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F-1 Employment

General Information

Employment options for F-1 international students in the U.S. are restricted by law. It’s illegal for employers to knowingly hire non-immigrants who do not have a permit to work.  Employers must verify employment eligibility for every employee, regardless of an employee’s citizenship or immigration status, by completing the Form I-9. Employment permission, when necessary, is given by International Student Services or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Note: Immigration regulations prohibit all employment for F-2 dependents (spouses and children of F-1 students.)

Definition of Employment

"Employment" is work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food, or any other benefit.  Even if you receive no pay or other benefit for an activity, it may still be considered employment if others performing the work are being paid.

“Volunteer work” refers to philanthropic activity without financial gain. Students participating in work for which no other employee receives employment benefits would be considered doing volunteer work.

On-Campus Employment

USCIS allows F-1 students who are maintaining their student status to be employed on-campus.  Types of on-campus employment include the terms of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship or any part-time, on-campus job.  On-campus employment does not need to be directly related to a student’s area of study.  F-1 students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week on-campus when school is in session, and up to 40 hours per week during scheduled breaks. For further information about on-campus jobs, interested students should contact the Student Employment Office

Off-campus Employment

Students are only eligible to work off-campus after maintaining student status for one full academic year.  All off-campus work must be within a student’s area of study, and requires approved work authorization prior to working.  Working improperly or without authorization is a serious violation of student status. Students should always consult with the International Student Services office before participating in any form of off-campus employment.

There are two types of off-campus employment:  Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Curricular Practical Training

Work experiences which are an integral part of an academic program are considered "curricular practical training." These experiences may include alternate work/study programs, internships, cooperative education, and practicum experiences. To be eligible for CPT, students must receive course credit or be in a recognized co-op program.

How To Apply for Curricular Practical Training

Students are required to do the following:
1) Register for co-op or internship with their academic department in the SIS system.
2) Report their employment information to the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education via JobZone.  
3) Additional permission to participate in curricular practical training must be granted by an ISS advisor prior to the employment start date.  Students must either:

  1. Submit the Online CPT Request Form along with a copy of their job offer letter and a screen shot of their registration in SIS. The registration must be for the term(s) in which you are requesting Curricular Practical Training.
  2. Bring the documents listed above to International Student Services.

    When this information is received an ISS advisor will create a new SEVIS I-20 with CPT Authorization on it. You will receive an email when the  new I-20 is available to be picked up in International Student Services.


Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined as “temporary employment for practical training, directly related to a student’s major area of study”.  The maximum amount of time granted to work on OPT is 12 months per degree level plus a possible 24 month extension for those who qualify (see 24 Month STEM Extension). OPT authorization must be obtained from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

  • Students interested in applying for OPT should review the OPT Application Instructions
  • To download the I-765 form and complete it online, visit the following link: I-765
  • To download the G-1145 form and complete it online, visit the following link Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
  • When all the application materials are ready, students should make an appointment to see an International Student Advisor. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 585-475-6943.
  • It is important to note that it often takes a full three months (and sometimes longer) for OPT to be approved by USCIS so it is important to apply as early as possible.

If you are applying for Optional Practical Training from outside of the Rochester area, you may mail your application documents to our office along with the Out of Area OPT Checklist.

OPT Eligibility

To be eligible for OPT, students must have:
1) Maintained their F-1 student status for at least one academic year.
2) Completed all required coursework for their degree (excluding a thesis, dissertation, or equivalent requirement).  
3) Completed less than 365 days of full-time curricular practical training (CPT)
4) Applied within 60 days of completing their program (*ISS recommends 90 days prior to program end date)
5) Employment within the completed field of study (*no employment offer needed at time of application)

Types of Employment Allowed on OPT

The following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to the student's program of study. While a student engages in such activity during a period of standard post-completion OPT, he or she is not considered "unemployed":

  • Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's program of study.
    • For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week
    • Students may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to the student's program of study.
  • Payment by multiple short-term multiple employers. SEVP says that "Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
  • Work for hire. SEVP says, "This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company."
  • Self-employed business owner. SEVP says, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program."
  • Employment through an agency. SEVP says, "Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency."
  • Volunteers or unpaid interns : Standard OPT:  SEVP OPT Policy Guidance states that, "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."
When to Apply for OPT

Students may apply up to 90 days before their program end date (graduation date).  Since OPT must be obtained from USCIS, and can take a full three months (or more) to secure, students are encouraged to plan ahead and file applications timely. If an OPT application is received by USCIS more than 60 days after the program completion date, the student will not be eligible for OPT.

