Entering into the US job market after graduation can be an overwhelming task, especially for an international student. A successful transition from student to employee takes a lot of preparation, patience, and a deep understanding of the immigration process. If you are in the US with an F-1 visa, you had to prove that you intend to return to your home country after graduation. But with most things in life, plans change and new opportunities become available.
Most international students will only have 60 days after graduation to either leave the country or land a job with a US company that will sponsor an employment-based visa. If your goal is to work in the US, you’ll need to start building up your resume and perfecting your interview skills long before your graduation date. Gaining valuable work experience now while you’re still a student can help you become more successful in the competitive job market after graduation. To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of resources that can provide you with work experience you need while you’re still enrolled in school.
Career Services Center / On Campus
Talk to your school’s career services or international student center for any job openings on campus that can comply with your visa limitations. On-campus jobs are a great way to boost your resume, expand your skill set, and help you to gain the experience of working in the US and the American working culture. The career center may also be able to get you in touch with any recent graduates who may be able to offer guidance and some insight into the career path of an international student.
As an F-1 student, you are permitted to work while going to school at a maximum of 20 hours during the school year and full-time during school breaks as long as the job is directly associated with the school that issued your I-20.
Some examples of on-campus employment might include:
- Student tech support
- Bookstore clerk
- Cafeteria worker
- Teaching assistant
- Research assistant
If you want to get a head start on your American job experience, you can start this type of employment as early as 30 days before your classes begin during your first academic year. Be aware that this may be up to the International Student center’s discretion as some campuses do not permit new students to work on campus during their first year.
Networking can help you to connect with important people in your field of study, learn more about industry trends, and provide you with insights into job opportunities. You can start to network and build connections early in your time in the US by attending networking events, career fairs, speaking engagements, conferences, and other professional social gatherings. Take the opportunity to intern and volunteer with companies aligned with your field of interest. Developing relationships with professionals may help to open doors for you when the time comes for you to find a job.
If you are not sure where to start when it comes to networking, check out our article, “A guide to networking in Oklahoma City for new US residents.” You can also talk to the International Students’ office and the career services center for networking opportunities. The relationships you build with your college professors may also lead you to future opportunities.
An important key to successful networking is the ability to communicate comfortably in English with other Americans. When networking, don’t be afraid to ask questions or stumble on a few words. The importance is to build connections with key people in your industry or with others that may be able to help in your job search. Be proactive and start thinking about the ways to discuss your interests and skills when you meet new people who are in the position to help you in your career.
After completing your first academic year and with a valid F-1 visa status, you are eligible to work through specific educational related programs called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). The employment must be directly related to your major and approved by your school.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT training is a program designed to provide you with additional academic credit and real-world experience in your field of study. Some examples include internships, work/study programs, and educational programs. CPT allows you to work full-time throughout the school year without any weekly limitations. However, it must be part of your established curriculum, and you must finish the program before your graduation. The CPT program can be paid or unpaid, and you are permitted to participate in more than one CPT program simultaneously. If you do complete a year or more of CPT, you are ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is an option to extend your stay in the US after you graduate and gain more work experience. In an OPT program, you are not limited by employer or required to complete the program before graduation. This program allows you to work in the US for up to 12 months, while you are enrolled in school or after you graduate. The program you choose must be related to your field of study and you are limited to working 20 hours a week while school is in session.
You are able to extend your OPT program up to 24 months if you qualify for the STEM OPT extension. To qualify, your employer must be enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program and you must have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math.
Keep in mind that applying for the program may take several months and it’s in your best interest to apply at least several months before your graduation date. To learn more about the OPT program and other options for international students, check out our article, “Seven Ways An International Student Can Extend Their Stay in the US After Graduation.”
Understanding your options
As you start talking to possible employers and others in your network, it’s up to you to be familiar with the ins and outs of your visa status. If an employer asks if you are eligible to work in the US, you can always answer “Yes,” but understand that it comes with some limitations that you may need to explain.
While you will not be able to work permanently in the US, your F-1 visa authorizes you to legally work in the US for a certain amount of time. Once you graduate and land a job with an employer willing to sponsor you, you the have the option to transfer your visa to an H-1B for a longer length of stay.
As you are in the process of looking for employment, consult the International Student center at your school. They will be able to walk you through the process of complying with your F-1 visa while applying for on-campus work, internships, and practical training programs. They may also be a resource for creating a resume or work portfolio that will be attractive to potential employers.
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