Once international students begin studying in the United States, they usually notice two things: 1) they have more spare time than they expected, and 2) they have less money than they hoped. An on-campus job is an excellent way to address both of these issues. International students often seek campus jobs to supplement credit cards and student loans, or to avoid them altogether. It also helps you expand your social circle, learn quickly about US culture, and gain valuable work experience that makes you a more diverse and hireable candidate no matter where your career takes you.
Most college campuses have their own rules and regulations around campus jobs. Check with your career center or use online resources for campus employment on your school’s website to help you in your search. You should be able to find specific guidance for international students with an F-1 visa. As an international student, you also may be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), an extension of your work privileges for up to 12 months after you graduate. In the meantime, here’s a few general rules to keep in mind for an on-campus job while you study:
Manage Your Hours
International students may not work more than 20 hours per week. There’s almost no exception to this rule. Typically, campus jobs will have a specific hour allotment based on the department budget and the responsibilities of the position. But, be careful: you may be surprised by how much work 20 hours entails. If you’re in a demanding major that requires many hours of study, you may only want to work 15 or even 10 hours. Try to schedule an average week for yourself—with realistic estimates of time you’ll spend on studying, sleeping, and entertainment—to determine how much spare time you really have.
Make It Relevant
It may not always be possible, but it’s ideal to work somewhere relevant to your studies. Ideally this means finding work as an intern or assistant to a professor in your field. Of course, these positions can be rare and quite competitive. Or your department simply may not have the funding to offer them. However, even working a menial or administrative job can expose you to important information about your field and help you make connections for the future. Some schools actually require that you work in your field. Always confirm your particular school’s restrictions through the campus website or with an advisor.
Get an SSN
As an international student, you can’t get paid without a social security number. And you can’t get a social security number without a job. This may seem like a catch-22—a dilemma in which two options make a situation impossible. In reality, however, it’s not that bad! Usually, you can apply for a social security number up to 30 days prior to your first work day. At that point, you should receive your SSN within 2 to 4 weeks. You can work during this time but your paperwork will be delayed until your SSN is available. Explain your situation to your employer at the time you’re hired. There’s no need to feel embarrassed!
Know Where You Can Work
It depends on your particular school’s restrictions but some international students cannot work off campus under any circumstances. Sometimes, this rule is to avoid students doing work that is not relevant to their academic goals but this may include jobs related to your field of study. Make sure you are eligible for the particular job you are applying for as an international student with an F-1 visa in your specific field of study. Potential employers are not likely to know the specific restrictions to your employment status so check with a campus advisor or on the school’s website before applying.
Plan For The Break
Many on campus jobs allow students to continue their jobs between semesters/quarters. Sometimes they offer more hours, with the possibility of full time work. As an international student with an F-1 visa, you are eligible to work more between sessions if your visa is still valid during these dates. However, some campus jobs may not have funding or need for employees between sessions. Or they may simply expect you to be on vacation when class is not in session. Check with your employer before long breaks to create a work situation that suits you both.