How to Apply for OPT

Students interested in applying for OPT should:

  1. Download the ISS OPT packet or pick one up in International Student Services. Please read through the entire packet.
  2. Make an appointment with an ISS advisor by calling 585-475-6943. Please note that ISS does not accept walk-in or same day OPT appointments. Appointments generally range from 30-60 minutes in length.
  3. Bring all the required items listed in the OPT Packet to your appointment except the new SEVIS I-20 with OPT recommendation (The ISS advisor will print this I-20 for you the appointment).
  4. The ISS Advisor will review and assist with mailing the packet to the appropriate USCIS Service Center.

If a student is outside Rochester and is unable to make an appointment to file OPT, all application materials should be mailed/FedEx’d to the International Student Services office.  The student should also include the Out of Area OPT Checklist with their application materials.

Traveling Abroad While on OPT

During the OPT application process, ISS recommends that student limit travel outside the U.S. if possible.  Prior to graduation (before the I-20 expires), students should carry all of their immigration documents, along with an Enrollment Verification form from the Registrar’s Office. If there is a gap between the I-20 end date and the OPT start date (i.e. grace period), students should not travel outside the U.S. until their OPT application has been approved.

Once the OPT application is approved, students are allowed to travel both within the U.S. and abroad. While traveling on OPT, students must carry the following documents:

  1. All I-20s (the OPT I-20 must have a travel signature within the past 6 months)
  2. Valid passport 
  3. Valid F-1 visa (if expired, students must renew it prior to re-entry)
  4. EAD card
  5. Employment offer letter
Reporting Requirements While on OPT

While students are on OPT, they are responsible for reporting the following information to International Student Services:

  • Any change of address
  • Any change of name
  • Any period of unemployment while authorized for OPT
  • The name and address of the current employer

Students need to update ISS within 10 days of any change. All new information should be updated through the OPT Reporting Link on the ISS website.  Once ISS receives this information, the SEVIS record will be updated accordingly.

OPT 24 Month STEM Extension

On March 11, 2016, the U.S. Deepartment of Homeland Security published a new STEM Final Rule, with effective date May 10, 2016. NAFSA: Association of International Educators provides a summary of the rule and recent updates and background. Detailed information for students and employers can also be found on the DHS Study in the States OPT STEM Hub.

Please visit our OPT STEM Extensions page for details.


How to Apply for a STEM Extension

Details on applying for an OPT STEM Extension are on the Optional Practical Training STEM Extensions section of the ISS website.

H1B/Cap Gap Extension of OPT

H-1B is visa status that allows students to work fulltime.  If a student’s employer files for an H-1B and is approved, the student will change their status from F-1 to H-1B on October 1.  F-1 students whose OPT expires before October 1st (of any year) and who have an H-1B application pending with USCIS may be eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension.   If the H-1B petition is pending and OPT expires prior to June 1, students should contact ISS to request a temporary extension.  ISS will require a copy of the pending H-1B receipt notice or proof of timely filing.  If documentation is accurate, ISS can extend OPT until June 1.  If the H-1B petition has been approved and the OPT expires prior to Oct 1, students should contact ISS to request a new I-20 with a Cap-Gap Extension.  ISS will require a copy of the H-1B approval notice.  Cap-Gap Extensions that are not automatically added by USCIS can be manually added by an ISS Advisor.

For more general information about H-1B or Cap-Gap Extensions, students should contact International Student Services.  For more extensive information, students should contact their employer’s immigration attorney.

Off-campus Employment: Severe Economic Hardship

If students are suffering from severe economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond their control, they may be eligible for employment off-campus. Students in this situation should contact ISS to make an appointment with an International Student Advisor.

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