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Off-Campus Employment

by Paula Singer, Esq.

Under immigration rules and procedures, foreign students are authorized to work on the campus of the institution that they are authorized to attend. Foreign students may also work off-campus for education or training that conforms with applicable immigration rules or for economic hardship, provided they obtain the proper authorization before commencing the employment.


Foreign students may engage in off-campus employment for education or to apply the knowledge and skills gained from their educational program. Unlike on-campus employment, authorized off-campus employment may be either employment or self-employment. Off-campus employment that occurs when studentsí classes are in session is generally limited to 20 hours per week. Restrictions vary with the studentís classification and the type of education or training program. (Students in English language programs are not eligible for these programs.)

Curricular Practical Training

F-1 students and F-3 border commuter students may engage in curricular practical training (CPT), which may be either on-campus or off-campus. To qualify, students must have been enrolled for at least nine months in full-time study. The employment must be required for graduation from the approved academic program or for the purpose of earning academic credits. The Designated School Official (DSO) must authorize CPT by endorsing the I-20. Canadian and Mexican students must obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the immigration service.

Optional Practical Training

F-1 and F-3 students may engage in off-campus optional practical training (OPT) during or after completion of their studies, for a total maximum period of 12 months. M-1 and M-3 students may engage in OPT for a maximum of 6 months after completion of their studies. To qualify students must have been enrolled for at least one year in full-time study. The job must relate directly to their field of studies and be recommended by their DSO by endorsing their Form I-20. Work may commence only after they obtain an EAD.

Academic Training

J-1 students may engage in off-campus academic training during or after completion of their academic degree for a total of 18 months. The employment must be related and appropriate to the level and field of study and commence within 30 days of completion of their academic program. Postdoctoral students are eligible for 36 months of academic training. Authorization is by written approval from their Responsible Officer (RO). No EAD is required.

Employment with an International Organization

Before completion of studies, F-1 students may be employed by an international organization that qualifies under the International Organizations Immunities Act. Such organizations include the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization. Although there is no requirement that the job relate to studentsí field of studies, hiring is typically based on a studentís field of studies. Work may commence only after an EAD is obtained.


Foreign students faced with severe economic hardship beyond their control, that could not have been anticipated when they applied for admission, may be authorized to work off-campus when no on-campus employment is available. Examples of such economic hardship are:

  • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment through no fault of the student
  • Substantial fluctuations in exchange rates or value of currency
  • Inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs
  • Unexpected changes in the financial condition of the studentís source of support
  • Medical bills or other substantial and unexpected expenses

Their DSO must recommend the employment, which may commence only after the student obtains an EAD.

The immigration service may also suspend or alter rules regarding employment eligibility under the Special Student Relief program. The Notice of Suspension issued on June 10, 1998 that applies to students whose funding comes from Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, or the Philippines, details special treatment to be given to these students. On-campus employment, which may be more than 20 hours per week, requires approval by the DSO. Off-campus employment requires an EAD after recommendation by the DSO.


Employment that does not meet the definition of on-campus employment or that is not authorized off-campus employment is unauthorized. Such unauthorized employment includes an honorarium given for a lecture or presentation of a paper (unless the recipient is working pursuant to an EAD) and employment without pay for a position that is not typically filled by a volunteer. Also, students who have failed to maintain valid immigration status are not eligible for immigration benefits, including employment.

About The Author

Paula Singer, Esq., CEO of Windstar Technologies, Inc. and partner in the tax law firm, Vacovec, Mayotte & Singer, Newton, MA has over 25 years of experience providing advice and compliance services to employers on cross-border employment matters. For more information, visit For additional information, call 1-800-259-6398 or email:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.