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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.)
"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.
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
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)
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.
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 Cooperative Education and Career Services 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:
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 17 month extension for those who qualify (see 17 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).
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.
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)
Students may apply up to 90 days before their program end date (graduation date). Since OPT must be obtained from USCIS, 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.
Students interested in applying for OPT should:
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.
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:
While students are on OPT, they are responsible for reporting the following information to International Student Services:
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.
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 Extension Updates page for details.
Students interested in applying for OPT STEM Extension should:
Additional information about OPT STEM Extensions can be found in the ISS STEM Application packet or by contacting the International Student Services office.
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.
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.