Employment for F-1 Students
International students on F-1 visas may accept employment under certain conditions. Your F-1 visa status requires you to obtain proper authorization before starting any type of employment off-campus. Unpaid internships or other unpaid work opportunities will still require you to obtain the proper authorization. Beginning work without appropriate authorization is a serious violation of your F-1 status. Please check with Center for International Programs regarding your options for employment.
Off-Campus Employment Authorizations
In the case of economic necessity due to unforeseen circumstances which arise after your first year in the U.S., you may seek permission to work off-campus through USCIS. Contact the Center for International Programs at 812-465-1248 for information on these regulations and application procedures.
Curricular Practical Training
According to immigration regulations, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) must be "an integral part of an established curriculum," such as "alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school." Thus, CPT for F-1 students is intended to provide work experience in situations where the work serves as an integral part of a student's academic program, prior to completion of that program.
F-1 students who have completed one academic year of full-time study are eligible for CPT. CPT is available only while the student is in valid F-1 status and before the completion of his/her program. Students in English language programs are not eligible for CPT. Please consult Emi Zlatkovska if you are interested in pursuing CPT.
Graduate students are allowed to participate in CPT as early as their first semester in the US if their academic program requires an internship, a practicum or other employment as part of the degree requirements.
Duration of Curricular Practical Training
USCIS does not limit the number of times or the length of time a student may engage in either part- or full-time curricular practical training. The duration of CPT is determined by the requirements of your academic program. The regulations do not prohibit multiple, concurrent CPT employers.
However, if you complete a total of 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training, you will not be eligible to pursue any Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Applying for Curricular Practical Training
The Center for International Programs can authorize CPT if it can be clearly documented that the proposed employment meets one of the two conditions below.
- The training employment is required of all degree candidates in the program and is necessary for the awarding of the degree. Included in this category is employment in a required internship or practicum. There are only a few academic programs at USI which require a period of off-campus employment for all degree candidates. This requirement must be formally documented in school publications.
- The training employment will result in the awarding of academic credit. Undergraduate students should consult the appropriate advisor in the USI Career Services Office, or with your academic advisor, to determine if the proposed employment qualifies for internship credit. You must register and complete the internship course during the semester that you are working under CPT authorization. For example, if you will be working in the summer, you must register and complete the internship course in the same summer semester.
If CPT is for your last semester, you must have at least one other remaining degree-required course for which to register, in addition to the CPT course, unless the CPT course is the degree-required course.
CPT authorization is employment specific, so any additional employment or internship requires a separate CPT authorization.
Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training is a period of up to one year during which a student is permitted to work in a position relevant to his/her field and can be used before or after completion of studies. Students remain in F-1 status with their university, although they can accept employment anywhere within the United States.
There are two types of OPT, pre-completion and post-completion OPT.
An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT after he or she has been enrolled for one full academic year. The pre-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full time when school is not in session. A job offer is required to apply for pre-completion OPT.
An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post completion OPT upon completion of studies. No job offer is needed to apply for OPT. Employment must be directly related to the student's major area of study and employment must be fulltime, which is 20 hours per week or more.
- Completed degree requirements.
- Have been in fulltime status for 1 academic year.
- Have maintained F-1 status.
- Have complied with CPT requirements, if authorized for CPT.
- Have a valid passport.
Dates and deadline:
- You can apply no sooner than 90 days before your I-20 program end date (the last day of the semester in which you will complete your degree requirements), but no later than 60 days after this date.
- Application processing time is approximately 70-90 days.
- You can request your OPT to begin the day after your program end date and up to 60 days after this date.
The application for practical training must be received by USCIS within 60 days of completion the program end date listed on the I-20. This application also requires a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation issued by Emi Zlatkovska in the Center for International Programs. Please do not send an I-765 to USCIS without consulting the Center for International Programs.
OPT Extension for STEM Fields
F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, who are employed or have a paid job offer by an employer enrolled in E-Verify, and who have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT, may apply for a 24-month extension. F-1 students are also allowed to receive STEM OPT authorization twice during their lifetime in the U.S and additional unemployment days are allotted (up to 150).
How can I check if my major allows the STEM OPT extension?
Every major has a numerical code, referred to as a CIP code. You can find the CIP code for your major listed on the first page of your I-20 and check if your CIP code appears on the STEM designated degree list. You also check with CIP to confirm if you are eligible for the STEM OPT extension.
