A foreign national who is in the United States in F-1 student status may be eligible for employment through on-campus employment, curricular practical training (CPT), and/or optional practical training (OPT), depending on the circumstances. As an experienced immigration attorney can explain, during an F-1 student’s first academic year (9 months), school officials can allow an F-1 student to engage in limited “on-campus” employment without needing authorization from the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more information about how this may apply to your immigration status, reach out to a Michigan F-1 international student employment lawyer.

On-Campus Employment vs Off-Campus Employment

“On-campus” employment refers to employment on school premises such as working in the library, school cafeteria, campus bookstore, student assistant positions, or employment at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school. The on-campus employment cannot displace a U. S. worker, and may include employment pursuant to the terms of a scholarship, fellowship or postdoctoral appointment. The F-1 student visa holder may only work part-time (20 hours or less) on-campus during the school year and full time during qualifying breaks and vacations. A Michigan F-1 attorney could determine if a particular F-1 student visa holder is eligible to apply for on-campus employment.

After the foreign student’s completion of their first academic year, a designated school official may permit the student to work off-campus, through curricular practical training (CPT), optional practical training (OPT), or under other circumstances. For schools that have alternate work/study programs as part of their curriculum, where the student is required to take academic courses for one term followed by a term of work experience, the student may participate in “curricular practical training” (CPT). Curricular practical training (CPT) allows a foreign student to work, with authorization from the designated school official who certifies that the work experience is a requirement, or an integral component, of the program of study. Students who receive one year or more of full-time CPT are ineligible for post-graduation optional practical training (OPT).

Obtaining Authorization for Student Employment Off-Campus

All other types of off-campus employment require the foreign student to obtain authorization from the designated school official AND an employment authorization document from USCIS, prior to commencing employment. Obtaining USCIS authorization may take 90 days or more. Circumstances in which a foreign student is permitted to work off campus include situations in which the student: 1) has experienced severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances as long as the student remains in good academic standing; 2) works for an international organization; or 3) engages in a qualifying optional practical training (OPT) program. Again, all three of these circumstances for off-campus employment, require obtaining an employment authorization document from USCIS. The same hourly restrictions discussed above apply, i.e., the student can work a maximum of 20 hours during the school year and full time during the summer or academic holidays.

Optional practical training (OPT) is generally available for a total period of 12 months per educational level, which can be performed pre-completion or post-completion of a degree. OPT provides an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge from the academic program to real-world employment situations, provided the employment is directly related to the student’s academic field. Certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other specified requirements, may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT, in other words, they may be eligible for a total of 36 months of OPT.

Employment Following College

Often foreign students working on OPT find long-term employment opportunities through their employer. The employer may be willing to file an H-1B petition on behalf of the foreign student, to change their status from student to that of a specialty occupation worker. If the H1-B petition is approved or pending, there may be a potential “gap” between the time when the student’s OPT expires and when the H-1B change of status and employment begins. For those F-1 students working on OPT who have a pending or approved H-1B petition, their OPT will be automatically extended until October 1st of the year the H-1B is filed. To be protected by the “cap-gap,” the F-1 student will need to have a current I-20 and be working in an authorized OPT time period prior to the filing of the H-1B petition. A lawyer in Michigan could determine if a F-1 student visa holder is eligible for this employment path.

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