Magoosh Podcast: Can International Students Work in the USA?

I’ve been working in international education for several years now. Students often ask me if they are permitted to work in the US. Many more students ask themselves that question before they even come to America to study—they want to know if they’ll be able to earn extra money, get valuable work experience, and have extra financial support once they come to the U.S.

So can you work in America, once you arrive here on a student visa? The short answer to that question is “yes.” The longer, more complicated answer to that question starts with “Maybe, but it depends.”

Here are the basic facts:

  • The majority of the international students in the US have F1 (degree seeking) or J1 (short-term exchange student) visas. Under U.S. federal law, F1 and J1 students are legally allowed to do most kinds of on campus work, but not every kind of job available on campus. Students are also allowed to earn money off campus, if the jobs are closely related to their field of study.
  • Under federal law, F1 and J1 visa holders may work on campus no more than 20 hours a week while school is in session. During breaks from school, such as summer and winter break, international students may work on campus as many hours per week as they want. However, this temporary change in hours must be reported to the government in advance.
  • In some cases, it is possible for international students to do an off-campus study-related job full time, year-round.
  • Under federal law, international students may not exercise their federal right to work unless they have permission from their school to do so. This means that your school may put extra limitations on the kinds of work you can do. (For example, I once worked at a university that did not allow its Intensive English Program students to work at all, on campus or off.)

These basic facts probably leave you with a lot of questions. Which on campus jobs may not be worked by international students? How can you know if an off-campus job is considered study-related? How do you report changes in the amount of hours you work during school and on break? How do you get permission from your school to work? Is it possible to accidentally break the rules? And if so, what are the consequences?

To get the answers to all of these questions and a few more, I interviewed my colleague Othman Zaimi. Othman, known as “Ozzie” to his friends, is a former international student from Morocco. Ozzie and I both went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. Ozzie now works as the Intercultural Programs Manager in the University of St. Thomas’s Office of International Student Services. In his job, he helps international students know and understand their work rights and find good jobs. Listen to Ozzie and I chat here:

(link to interview)

Download a full transcript of this podcast here.


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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

4 Responses to Magoosh Podcast: Can International Students Work in the USA?

  1. Lachyn January 7, 2019 at 8:59 pm #

    Should western international students work on campus more than 20 hours? Are there any credible sources to write a paper about it? Thank you!

    • David Recine
      David Recine January 8, 2019 at 10:58 am #

      That really depends on a lot of different factors– how much more than 20 hours the students might work, how demanding a given student’s classes are, how connected their work is to their academics, etc…. I would advise you to look up studies on the relationship between work and academics, and the impact work has on academics. Good luck with your paper!

  2. Jazmin January 14, 2019 at 6:13 am #

    Would potential MBA graduate at uChicago be able to work off campus in business/law-related work if they’re Canadian Citizens? Are there any differences between the permits with normal international students and Canadian students? Thanks.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 25, 2019 at 8:35 am #

      Hi Jazmin,

      Our expertise is in test prep, not immigration/student visas, and I wouldn’t want to provide an incorrect or misleading answer to this question. From my understanding, the work requirements are based on the visa, not the country of origin, so you would still have to follow these rules if you have an F1 or J1 visa. I recommend contacting the school’s international student advisor or consulting with a lawyer (many schools provide free legal advice on these matters). Good luck!

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