Students who are present in the U.S. on an F-1 visa have limited work authorization, which includes jobs on campus and jobs within their field of study. In some cases, F-1 students may remain in the U.S. for a job after they have completed their studies. This program, known as “optional practical training” (OPT), has been the subject of litigation, based on allegations that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not follow proper rulemaking procedures when it amended the OPT rules in 2008 to allow extensions for certain people with OPT jobs. A federal judge in Washington DC vacated the amended rule in August 2015 but stayed the order for six months. In January 2016, one month before the stay was set to expire, the judge granted DHS’ request for a three-month extension to allow DHS to complete the process of amending the OPT rules again.
An F-1 student is permitted to work on campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session, or full-time during breaks. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(9)(i). Off-campus work authorization is possible if an F-1 student can show “severe economic hardship” and a lack of on-campus opportunities. Id. at § 214.2(f)(9)(ii). DHS may also authorize an F-1 student, once they have completed one academic year, to work off campus for “practical training” purposes for up to 12 months. The period of training may be extended for an additional 12 months when the student advances to a higher level of education.
Internships and other types of work that are part of a specific curriculum are known as “curricular practical training” (CPT). 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(i). Other work that is “directly related to the student’s major area of study” may qualify as OPT. Id. at § 214.2(f)(10)(ii). An F-1 student may be employed in an OPT job while enrolled in school, and for up to 14 months after completing their studies.