to begin well in advance! 

This page contains information about employment options in the U.S. for F-1 students.

On campus employment. F-1 students may work up to 20 hours per week on campus while enrolled in a full course of study (three or more credits at Gustavus). It is your responsibility to keep track of how many hours you work in a week. Make sure you do not work more than 20 hours in any week. If you work more than 20 hours in a week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would consider that a serious violation of immigration law and could force you to leave the United States. You may work full time on campus during official school breaks, including summer breaks, if you intend to continue at Gustavus the next term. 

Off campus employment. F-1 students are not allowed to work off campus, except for the following four types of employment, which all involve working with your DSO (Jeff Anderson) to get proper authorization through DHS.

1) Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

If you have been approved for a Gustavus internship for credit in your field of study, then you are eligible for CPT. You must work with advisors in the Career Development Office, and a faculty sponsor, to find an internship and to get the internship approved. After you have an internship for credit and approved by Career Development, then Jeff will enter a recommendation for CPT in your SEVIS record and print a new I-20 for you with the CPT recommendation on it. There is no application fee and you do not have to wait for DHS approval, so it can be done quickly. You must get your new I-20 with the CPT authorization from Jeff before you begin the internship. Gustavus Career Development has deadlines for internship approval, so you should start working with them well in advance of your internship. CPT can be full-time in the summer or during the J-term Interim Experience term. You are allowed an unlimited amount of part-time CPT while you are an F-1 student. But, if you use over 12 months of full-time CPT, then you are not eligible for Optional Practical Training. Immigration law requires that you must have been in F-1 status for at least one full academic year before you qualify for CPT. Gustavus policy requires that you have completed your 2nd year before doing a summer or semester internship, and that you have completed your first year to do a January Career Exploration internship.

2) Optional Practical Training (OPT)

 OPT is temporary employment designed for you to gain experience in your major area of study. OPT may be used before you graduate (pre-completion OPT), but most students prefer to save all of their OPT for after graduation (post-completion OPT). OPT allows you to work in the U.S. for 12 months. If your major is in one of the designated STEM fields, and your employer is registered with E-Verify, you may apply for a 24 month extension before the end of your first 12 months of OPT. Gustavus STEM majors are: Environmental Studies, Computer Science, Biology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Mathematics, Statistics, Chemistry, Geology, Physics. You may also apply for an additional 12 months of OPT for each educational level (masters or doctorate). To apply for OPT, you must complete an application to DHS, pay a $410 fee, wait for DHS to approve the OPT (normally 3-4.5 months wait), and receive your Employment Authorization Document (OPT card) prior to working. Jeff will help you with the application. You do not need a job before you apply. You can apply for OPT and find a job later. You must apply before your graduation. It is advised to apply at least three months before you want to start working.

3) Employment based on severe economic hardship

Most F-1 students do not qualify under this provision, but it could be an option for some. DHS can authorize this benefit in situations where a financial need beyond your control arises, which was unforeseen at the time you applied for school, and if all other potential employment opportunities (such as on-campus employment) have proven to be insufficient (not available, or too low paying). The burden is on you to prove to DHS that circumstances have changed significantly. If it is not clear that this employment is absolutely necessary due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, then DHS will not grant permission to work on this basis. Examples of unforeseen economic hardship include unexpected changes in the financial ability of your source of support (i.e. a parent’s income decreasing significantly), loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on your part, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and / or living costs, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses. To apply for severe economic hardship employment authorization, you must complete an application to DHS, pay a $410 fee, wait for DHS to approve (normally 3-4.5 months wait), and receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) prior to working. Jeff will help you with the application and advise you on how to document your circumstances as well as possible. You do not need a job before you apply. The authorization is good for one year. It allows you to work off campus up to 20 hours during the school year and full time during breaks. The job does not have to be in your field of study. It can be any job.

4) Internships with an International Organization

This is an option only if you are offered an internship with one of the qualifying international organizations listed at 8 CFR 316.20(c). The internship does not have to be related to your course of study. To apply, you must complete an application to DHS, pay a $410 fee, wait for DHS to approve (normally 3-4.5 months wait), and receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) prior to working. You must have an internships with a qualifying international organization listed at 8 CFR 316.20(c) before you apply. Depending on your circumstances and the timing of the internship offer, CPT could be a better option.

Post F-1 student employment options. If you want to stay in the U.S. and work beyond your OPT authorization, you would most likely need your employer to file an H-1B petition. For the H-1B, you need to have a job that requires at least a bachelor’s degree in the field of your major. There are several other factors in obtaining an H-1B, including an “H-1B cap” that limits the number of H-1B petitions approved each year. You can be in H-1B status for up to six years. If you want to stay in the U.S. beyond six years of H-1B, you would most likely need to apply for Legal Permanent Residency, based on your employment or on your relationship to a spouse or direct family member who is a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident.