Get Hired: Finding a Job as an International Student|
You always hear talk of how students earn their way through college, but what about international students? It’s not quite the same, nor is it possible in terms of earning capacities. It is not to say that international students are not on par with their American peers when it comes to earning power in college, but rather, they face limited options to get hired for paid employment in the US.
The most obvious pathway for employment while in school is on-campus employment. Being employed by the university at which you are attending allows for twenty hours per week of work during the school year and full-time hours during vacation breaks (i.e. summer and winter). However, these positions may not necessarily be the most beneficial with regard to skill and resume building, and more often than not, these positions are highly sought after and preference is usually given to those who can work under Federal Work Study.
In effect, the opportunities for more substantial earnings are found in paid internships, which in turn leads the discussion to the topic of “F-1 off-campus employment.” For some, the internship or summer position is either not necessarily relevant to coursework (or it is easier for employer not to participate for credit) or you may not want to add more work to your hectic schedule depending on the job, there is the option of utilizing your Optional Practical Training (OPT). Normally, most international students wait until after graduation and then activate their post-completion OPT; however, some activate their OPT prior for a pre-completion OPT status.
In any case, this status permits students to work without the added burden of coursework, although it does eat into the available time for post-completion OPT. Students in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields may find this status particularly useful, especially since they can be granted an extension of status. It is not advisable for students in pre-completion OPT to maintain such a status for more than three months, since the post-completion OPT can act as a buffer between the start date of full-time employment and the date on which H-1B or any other status is conferred.
If you want to preserve the time afforded to you by OPT, you can pursue the option of Curricular Practical Training. The only drawback to this status is that it usually requires enrollment in a university course, which means that you upfront some costs before getting paid. You won’t necessary feel this financial pinch during the regular academic year because the extra credit may be accounted for in the semester’s tuition, but you will probably notice the burden during the summer when taking courses is optional. Following similar structure to on-campus employment, students are able to work a maximum of twenty hours per week during the academic year, and full-time hours during vacation periods. CPT is only available for non-credit situations if your department requires all degree candidates in the program to complete fieldwork or practicum. It should be duly noted, however, that if you work over eleven months of full-time CPT, all OPT is forfeited.
Finally, international students are eligible to earn money off-campus through employment with an international organization, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the United Nations. The time spent working for an international organization doesn’t count against the available twelve months of optional practical training. A list of all international organizations are made available at state.gov.
With that said, there are some exceptions to the normal rules for international student employment. On-campus employment can be extended to workplaces that are “educationally related” to the school (e.g. fellowships, assistantships, post-doctoral appointments), as well as “educationally affiliated” institutions. More information on this exception can be found at ImmmiHelp.com. In addition, international students who can prove the need for employment due to economic hardship are eligible for off-campus employment without going through the venues of CPT, OPT, or international organization employment. You can find more information online at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.
Photo courtesy of Rhodes Capital Blog.