There are essentially three (3) instances that a foreign national in the United States as an F-1 nonimmigrant may work:
1. On-Campus Employment;
2. Off-Campus Employment; and
3. Practical Training.
On-Campus Employment includes work performed on school premises (including on-location commercial firms which provide services for students, such as the student bookstore or cafeteria) or at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school. In the case of off-campus locations, the educational affiliation must be associated with the school's established curriculum or related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level. Regardless, the employment must be an integral part of the student's educational program.
While school is in session, an F-1 nonimmigrant student may only work up to twenty (20) hours per week. When school is not in session, an F-1 nonimmigrant student may work full-time. Also, an F-1 nonimmigrant student may only work if his employment will not displace U.S. workers. On-Campus employment is not permitted if the student's course of study has been completed (in which case, the student would apply for practical training, as outlined below).
With respect to Off-Campus Employment, if other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 nonimmigrant student may request Off-Campus Employment work authorization based upon severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control. These circumstances may include, and are not limited to, loss of financial aid or On-Campus Employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate for the student's home country, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses.
Finally, Practical Training is available to F-1 nonimmigrant students provided they have been a full-time student for at least one (1) academic year (which is typically 8 to 9 consecutive months, unless they are a graduate student in a special program), it is related to the student's course of study, it is employment for the purpose of practical training, and it is not for English language training.
There are two (2) types of practical training: Curricular Practical Training ("CPT") and Optional Practical Training ("OPT").
CPT is available to F-1 nonimmigrant students provided it is an integral part of their academic program. CPT is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.
Students who have received one (1) year or more of full-time CPT are ineligible for post-completion OPT. Exceptions to this rule are provided for students enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in CPT.
OPT may be available to an F-1 nonimmigrant student in the following circumstances:
1. during student's annual vacation and at other times when school not in session;
2. while school is in session as long as it does not exceed twenty (20) hours per week;
3. after completion of all course requirements (excluding the student's thesis requirement or the equivalent) for a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree program; and
4. after completion of the full course of study.
OPT is limited to twelve (12) months for all students except Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematic students ("STEM students"), and the OPT must be completed within fourteen (14) months of graduation. The twelve (12 ) and fourteen (14) month limitation periods do not apply to STEM students, who can apply for up to seventeen (17) additional months (29 months in total) of OPT if their employer is enrolled in what is known as the E-Verify Program and agrees to report the student's departure within forty-eight (48) hours.
 The E-Verify Program is an internet-based system operated by DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration. The program allows employers to determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers. Information on the E-Verify Program is available at www.uscis.gov.
This guide was developed by Meyers & Meyers, LLP as a resource to help you understand some aspects of Immigration Law, which is very complex. It is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. We recommend you contact one of our experienced Immigration Attorneys to devise an individualized plan to help you and/or your company achieve your goals. Please contact Meyers & Meyers, LLP at email@example.com for assistance.