The US takes student employment very seriously. Once you arrive in USA and enrol for your degree, you would be assigned a Designated School Official (DSO) who will guide you through your employment in the country and ensure that only legal form of employment is pursued by all the international students.
DSO has close links with the Immigration office, which is why they will also be responsible for keeping your employment records and helping you complete relevant documentation.
When it comes to employment while studying in the US your options include on campus employment, off campus employment, Curricular Practical Training- CPT, Optional Practical Training- OPT and STEM Extension.
On Campus Employment
For the initial year of your stay in the US, you would only be allowed to work on campus of your university. For this your DSO would have to assist you on indicating Active on your employment status by giving you an approval letter and Social Security Number.
Off Campus Employment
After the first year of your stay in the US as a student, you would now be eligible to work a limited number of hours off campus. In order for you to be able to work off campus you need to gain a recommendation from your DSO and file a Form I-765 "Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD)" to receive the required authorization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Once you have received this authorization, you would be eligible to work 20 hours per week during term time, off the campus during term time.
Curricular Practical Training- CPT
Curricular Practical Training applies when specialized work experience is required by the course of your study. The 20 hours limitation does not apply in CPT, which means you can work full time during this time. The duration for CPT can vary from 3 to 12 months depending on the structure of the course you are studying.
In order to gain the CPT, you need to get an employment recommendation from your DSO and file the Form I-20. To be eligible for CPT, you should have already attained the EAD.
Optional Practical Training- OPT
Similar to CPT, Optional Practical Training has to be specialized and linked with your course of study, but its completion is not mandatory for passing the course. If you wish to apply for OPT, the procedure is similar to that of CPT. You would be required to have attained the EAD and get recommendation from your DSO for filing both Form I-765 and Form I-20.
The duration for OPT can be a maximum of 12 months and the 20 Hours Limit does not apply.
Recently President Obama made the State of the Union address in which he stated that international graduates are a valuable assets and the decline in job opportunities for these graduates in the past should no longer be the case. To tackle with this problem will be considerations about increasing the work opportunities for the International Graduates, especially in the graduates of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.
The graduates of STEM subjects are now eligible to get 17 months OPT visa extension for working in the US after their graduation. The procedure of gaining this extension is the same as that as OPT.
The US continues to streamline, regulate and facilitate its system of student employment for a brighter future of the economy and the students. It can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the opportunities available and procedures that you would need to follow well in advance.