Work and study in USA: Explore job opportunities while studying
Updated on Apr 27, 2016 - 7 p.m. IST by Manashjyoti
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Work and study in USA
: With the world fast transforming into a global village, an increasing number of students today are leaving the safety and comfort of their homes behind to chase their dreams abroad. But while the concept of nation-state has shrunk, the cost of pursuing a degree abroad hasn’t come down much, with studying abroad still being a pipe-dream for many. To put things into perspective, FAIRFX put out a list of 29 countries by cost, and Australia came out on top with an annual average cost of £27,277 per year, with the USA not far behind at £23,592 (fourth overall). 

The steep price of studying in many of these countries is a reason why student education loans are finding so many takers. Many students escape the financial quagmire by securing scholarships, which remain the most sought-after prize and, therefore, understandably, difficult to come by. But there is another way to beat the financial blues: by undertaking work during study in US, if that is where you are headed.  In fact, students today want to know everything about work and study in USA as they are aware there are destinations like Canada where there are handsome work opportunities for international students.

Why work during study in USA is a tempting idea?

One advantage of opting for work and study in USA is that you can earn extra money, which can be used to pay some portion of the tuition fees at the minimum. Another, more important, benefit is whether you pick up full-time jobs or part-time jobs in USA, you get access to the country’s job market which will hold you in good stead once you complete you studies and start looking for permanent work. If the job is related is your field of study, you can use the opportunity to hone your practical skills while also putting your theoretical knowledge to test.

Working in USA while studying: The visa process

If you are a full-time student in the USA and want to be a member of the work and study in USA brigade, you must either have an F-1 or M-1 visa, the two non-immigrant visa categories available for international students. While the F-1 visa is meant for academic students who seek admission at an accredited college, university, academic high school, or other academic institution or in a language training program, the M-1 student visa is for vocational or non-academic programs. Also, when it comes to work opportunities, the M-1 visa is more restrictive in nature as visa holders aren’t normally allowed to work on- or off-campus while studying. So, if you are pursuing a full-time course, working in USA while studying basically means you should have an F-1 visa.

Work and study in USA for internationals students with F-1 visa

One major aspect of the F-1 visa is that it prohibits you from taking up off-campus work in the first year of your study, though you may still seek on-campus employment provided you stick to the mandated conditions and restrictions. Once you are through to the second year, you become eligible for off-campus employment. Off-campus employment is divided under three heads:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)

  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT) or 17-month OPT STEM Extension

One aspect that is evident here is students need to be engaged in practical training during their studies to avail off-campus work in US. The purpose of allowing students to work during study is to enable them to earn valuable work experience and perfect the skills that they are learning in their classroom.


It must be also noted here that unlike in a country like New Zealand –where there is skill shortage across many industry sectors and students can work part-time for up to 20 hours per week and full-time during scheduled holidays –there are comparatively limited work opportunities in USA for F-1 students. In Canada, in fact, international students don’t even need to apply for a work permit to work during their studies, as they have scrapped the Off-Campus Work Permit Program (OCWPP). 

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Under this work and study in USA program, students can undertake practical training in a field that is directly related to their major field of study.

Eligibility and key features of CPT:

  • Your F-1 status needs to be valid to avail the work and study program in USA under CPT

  • It is granted only in cases where it is integral to your major with the experience being part of your program of study.

  • When taking admission at graduate level, it is the designated school official (DSO) who will issue CPT during your first semester if your study program warrants that type of experience. The DSO will also guide all relevant details.

  • The CPT allows you to work either full-time or part-time.

  • CPT requires you to submit a signed cooperative agreement or a letter from your employer.

Part-time CPT vis-à-vis Full-time CPT


Part-time CPT

Full-time CPT


Employment for 20 hours or less per week

Employment for more than 20 hours per week

OPT eligibility

You are eligible for OPT and there is no limitation on how long you can participate in CPT


If you have 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you cannot opt for OPT

*Note: To maintain F-1 status, you need to simultaneously get enrolled in full-time classes

Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)

OPT is a temporary employment, and just like CPT, is directly linked to your field of study. During OPT, you will be able to enjoy F-1 status, but while CPT is an integral to your study program, OPT, as the name suggests, is only an optional requirement and can be waived. Also, CPT is employer specific and can be used only during your graduate study, whereas OPT can be done before or after you graduate, as it is not employer specific.

To be eligible for OPT and avail work and study in USA benefits guaranteed under it, the students need to:

  • Be studying in the US with legal F-1 status
  • Be enrolled in a full-time program for at least one academic year

In addition, students also have to provide proof of sufficient health insurance.

Key highlights of OPT work and study program in USA:

  • The maximum period for which OPT is granted is 12 months

  • If you have opted for part-time OPT, it will be deducted from the 12-month limit at 50%.

  • The 12-month period can be extended by another 12 months in case the student progresses to a higher education level.

  • Students can only pursue work and study in USA under OPT after they receive their Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

  • When schools are in session, the work limit is 20 hours per week.

17-month OPT STEM Extension

In addition to the customary 12-month granted under OPT, students may qualify for an additional 17 months of OPT if they fulfill the following criteria:

  • Post-completion of OPT, your current degree is a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) program

  • Your employer uses E-Verify program.

  • You haven’t previously been granted 17-month extension of OPT

Types of work in USA you can seek during OPT STEM Extension:

Work for multiple employers: Provided the employment is related to your degree program, you can work for more than one employer


Work for hire: Under this scheme, you can enter into a contractual relationship bypassing the more traditional employment relationship. The company you are working for, though, as discussed earlier, must be using E-Verify.

Self-employment: Under the extension, you may even start your own business and be your own employer. But in this case you have to get your business registered with E-Verify and work full time.

Gain employment through an agency or consulting firm: In such a scenario, the agency or firm in question must be registered with E-Verify, though the third parties for which the student is providing his services needn’t be registered.

Special visa for exchange visitors

In addition to the M-1 and F-1 visas which are intended to facilitate work and study in USA for international students, there is the J-1 which is exclusively for exchange visitors, including professors or scholars, research assistants, students, trainees and teachers. The programs offered under this visa seek to promote interchange or persons, knowledge, and skills across multiple fields like education, arts, and science. Employment for visa holders is governed by the terms outlined in the exchange program.


Stay tuned to for more news and updates on USA

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