What are the eligibility requirements for the 24-month STEM OPT?
- The student must have authorization for initial 12 months of post-completion OPT
- The student must have a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List. A previously earned STEM degree that is included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List may be used to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT if your current post-completion OPT authorization is based on a non-STEM degree. The employment for the STEM OPT must relate to the previous degree and not the degree the original post-completion OPT authorization is for. Check with CIP to see if you may qualify for the 24-month STEM OPT with a previously earned degree.
- The student must not have accrued 90 days of unemployment.
- The student's employer must be enrolled in E-Verify or must have a job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify.
- The student must apply before the current OPT authorization expires.
- The student must have updated CIP with both physical address and employer address.
- The student and employer must complete an I-983 Training Plan and submit to CIP in order to request an I-20 for the STEM OPT extension.
Reporting Requirements during Optional Practical Training
You will remain in F-1 status with your USI I-20 form throughout your period of post completion OPT. You may not exceed 90 days of unemployment for the entire duration of your 12 month OPT authorization (up to 150 days with the STEM OPT). USI will not keep track of your unemployment, but you must report any changes of employment through your SEVIS Portal account, as well as any changes in your address, within 10 days of the change. You will receive an email from SEVP with instructions on how to create your SEVIS Portal account once your OPT is approved. If you did not receive the email, please contact CIP immediately. You can also complete the reporting form with which you can notify the Center for International Programs of changes in your address, employment, etc. but you must also update your SEVIS Portal account. Please consult with Center for International Programs for any questions regarding your reporting requirements during OPT.
If you do not update your employment with CIP, your SEVIS record will be at risk of being automatically terminated if there is more than the allotted days of unemployment in your SEVIS record.
Under the STEM OPT, students are required to report to CIP these additional items:
- 6 month validity reports, which must include:
- Legal name
- Residential or mailing address
- Employer name and address
- Status of current employment
- Changes to the I-983 form must be submitted within 10 days. Changes include:
- Beginning a new practical training opportunity with a new employer
- Any time there is a "material" change in the terms or condition of the original I-983
The I-983 also requires the F-1 student to submit the self-evaluation portion of the form to CIP within the first 12 months of the STEM OPT authorization, and a second, final evaluation at the end of the 24 month STEM OPT authorization. This is up to the student and employer to complete and sign before submitting to CIP for keeping in the student's file.
Optional Practical Training and Travel
Now that I've applied for OPT, can I travel outside the U.S. while I wait for the EAD card to come?
The USCIS at this time states you can travel while your OPT is pending in order to return and search for employment. However, this interpretation is a change from the previous operating instructions. We recommend that you do not travel outside of the U.S. while your OPT application is pending. If you have an emergency and must travel it is uncertain as to your risk of being denied re-entry.
Can I travel while my OPT application is pending and continue my job search upon reentry?
You can travel while your application is pending. However, we strongly recommend that you do not travel unless there is an emergency and if you have a letter verifying you have a job offer. There is also a chance that you may be asked to submit further documentation to USCIS while your application is pending, which would need to be submitted in a timely manner. If the OPT application is approved, you must have the EAD card in hand in order to re-enter.
Can I travel once my OPT has been approved?
You are allowed to travel outside of the U.S., but should do so with caution. If you do not have the following documents, we would strongly recommend you do not travel outside of the U.S.:
- I-20 endorsed for travel on the third page by Emi Zlatkovska.
- Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
- A valid F-1 entry visa.
- A valid passport.
- A letter verifying an offer of employment or verification of employment you will be returning to engage in.
Please note that the travel signature on the third page of the I-20 is only valid for 6 months while you are on OPT. If you cannot prove you are returning for employment or have exceeded the 90 days of unemployment allowed, you may be denied reentry.
Can I renew my F-1 visa if I travel outside the US while I am on OPT?
Yes, it is possible to renew your F-1 visa to return to the US to resume your OPT. There is a risk of denial which may be higher than while you are in an active student status, since your stay is now working rather than going to school. The F-1 student visa requires that the applicant must intend to return to the home country at the end of the program, and if the visa issuing officer is not convinced of your intention to return home, the visa application could be denied.
