How to Earn Money on Student Visa in the US

Updated on: 2022-10-08 - 3 mins read

Are you studying in the U.S. on an F1 visa? And are you perhaps looking for ways to earn extra income during your studies? What is the legal way to do this, and what types of income are illegal for someone on an F1 visa?

So, let's dive deep into it.

What is an F1 Visa?

Before we can look into F1 visa passive income, we first need to recap what an F1 visa is.

The F1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa and is available to people from abroad who want to study in the U.S. Only people who have been accepted into a course or school in the U.S. are eligible for an F1 visa. Nonresident aliens joining schools, seminaries, conservatories, training programs, or other academic institutions apply for F1 visas.

What are the work restrictions for F1 student visas?

The restrictions mentioned above are intended to safeguard the primary goal of an F1 student visa. You’re in the United States to study, not to make money. Therefore, you may only work up to 20 hours a week while your semester progresses. Although, during your vacation, you can work up to 40 hours per week per USCIS guidelines. This is so you won’t fall behind on your studies and get a bad grade because you didn’t study enough of the time. This implies you can only take part-time employment during your semester even if you have much free time.

Don’t be concerned, however. You can certainly do so if you want to generate income during your semester breaks. You can work up to 40 hours per week in any on-campus job during your vacation. Once you become eligible for CPT, you may apply for work at the time of studying using the CPT for up to 40 hours in your field-related jobs upon your university ISO’s approval. After graduation, they can work in an OPT (Optical Practical Training) program if authorized by the USCIS.

F1 Visa Work Options

Before we look at how you can earn F1 visa passive income, let’s look at the two ways in which you can make an income for active work on an F1 visa:

1. Curricular Practical Training

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a temporary authorization for work (or instead training) directly related to your studies. It could be both paid or unpaid and typically comes in the form of co-ops, summer internships, or regular internships required to earn academic credit.

Who Is Eligible for CPT?

To qualify as an F-1 student CPT visa holder studying in the United States, you have to meet the following requirements:

  • Your university is a SEVP-certified institution
  • You are enrolled full-time and have been a student for at least one year
  • You are not studying English as a second language
  • You have already received an offer for an internship or job

CPT Application Process

When applying for CPT, you first need a job offer letter from your prospective employer. Make sure your letter is signed and printed on the official letterhead of your employer. The letter must also have the following information:

  • Your name
  • Job title
  • Job description
  • Address of employment
  • Start and end dates of your CPT employment
  • Whether you are working full-time or part-time

There are seven general rules for CPT:

  • The student must have been enrolled in school full-time for at least one year under a valid F-1 visa (except for graduate students whose program requires CPT)
  • The student must receive a qualifying job offer before they submit a CPT authorization request
  • The job offer must be in the student’s field of study or major
  • The job must be authorized by the school’s International Student Office (ISO)
  • The ISO must notify USCIS
  • The CPT must be an integral part of the student’s degree program or a requirement for a course for which the student receives academic credit
  • The CPT occurs before the student’s program end date listed on Form I-20

Learn more about Curricular Practical Training (CPT) guidelines by Home Land Security for F-1 Students:

2. Optional Practical Training

An OPT is temporary employment directly related to your studies which are lawful work for an F1 visa holder. You are allowed a maximum of 12 months on OPT during your studies. The number of months of OPT used during pre-completion (before you graduate) subtracts from the full 12 months (365 calendar days) you are allowed after completion (after you graduate). You’re also eligible for 24 months (2 years) of STEM extension on your OPT if your degree program is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

OPT Eligibility

A student is eligible for OPT if:

The student has been a full-time student for one academic year in a SEVP-certified:

  • College
  • University
  • Conservatory
  • Seminary

Some other requirements for eligibility: The student is not studying English as a Second Language. The student’s proposed employment relates to the student’s central area of study. For more information, see SEVP Policy Guidance: Practical Training – Determining a Direct Relationship between Employment and a Student’s Major Area of Study. The student has not used all optional practical training available at the current level of study. The student has not been authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

Learn more about Optional Practical Training (OPT) guidelines by USCIS for F-1 Students:

