Employment options for international students in the U.S.
are restricted by law. The law makes it illegal for employers
to knowingly hire non-immigrants who are in an immigration
status that does not permit them to work. The law also requires
employers to verify employment eligibility for every employee,
regardless of an employee’s citizenship or immigration
status, and to complete Form I-9. (Note: verification for
eligibility is done by the employer. Employment permission,
if necessary, is given by an International Program Coordinator
or the USCIS, as appropriate.) Graduate students doing research
off campus are considered to be working on campus if the research
is being conducted under the terms of the academic department’s
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. If you receive no pay or other benefit
for an activity, it may be considered to be "volunteer work"
instead of employment.
Employment "Incident to Status"
No USCIS permission to work is required when an F-1 student
who is maintaining his or her status is employed under the
terms of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship or at
any part-time, on-campus job. 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 breaks. Interested students
should go to the Student
Employment Office for information about on-campus jobs.
A Note of Caution
While USCIS regulations provide a variety of opportunities
for international students to be employed during their time
in F-1 status, working improperly or without authorization
is a serious violation of status. Students should always consult
with an International Program Coordinator before participating
in any form of off-campus employment.
Employment : Curricular Practical Training
Some work experiences which are an important part of an academic
program may be considered "curricular practical training."
These experiences may include alternate work/study programs,
internships, cooperative education, and practicum experiences.
To be eligible students must receive course credit, or be
in a recognized co-op program. Students also need to be in
F-1 status for at least 9 months before participating in Curricular
Practical Training. Any student who works for 365 days or
more in full-time curricular practical training is not eligible
for optional practical training.
Permission to participate in curricular practical training
is granted by the International Program Coordinators in the
form of a new SEVIS I-20 with the information noted on page
3. Students interested in participating in curricular practical
training must make an appointment to see an International
Employment : Optional Practical Training
What is OPT?
International students may be eligible to be employed in
jobs which are directly related to their major fields of study
for up to one year. Such employment may take place at any
location in the US, It falls into four categories:
- full time employment during a student's annual vacation.
- part time employment while school is in session provided
the employment is no more than 20 hours per week.
- full-time employment after completion of all course requirements
for the degree.
- Full-time employment after completion of a full course
Optional practical training authorization must be obtained
from USCIS in the form of an Employment Authorization Document
(EAD). There is a fee for the EAD. Interested students should
pick up application materials in International Student Services or fill out the forms on line.
The maximum amount of time granted to work on F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level plus a possible 17 month extension for those who qualify (see 17 Month STEM Extension).
To fill out the forms on line, you must have Acrobat Reader
3.0.1. You can get it from the Adobe
When all application materials are ready, students should
make an appointment to see an International Program Coordinator.
Appointments may be made by calling 475-6943.
The following are the eligibility requirements for F-1 Optional Practical Training::
- Students must have been enrolled in a degree program for a full academic year and be in valid F-1 status at the time of application.
- You do NOT need to have a job offer in order to apply for OPT
- Employment while on OPT must be directly related to your major area of study.
- The maximum amount of time granted to work on F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level plus a possible 17 month extension for those who qualify.
- You may not begin working until you receive the OPT card AND the start date on the card has been reached.
- You may change jobs during the 12 months.
When to Apply
You may apply up to 90 days before your graduation date and USCIS MUST receive your application NO LATER THAN 60 days beyond your graduation date or 60 days beyond the end date of your I-20 (whichever is earlier).
Please note that OPT must be obtained from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, so please plan ahead to ensure a timely receipt of your application. If you OPT application is received by USCIS more than 60 days after you complete your program, you will not be eligible for OPT.
How to Apply
- Students who have never applied for OPT before should download the ISS OPT packet or pick one up in International Student Services. The I-765 Form is included in the packet in our office. Please read through the entire packet.
- Make an appointment with an ISS advisor by calling 475-6943.
- Bring all the items completed in “Step One” to your appointment with an ISS advisor. The advisor will print out a new I-20 for you which will include the recommendation for OPT on page 3. If you are living a long distance from Rochester, we can work with you through email, phone and fax.
- Once all of the application materials are received, a copy of your application will be made for your ISS file and the packet will be mailed to the USCIS Vermont Service Center by RIT International Student Services.
Traveling Abroad While on OPT
You must obtain a travel signature from the ISO on your I-20 every six months while on OPT.
If you plan to travel abroad, you must carry your
- passport valid for at least 6 months,
- valid U.S. F-1 visa,
- I-94 card,
- EAD card and
- a letter from your employer.
You may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending, if you can present the USCIS Processing Center Receipt, proving that the application for employment has been filed.
However, once the EAD card for OPT is issued to you, and you decide to travel abroad, you can only re-enter the United States to resume employment. DHS has clarified that the F-1 student does not need to have already begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer to which to return.
There are still a number of un-answered questions regarding this guidance, including, how does it impact students with an approved EAD having a start date in the future (i.e., a start date that is after the date of re-entry)? Can such a student still reenter the United States to continue their search for employment? Our office will update this information as we learn more from the DHS.
The best general advice is that an F-1 student on OPT, who has received the EAD card, and has to travel abroad make sure that there is documentation from his or her employer confirming the employment or their job offer. Otherwise the student assumes a risk that he/she may not be allowed to re-enter the United States.
If you plan to travel to Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Islands and you received your EAD card but your F-1 visa stamp in your passport is expired, you may do so, if you travel less than 30 days, and you carry with you the documents mentioned above.
Before you travel, make sure you check the U.S. Consulate website in your home country to find out the requirements.
Reporting Requirements While on OPT
While you are on OPT you are responsible for reporting the following information to RIT International Student Services within 10 days of the change:
- Any change of address where you live
- Any change of name
- Any period of unemployment while authorized for OPT
- The name and address of your employer when you get a job and when you change jobs.
You may update your information online. Once ISS receives this information, your SEVIS record will be updated.
17 Month STEM Extension
STEM OPT Application Packet
F-1 students on OPT who have received a degree in the fields listed below, referred to as “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), will have an opportunity to apply for a one time 17-month extension of their regular 12 month OPT period. Students graduating now with degrees in these fields will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT as usual. Then, if toward the end of the OPT period, those students who are working for employers who are enrolled in a new program called “E-Verify” the USCIS (see details here) will be able to apply for a one-time 17 month extension of their OPT work authorization. The 17 month extension will allow the students who qualify to have continuous work authorization through October 1st of any given following year, in case they do not get an H1B visa in time. Students who timely file an application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
It is important to note that each major at RIT has a particular CIP Code. In order to qualify for the 17 month extension, the CIP code for your program must appear on the designated codes list. A detailed list of federally approved
STEM fields is available at: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm
E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. More information is available at the USCIS web page on E-Verify.
H1B Cap Gap Extension of OPT
Automatic Extension of Work Authorization for F-1 Student in All fields Until Start of Approved H1B.
The work authorization and status of F-1 students whose OPT runs out before October 1st (of any year) and who have an H1B application pending with USCIS (the H1 application has to be a change of status and not “consular notification” or by travel) will be AUTOMATICALLY EXTENDED. This automatic extension will cover F-1 students on OPT with jobs in ALL fields, not only the students with degrees in certain fields. If a student on F-1 OPT has a valid H1B application pending (or approved) and the OPT ends, the student does not have to do any extra application to get this automatic extension, as long as that H1B application was filed as an H with a change of status and not an H with consular notification. Check with your employer about whether they filed your H1B with a change of status. As of April 17, 2008, the USCIS says they WILL allow employers to change their choice from "consular notification" to change of status within a 30 day period--read more about this allowance here.
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 make an appointment to talk to one of the International