International students hoping to gain experience or earn some extra money may be wondering if they can work remotely for a non-US company while studying in the US. Remote work, also called telework or work-from-home (WFH), refers to work completed remotely, usually via a computer and/or phone. You don’t necessarily need to be at home. You might be able to work remotely from a coffee shop or library but remote policies vary by company.
Remote work is beneficial because it opens up more opportunities for individuals looking for employment. They are not limited to employers near where they live but can apply for jobs anywhere in the world. However, if you are looking for remote work with non-US companies, it is essential to understand F-1 visa work authorization for remote work to ensure you maintain legal student visa status in the US.
Remote work for international students on F-1 visas
Any work done on US soil requires US work authorization even if it is remote work for a company in another country. Most international students in the US are on F-1 visas which allow for part-time work on-campus, but no other work is allowed without an additional work authorization. Work off-campus including remote work is generally forbidden during the first year of study.
After their first year, F-1 international students will need proper work authorization to work remotely for a US or non-US company. This includes:
- Unpaid work such as an unpaid internship and some volunteer positions
- Freelance work, “side gigs”, and sponsorships
- Remote work done during school breaks when you are still in the US
Remote work authorization options for international students
Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows international students to work either before or after graduation in a job that’s related to their major. According to USCIS, you can use OPT for remote work for a non-US company, but you can only work up to 20 hours per week during the academic semester. During school breaks, you can work up to 40 hours a week.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a type of work authorization that allows F-1 international students to participate in paid and unpaid internships during their degree program for academic credit. To qualify, the internship must be relevant to your field of study. Like with OPT, you should be able to accept a remote work opportunity utilizing CPT as long as all other CPT requirements are fulfilled. There is full-time CPT (up to 40 hours per week) and part-time CPT (up to 20 hours per week).
Some example cases of remote work for international students
- An international student is doing a remote internship for a company based in Canada while studying in the US. In this case, the internship is legal only if the student has proper work authorization. This could be through the OPT or CPT programs described above.
- An international student is doing freelance work remotely (e.g., graphic design, writing articles, consulting). Freelancing is allowed with pre-graduation and post-graduation OPT, and you can freelance for companies outside the US. Freelance workers on a student visa should keep a detailed record of all jobs. You cannot work more than 20 hours a week while classes are in session and all work must be related to your field of study.
- An international student has a monetized YouTube channel or a large Instagram following and gets offered sponsorships. Sponsorships, though not traditional income, are considered paid work by the US government. Work authorization would be required and a potential option would be the O-1 visa for individuals of extraordinary ability.
Legal alternatives to remote work for international students
For international students, the penalty for working illegally in the US is severe. You may lose your student visa, not be able to get another visa in the future, and be banned from re-entry to the US for three or ten years. To avoid any issues with your visa status and future visa applications, make sure you only do work you are legally authorized to do while in the US.
Here are some legal ways to earn income as an international student:
- On-campus jobs: You can start your first year of school, and the job does not need to be related to your major. Some on-campus jobs may even be remote or partially remote such as working as a social media coordinator for the school’s career center.
- Rental properties: If you own property back in your home country, you can collect rent money from tenants while you are in the US.
- Stocks and investments: F-1 student visa holders can legally enter the US stock market with some limitations.
- Royalties from publications in another country: If you previously published writing in another country, you can earn royalties from the publication.
- Travel home to work during school holidays: Once you leave the US, you are no longer subject to US work authorization laws and can work remotely as you wish.
Even if you are working remotely for a non-US company, as an international student on an F-1 visa, you must have work authorization. The options for F-1 students for remote jobs are the OPT and CPT programs. Otherwise, you can only work remotely when you travel outside of the US during school holidays. If you still want to work remotely as an international student, consider consulting with an immigration attorney who can provide guidance based on your specific situation and help ensure that your remote work arrangement obeys the most current regulations.