General rules about OPT

  • OPT is a one-year work permit given to students after completing a degree program in the US. You have to find a job within 90 days after graduation
  • OPT may be used during one’s studies (PreCompletion OPT) and after completing one’s studies (Post-Completion OPT). Pre-Completion OPT allows you to work legally before graduation in case you have finished the entire duration of your CPT period
  • Technically, the job must be directly related to one’s major field of study
  • No course registration required
  • OPT is not semester-specific
  • Pre-Completion OPT may be part-time (20 hours per week) when college is in session, full-time during school breaks (winter or summer), or completely full-time (when working on one’s thesis/dissertation). Post-Completion OPT may be authorized for full-time employment
  • OPT is not employer-specific, and the student can work for any employer as long as the position is related to their field of study
  • International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and USCIS must authorize OPT. ISS issues a new I-20 with OPT recommendation. USCIS then issues Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. Read more here
  • Processing times for OPT may vary, but it generally takes between 1 to 3 months.
  • Employment is permitted during the validity dates on the EAD card; after that, you will have to apply for an H1 visa (work visa)
  • USCIS requires a $420 application fee to issue the EAD card
Purpose CPT allows an F-1 student to work in a company to get practical experience before graduation OPT allows an F-1 student to gain practical experience in the same field after completing graduation
Requirements Working on CPT is part of a candidate’s degree requirements OPT is not related to a candidate’s degree requirements
Duration of employment CPT can be done for up to 12 months The duration of OPT is 12 months which can be extended up to 24 months
Employment Authorization Document (EAD) The student does not get EAD from USCIS in CPT Students working on OPT will get EAD from USCIS after getting approval for OPT
Application fee CPT does not have any application fee A student working on an OPT should pay an application fee of $410 to USCIS
Working part-time or full-time CPT can be either part-time or full-time and is usually done 20 hours part-time during school and 40 hours during summer Generally, OPT is done full-time after graduation

Legal Ways to Earn Income

Student visas don’t forbid you to generate passive income outside of school-related opportunities. You only have to know where to look for good F1 student visa work to create legal passive income abroad. Here are some ways you can start earning money today.

F1 Employment On-Campus

F1 student visa holders are permitted to work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the semester/quarter as soon as they start school. An F1 student may work in the USA full-time (40 hrs/week) during breaks between semesters/quarters or during the annual vacation.

Students holding F-1 and J-1 status who are employed in the U.S. must apply for a Social

Security number. A Social Security number (SSN) is issued to track earnings over a worker’s lifetime. The Social Security number itself is not a work permit.

F1 employment on-campus can include:

  • Most types of on-campus employment where the university or college is the employer, e.g., the school library, computer lab, registrar/bursar’s office, departmental offices, or as a research assistant, teaching assistant, etc.
  • Employment with an outside organization that provides services directly to students at the university, e.g., working at a bookstore on campus that primarily services university students and staff, even if the bookstore is not owned or operated directly by the university.
  • Employment off-campus if the location is affiliated with the university. It is strongly recommended that students check with the international student advisor before commencing such F1 employment.

1. Campus ambassador

Campus ambassadors are in charge of promoting the university and showing prospective students why they should apply. This is an excellent job for someone who likes interacting with new people and working in a team.

You may also be asked to give guided tours of the university campus on open days, sharing your knowledge and other interesting facts about the university.

2. Teaching Assistant

An on-campus teaching assistant is expected to supervise classroom activities and work closely with any students who are struggling.

If you already have some experience in the field, you may be able to work as a higher-level teaching assistant, leading classes on your own and marking students’ work.

3. Tutor or peer mentor

If you don’t fancy becoming a teaching assistant but would like to do something along the same lines, tutoring or peer mentoring is an excellent job for international students working in the USA.

The role involves helping fellow students with their course content, reading, or assignments. This job is particularly well-matched for international students, who often provide mentees with a different perspective or way of learning.

4. Investing

If you have confidence in your ability to predict the stock market and your own savings, then investing in stocks is another legal way to generate income. This is legal if you make no more than four weekly trades. Making more trades would have your actions recognized as day-trading, a known profession.

5. Entering Competitions

Any competition you enter and win outside the campus won’t get you in trouble with US laws. Cash prizes you win also fall under the passive income category, like royalties. No matter how much money you accumulate, you stay within legal restrictions. Some well-known US competitions for engineering students are: Regeneron Science Talent Search, The Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge and MIT THINK Scholars Program, etc.

6. Renting Out a Room by finding a roommate

This is the most common way for you to generate income abroad as an international student. It’s also the safest way to do so if you let property management companies do most of the work on your behalf.

This means you’ll have to pay them for maintenance and interacting with tenants, but you should turn a profit from renting out a room by sharing rent, splitting internet bills, and utility bills expenses.

To Sum up

Life as a student on an F1 visa can be challenging. You need to budget carefully, and you might be looking for ways to make some extra income. Earning an F1 visa passive income is legal. You need to remember to comply with the tax laws. Ask advice from a registered tax practitioner to help you with filing your taxes. People without ways to earn a passive income can always consider CPT and OPT employment to earn a few extra bucks. Just make sure you keep to the conditions on your F1 visa.