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Home > Business > Special

Earning while learning in the US

Dimple Sampat | February 15, 2003

If there is one thing that students who go on scholarships abroad are keen to do, it is to earn while they are learning.

A record 65,000 students are going to the US this year for under-graduate and post- graduate programmes, and getting a job there is everyone's dream.

Even those who get full aid are keen to earn a few bucks extra.

"It helps minimise our personal expenses," says a student who has recently enrolled for an MBA at Cornell University. Students should, however, remember that because they are on student visas, there are a lot of dos and don'ts.

Employment is any work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room or any other benefit.

Doing volunteer work which fetches no pay or other compensation is not considered employment. If you're on a salary, it requires authorisation.

For students, the work has to be part-time. So what time is part-time?

It means up to 20 hours per week during term. This does not include breaks or annual vacations.

There are many who legally hold and use two types of part-time authorisation, like an assistantship on campus and severe economic hardship work permission off campus.

Even here, if your work exceeds the mandatory 20 hours, it is a violation of F-1 status.

To be eligible for F-1 employment, you must have a good academic record and maintain a valid F-1 status. Among other things, you must be registered full-time during three academic quarters each year and do well in your course.

Also, an F-1 status does not guarantee employment. At times, the authorisation can come only from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

And you can work only after getting an Employment Authorisation Document or form I-766. Before starting employment off campus, you should first consult the Office of International Admissions of your college/ university.

Types of work authorisation

On-campus employment: On-campus work for the school is usually acceptable. You could work in the library, the computer centre or the housing office or assist people doing research programmes.

The other option is to work on campus for an employer who provides direct services to students. For instance, a private firm which runs the school bookstore or cafeteria fits the bill.

But you can't work for a construction company erecting a campus building because that isn't a direct student service.

Off-campus work: There's also off-campus work which is allowed.

Immigration regulations allow work at an off-campus location provided (1) it is educationally affiliated with the school, (2) the affiliation is associated with the university's established curriculum or is related to a graduate level research project the university has contracted to perform, and (3) the work is an integral or important part of your course.

Now, what happens if you still don't have enough money? That's when you try for off-campus employment based on severe economic hardship. It's a privilege available only after a full academic year in F-1 status.

You can work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) while classes are in session or even full-time during breaks and annual vacation.

This can be done only if there are insufficient or no employment opportunities on campus. But first you have to demonstrate 'severe economic hardship by unforeseen circumstances.'

This could include loss of financial aid or on-campus employment, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or the exchange rate; inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs; medical bills; and unexpected changes in the financial condition of your source of support. Apply to the INS for an EAD.

But what happens when you have to work as part of your curriculum?

There are two categories here -- Curricular Practical Training and Optical Practical Training.

Those holding an F-1 or F-2 visa for full-time study and have been registered full-time during the preceding three quarters are eligible for CPT.

Also, unlike the others, it is not stand-alone employment. The employment has to be mandatory for everyone in your degree programme or a particular course. One year of full-time CPT will, however, make you ineligible for OPT.

The eligibility for Optional Practical Training is the same as CPT. But here, the employment must be directly related to your major.

It can last for a total of up to 12 months ending no later than 14 months after the final date of your programme. Part-time OPT (up to 20 hours per week) counts at one-half the full-time rate against your 12-month eligibility.

When can you apply for OPT? You can do it during your annual vacation quarter, part-time or full-time. It can also be done part time, while classes are in session.

A full-time OPT can be done after completing your degree, excluding thesis. Apply to your university's Office of International Affairs for a formal recommendation, and to INS for authorisation.

Interning with an international organisation: If the United Nations or the World Bank offers an internship, you must get INS permission to accept it. This is usually a full-time job during the summer or other vacation quarter. You will need an EAD for this.

What you need

Only if you have your Social Security number can an employer pay your salary.

Carry the following paraphernalia for the card -- your passport, I-94 Departure Record card, Form I-20 ID (Student) Copy, and evidence of employment authorisation to an office of the Social Security Administration.

When you begin work, you and your employer must complete Form I-9 for Employment Eligibility Verification. It requires you to document both your identity and your work authorisation.

As an F-1 student, you should check the box labelled 'An alien authorized to work until,' and give the expiration date from your EAD.

If no EAD is required for the employment that you are beginning, then, for on-campus employment, give the anticipated completion date from item 5 of your Form I-20 ID (Student) Copy.

Your employer, who will keep Form I-9, may make copies of the documents but will return the originals to you. Form I-9 must be updated each time you renew your work permission.

Employments for dependents

F-2 dependents cannot be employed, not even as babysitters.

If there is a professional job offer, then the F-2 dependent should work with the prospective employer to change the visa from F-2 to immigration status that permits employment.

Stick to the rules and look out for opportunities, and your study stint in the US could be a learning experience.

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