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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 Career Services and Cooperative Education (Click on "Student").
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 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).
You can use OPT before and after completion of your RIT degree in the following circumstances:
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) Not had previous OPT authorization for the same degree level
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":
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.
Choosing your OPT Start Date
Your OPT start date must be within the 60 day window after your I-20 completion date.
Completion of OPT
If you change to another status, such as another non-immigrant status like H-1B, your OPT authorization ends. In addition, if you begin studies as a full-time student in another degree program, your OPT is terminated.
Once you apply for post completion Optional Practical Training, you are no longer eligible for a program extension for your current degree program. It is particularly important for graduate students to realize that after completing Optional Practical Training their I-20 may not be extended for the purpose of returning to RIT to complete a thesis.
Below is the list of documents required to apply for OPT. Once you have gathered all of the application materials you must make an appointment to meet with an international student advisor to complete the process. If you are not living in the Rochester area, you may mail your OPT materials to the ISS office with a completed ISS Out of Area OPT Checklist.
All submitted documents must be single-sided copies and not stapled together.
Please note: you need to bring all of the items below except #3 to your OPT appointment:
If you plan to travel abroad, you must carry your
The ISS office does not recommend any travel outside the US while your OPT application is pending.
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.
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 (1) and you received your EAD card but your F-1 visa stamp in your passport is expired, you may do so (2), 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: http://travel.state.gov/links.html
1 Adjacent Islands: Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British VirginIslands, Cayman Islands, [Cuba], Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Marie-Galante, Martinique, Miquelon, Montserrat, Saba, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint Christopher, Saint Eustatius, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Maarten, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands,other British, French and Netherlands territory or possession bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
2 You are not allowed to travel with an expired U.S. visa if you are from one of the following countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba.
Please note that once you stop enrolling at RIT, you are not longer automatically enrolled in the Student Accident and Sickness Insurance Program. Unless you have an employer who will enroll you in their plan, we recommend that you purchase coverage.
How long does it take to get OPT authorization and when should I apply?
Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and can take at least three months to obtain. Therefore it is very important to apply for authorization well in advance of the date you wish to start working.
If I graduate with a bachelor’s degree, work on OPT for 12 months, and then begin a new degree program, am I eligible for another year of OPT?
You are eligible for another year of OPT if you begin a higher level degree. This means you could have a year of OPT after a bachelor’s degree and another year after a Master’s degree. You may not apply for another year of OPT if you do a second Bachelor’s degree.
Do I need to have a job to apply for OPT?
You do not need to have a job offer before applying for OPT. Do I need to have a job while I am on OPT? Yes. The new regulation requires that you do have employment while on OPT. You are required to notify ISS if you do not have a job, and you are only allowed to have a total of 90 days of unemployment during your 12 months of OPT. Please update our office by completing the online form available at http://www.rit.edu/studentaffairs/iss/immigration-visas/opt-reporting
Can I begin working before I receive the EAD (Optional Practical Training card)?
You may NOT begin working before you receive your EAD from USCIS. Working before your OPT has been authorized constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the U.S.
Will I have to pay U.S. taxes for income earned while on practical training?
In general, F-1 students who have been in the U.S. for fewer than five calendar years are exempt from social security (FICA) and Medicare taxes. This is something you should discuss with your employer because many employers are not familiar with this provision of the tax law. You will need to pay all other taxes that may apply: federal, state, and local. You should check to see if your country has a tax treaty with the U.S. allowing students to exclude a limited amount of earned income from federal taxation.
After I’ve applied for OPT can I travel outside the U.S. while I wait for the card to arrive?
After you graduate you will NOT be allowed to re-enter the U.S. without your OPT card in addition to your valid passport, current F-1 visa stamp and the I-20 signed within the past six months. Before you graduate, you should be able to return to the U.S without your OPT card as long as it is still long in advance of your graduation. If you need to travel before receiving your EAD card, please talk with an ISS advisor before leaving the U.S.
What should I take into consideration when choosing a start date for my OPT?
You are allowed to pick a start date any time within the 60 days following the completion of all of your degree requirements. When choosing your start date, the most important things to think about are:
Can I change my job while I’m on OPT?
Yes, you may work for more than one employer and /or change your employers during the period of authorized optional practical training provided that each position is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your educational level.
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.
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.