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working as an international student

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Are international students allowed to work ? In addition to work as a RA or TA? are they allowed to take an extra job? at the university or as interns during semesters and summers? and is it doable?

I am asking about ways of making extra money in addition to school funding but hopefully in a relevant area of study. Has anyone done this before? is it legal? and is it doable given the schedule/load of PhD life (in engineering) ?

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1. There are restrictions on work on a student visa (F-1 and J-1). In your first year, you are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week during the semester and up to 40 hours a week in the summer on campus only. After the first year, you can apply for permission to work off-campus, but you'll have to justify your request (and no, financial need is not a good justification, you're supposed to be able to support yourself off your stipend and other existing means as a prerequisite for your visa). Therefore, off-campus work needs to be in a related field, e.g. it can be an internship or work that gives you direct experience in what you're studying. There are ways of using up some of your OPT for this purpose, and the International Student Office at your university should be able to assist.

2. You could try and pick up extra RA or TA positions in your university. If you can find that kind of job, it'll give you the most freedom and flexibility in stressful times towards the end of the semester. It's doable, though not easy. See also (but note that immigration restrictions are not discussed there).

IMPORTANT: you need to know how you're funded - if you're funded through a TAship, you automatically count as if you're working 20 hours a week during the semester - regardless of how much time you actually work - and you won't be able to work elsewhere during the semester. As far as I know, you need to be on a fellowship for any of this to work.

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