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:
Download a full transcript of this podcast here.