Student Visas & Finding a Job - Explained
Making the decision to study abroad in the United States is the first step in a complicated, but ultimately very rewarding, process. Your visa status determines your eligibility for employment, and the rules can be rather confusing at first.
We have broken down the requirements for employment based on your visa type to make sure you have all the information you need to be successful while studying abroad! In addition, be sure to read our blog on tips for finding a job as an international student–EdAgree Scholars will have extra help from us on that front!
To better understand the requirements you first have to understand the two most common student visa types: F-1 and J-1. Most students that come to the U.S. to study will be under F-1 visa, which allow you to enter the United States at an accredited college or university. The other, less common, visa is J-1, which is essentially a non-immigrant exchange student.
What is a F-1 Visa?
The F-1 visa, per USCIS, classifies you as an Academic Student which allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college or university. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate, and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students. Finding a job as an F-1 student is not impossible, but you do have to be aware of a few requirements.
work must designated as “on-campus”
can be off-campus but must be educationally affiliated
20 hours/week max while school is in session; 40 hours/week while school is not in session
Working "on-campus" means your employment must take place on campus premises for an on-campus commercial business such as the cafeteria or bookstore — the key here is that the job must directly provide services for students. Many universities choose to outsource their cafeteria services. This does not impact your eligibility, as it is still on-campus and providing a service to students. However, you cannot work for that company outside of your university campus.
Employment that does not directly involve service to students (like working at a construction site on-campus) does not serve as on-campus employment. If you are to work at an off-campus location it must be educationally affiliated with the school’s established curriculum or part of a contractually funded research project at the post-graduate level (e.g. working at a research lab).
Hours you can work per week are limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session, but increase to 40 hours a week during official breaks. You are able to work more than one job so long as you do not meet the 20 hour per week limit. As an F-1 student you are given a window of time in which you are expected to complete your course of study. You can begin working 30 days before the start of your program of study. If you are to finish a program (such as your bachelors degree) and plan to start another educational program at the same campus, you are eligible to continue employment so long as you plan to enroll in a new program in the next term.
What is a J-1 visa?
J-1 visas are slightly different than F-1 visas, and aren't as common for most international students looking to study abroad. They are similar to an exchange visitor status whereby the goal is to participate in an approved program with the intent of teaching, lecturing, studying, observing, training, or to receive graduate medical education or training. J-1 students must be sponsored by an exchange program that is designated by the U.S. Department of State. These exchange programs are designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills within the fields of education, arts, and science. A few common jobs most J-1 students take are:
Designated School Official (DSO)
The university you choose to attend should have an office for international students where the DSO should be located. DSO's are officials from your school who are responsible for making sure you stay within the regulations of the U.S. government. Often, your DSO will be your best point of contact for any question you may have. As an F-1 student, for example, you are responsible for reporting to the DSO to receive your letters of certification showing you are able to work. They can also help you through the process of obtaining your social security number which is required when you work in the United States. Building a relationship with your DSO is crucial as they are there to make sure you follow all requirements of your visa. Keep in mind they are there to make sure you succeed.
EdAgree is here to support international students in the study abroad process and beyond. We want to help you find the school of your dreams and keep you informed about what is required of you when finding a job! Please note this is not official guidance, and be sure to remain in contact with your school's DSO to make sure you remain in compliance–once you enroll at an EdAgree affiliated university, we will certainly help you make that contact.