You need to take a valid passport, recently endorsed I-20, EAD card, and a letter verifying an offer of employment showing your salary, location, job duties, and beginning date. You should also be prepared to discuss how the job experience will apply to a job in your home country and how you intend to apply it.
Employment for J-1 Students
Your J-1 visa status requires you to obtain proper authorization before starting any type of employment. Beginning work without appropriate authorization from your J-1 program sponsor (the organization which issued your DS-2019) is a serious violation of your J-1 status. Please check with the Center for International Programs regarding your options for employment.
On Campus Employment
Students holding a J-1 visa should consult the Center for International Programs regarding regulations for on campus employment provided by their sponsor (e.g., USI, ISEP, World Learning, etc.)
Off-Campus Employment Authorizations
In the case of economic necessity due to unforeseen circumstances which arise after your first year in the U.S., you may seek permission to work off-campus. Your J-1 sponsor must authorize all employment. Contact the Center for International Programs at 812-465-1248 for information on these regulations and application procedures.
Academic training is flexible in its format and offers a variety of employment situations to supplement your academic program in the United States. It is available before completion of your program of study (that is, concurrent with your studies) as well as afterwards. As long as you stay within the stipulated time limits, it lets you work part-time while classes are in session and full-time during vacation periods; and, under certain circumstances, you may interrupt study to work full-time, for example while you are writing a thesis. Please contact Emi Zlatkovska in the Center for International Programs for further information.
To qualify for Academic training, you must first obtain approval in writing from your J-1 Responsible Officer, who represents your J-1 sponsor and issues your Form DS-2019. He or she must evaluate the proposed employment in terms of your program of study and your individual circumstances, and then decide whether it would be appropriate or not. The Responsible Officers for students on J-1 visas sponsored by USI are Emi Zlatkovska.
- Your primary purpose in the United States must be study rather than academic training.
- You must be in good academic standing at USI.
- The proposed employment must be directly related to your major field of study in the U.S.
- Throughout your academic training you must maintain permission to stay in the United States, in J-1 student status, and apply for extensions as necessary.
- You must maintain health insurance coverage, as required by the U.S. Department of State and USI regulations.
Duration of Academic Training
According to the regulations, your employment may be authorized for the "length of time necessary to complete the goals and objectives of the training, provided that the amount of time is approved by [both] the academic dean or advisor and the responsible officer."
If your exchange program is for one semester or less you are eligible for a maximum of four (4) months of academic training. If your exchange program is for a full academic year, you are eligible for a maximum of nine (9) months of academic training. If you earn an undergraduate or a graduate degree from USI, you are eligible for academic training for a period not to exceed the amount of time at USI or 18 months, whichever is shorter.
Part-time employment for academic training counts against the 18-month limit. It is counted the same as full-time employment. Academic training approved to begin after completion of your program must be reduced by any prior periods of academic training.
Applying for Academic Training
You must apply for academic training, and the extension of your DS-2019 form must be processed, prior to completion of your academic program at USI. Employment must begin within 30 days of your program end date (item #3 on your DS-2019). Academic training following completion of your program must either involve paid employment or you must provide proof of sufficient funds to support yourself during the training period. USI considers sufficient funds to be at least $800 per month.
If you plan to leave the United States after you complete your program of study and re-enter the country for J-1 academic training, you must obtain employment authorization before you leave. Otherwise you will not be able to re-enter.
Social Security Numbers and Employment
How do I apply for a Social Security number?
You must have first received the proper work authorization in order to obtain a Social Security number. We suggest you wait until you are in the United States for at least 10 days before you apply for a Social Security number. Please contact the Center for International Programs at 812-465-1248 once you have obtained a job and before applying for a Social Security number. The Center for International Programs will issue a letter which you will need to submit with your application to the Social Security Office.
What documents do I need to apply for a Social Security number?
- A letter from the Center for International Programs verifying your job, the starting date of your employment and that your visa allows you to work.
- Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
- I-20 or DS-2019
- If you are a J-1 student, you must provide a letter from your sponsor. The letter should be on sponsor letterhead with an original signature that authorizes your employment.
Do I need a Social Security number before I start working?
The Social Security Office does not require you to have a Social Security number before you start work. However, your employer is required to report wages using a Social Security number. While you wait for your Social Security number, your employer can use a letter from the Social Security Office stating that you applied for a number. Your employer may use your immigration documents as proof of your authorization to work in the United States.