Earning some extra crash, filling up the resume, gaining experience along with academic studies, showing a sign of independence from family, or even just filling up free time by being more productive — these are all common reasons why numerous college students wish to get part-time employment. International students, in many cases, are no different; instead, some are even more eager to find employment for reasons that local students may not have though of, such as to obtain a social security card, which non-citizens would otherwise not have. If you recently got married or had your name legally changed you will need to get your social security name change. Unlike every citizen who is issued a nine-digit social security number at birth, international students only do when they have been hired, and thus, are legally receiving an income. While the primary function of the number is to record wages and taxpaying, many banks require it for credit card applications and mobile phone carriers often require it for signing a phone contract. Yet, as foreigners who are only in the country temporarily but not permanently, international students should keep in mind that they can be, both directly and indirectly, disadvantaged in a number of ways when it comes to finding a job.
There are specific laws and regulations regarding employment which limits the opportunities for those on a different immigration status.
First and foremost, as freshmen, international students can only find employment on-campus; even working for an unpaid internship outside of campus is not allowed until two semesters of full-time academic study has been completed. This restricts international students to finding campus jobs, which are very competitive because they are usually convenient and flexible. For example, because the whole school follows a calendar, school-specific holidays or finals week would also mean no working, something that outside employment does not allow. As a result, campus jobs might require a certain GPA level to apply, while others may specifically indicate that only juniors and seniors are considered. These are additional barriers for international students.
International students are also not eligible to participate in the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program, which is considered a form of financial aid. Domestic students who participate work on-campus during the school year and the wage they receive does not all come from the employers; the federal government also funds part of it. Hence, from the school’s standpoint, there is a lesser cost to hire a work-study student than an international student to do basic work such as running errands, delivering mail, sitting at the front desk, and answering the phone, making some question whether this directly disadvantages international students.
Nevertheless, in the article “How Work-Study Works,” the online resource for financial aid and FAFSA info CollegeData.com suggests that “finding a work-study job [is] easier than finding work on your own” because of the “smooth hiring process, flexible hours, choice and availability of jobs, and preset salaries,” which international students cannot enjoy. After the first year, however, international students are no longer restricted to only working on-campus. Those holding the F-1 visa may participate in the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program, allowing students to find an internship for credits that count toward their undergraduate degree. The only exception for receiving non-credit employment is that the job fulfills a requirement that the student’s department requires of all degree candidates (both domestic and international) in the program.
The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program is also available for international students holding the F-1 visa to participate. Its restriction is similar to the CPT in that the student can only be hired to a job directly relating to his or her major field of study for up to 12 months. This program, however, allows students to be employed after graduation (Post-Completion OPT), making it more popular for international students to use after they finish their degree so they can stay in the country legally for up to one extra year with the hope of finding an employer who is willing to sponsor a work visa. With this in mind, students who wish to work in America for a long-term usually do not “use up” their 12-month allowance while they study (Pre-Completion OPT).
Regardless, there is no doubt that international students face much more restrictions than domestic students. Working at McDonald’s, for example, is never going to be an option because it is neither a campus job nor is it eligible for the CPT and OPT programs. International students must be constantly aware not to break any immigration laws, which ensures their status as a student is not at risk. After all, education is what international students are fundamentally seeking — it is something that should always have the highest priority.