Getting F-1 visa approval and beginning the journey as an international student in the United States, is an exciting and life-changing accomplishment.
As a law student, it opens the door to understanding the U.S. legal system and obtaining a JD or LLM which is the first step to embarking on a legal career. However, this can be a difficult accomplishment to celebrate when there are so many obstacles for international students to overcome if they want to work in the U.S.
Finding a job as an international student is an uphill battle. However, it is absolutely possible if you plan ahead and wholly understand all the opportunities available to you under your student visa.
Here are some tips to help you along your journey.
Understand Your Work Options Under Your Visa
Understanding the work opportunities available to you under your visa is crucial to being able to secure a job opportunity in the U.S. Regardless of whether you’re a 1L, 2L, or 3L, there are work opportunities available to you under your F-1 student visa that would allow you to work during the school year, the summer or following graduation.
How to Work During the School Year or Summer on an F-1 Visa
1. On-Campus Employment
Your F-1 visa gives you the option to obtain on-campus employment either during the school year or during the summer up to 30 days before the start of your law school program. As long as the job is:
- On your school’s campus; or
- On an educationally affiliated off-campus location; and
- Is only 20 hours per week during the school term or 20 hours or more during the summer.
This means that during the school year or the summer, you have the option to legally work and earn an income. Although you may be restricted to on-campus or off-campus affiliates, as a law student, there are several opportunities that you can consider that can help you to build on your legal career and earn some extra cash.
- Becoming a research assistant for a law professor: During the summer, many professors seek out law students to help them with research for drafting a casebook or some other publication. They may sometimes post these jobs on your school job board or offer them to students within their classes. Keep an eye out for these opportunities or take things a step further by creating this opportunity for yourself. If you have a favorite professor, reach out to them and let them know of your desire to help with any work they may have. This may just open the door for a job opportunity available under your visa.
- Work at an on-campus clinic: Some law schools may have legal clinics to help low-income clients who are facing legal issues. These clinics are sometimes offered for course credit or as a summer job opportunity for law students. The clinic may be led by local attorneys but law students help with client intake, interviews, and even analyzing legal issues. These clinics sometimes offer paid positions but alternatively, students may qualify for funding through a grant. Speak to your career advisor if you have an interest in this type of job opportunity.
- Work at an off-campus contract affiliate: Working for an off-campus affiliate gives you the option to branch out in building on your skills. Consider employers that are affiliated with your school for legal educational purposes. Legal research or bar prep companies such as Lexis Nexis, Westlaw, Barbri, Kaplan, or Themis are great places to start. These employers are likely always on your campus either promoting products, research guidance, or bar prep classes to students. Although they are on-campus, they are technically off-campus affiliates who have a contract with your school. Therefore, this is a great work option for F-1 students. These jobs also offer many perks including discounted bar prep courses that are highly coveted amongst law students.
2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
F-1 students have the option to engage in practical on the job training with any employer during the school year or summer through the CPT option available under their visa. F-1 students are eligible to use the CPT option if:
- They find a job that is directly related to their primary area of study.
- They get authorization from their Designated School Official (DSO) who provides them with an updated I-20.
- They get an agreement or letter from their employer.
Students are given a 12-month period for practical training. They may utilize this for CPT during their course of study, for Optional Practical Training (OPT) following law school or they can split their time between both.
For example, if you use CPT for two months during your 2L summer, you will only have 10 months of OPT available following law school. So, be mindful of how you split your time.
As a law student, CPT is a great option to consider because it allows international law students to fully engage in the summer job-search process as there are no off-campus employer restrictions. Students just need to obtain DSO authorization.
CPT can be a risky option, however, if you want to put your 12-month timeframe towards post-graduate OPT. Be sure to talk through your work goals with your career advisor, who should be able to assist you with making the best choice.
How to Work After Graduation on an F-1 Visa
F-1 students can work in the U.S. following their law school graduation by utilizing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) provision under their visa or adjusting their visa status to the H-1B visa category.
1. Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT allows F-1 students to work for any employer as long as the job is related to their course of study.
- Obtain a new I-20 from their DSO which shows their recommendation for the student’s employment.
- Obtain authorization from USCIS through submitting a Form I-765 for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
OPT is an excellent opportunity for F-1 students to work at a law firm, public interest organization, etc., with very limited restrictions. If you decide to take advantage of this F-1 visa benefit, be sure to plan ahead with your DSO and career advisor to ensure that you obtain your desired job opportunity whilst remaining in compliance.
2. H-1B Visa
If F-1 students desire to remain in the U.S. after their OPT time expires, they will have to adjust their visa category from F-1 to another status. One option students can consider is the H-1B visa. This is a visa category available to highly skilled immigrants pursuing a specialty occupation.
A job as a lawyer would qualify as a specialty occupation, however, this visa is very difficult to acquire because it has a cap limit of 65,000 plus another 20,000 if the nonimmigrant has a master’s degree or higher.
If you are interested in this visa category, be sure to discuss this with your employer as they would need to apply for this visa on your behalf.
As you get started on your job search journey, keep in mind that immigration requirements are constantly changing. Ensure that you check in with your DSO or an immigration attorney to verify that you aren’t overlooking any options or restrictions applicable to you.
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