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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).

You can use OPT before and after completion of your RIT degree in the following circumstances:

Pre-completion

  • During the academic year while coursework is being taken, part-time (20 hours per week or less) only.
  • During the annual vacation period - full or part-time.


Post-completion

  • After completion of all degree requirements, excluding thesis or project - full or part-time.
  • After completion of all degree requirements - full time only.

 

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) Not had previous OPT authorization for the same degree level

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."
OPT Application Timeline Considerations

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.

Program Extensions
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.

How to Apply for OPT

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:

  1. Completed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. This form should be completed online and printed rather than filled out by hand. It is available online at https://www.uscis.gov/forms

    Please sign Form I-765 with blue ink

    We strongly recommend that you use our office address on the Form I-765:
    42 Lomb Memorial Drive 04-2330 Rochester, NY 14623

    For Eligibility Category, you will mark either:
    (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT, or
    (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT.
     
  2. A check or money order for the current filing fee https://www.uscis.gov/forms/our-fees
  3. A photo copy of a new SEVIS OPT I-20 issued by an ISS staff member with the recommendation for OPT on page 2.
  4. Photocopies of all previous I-20s.
    Please make single sided copies and do not staple
  5. A print out of your I-94 number from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home or a copy of both sides of your I-94 card, if you have one.
  6. Photocopies of the picture page of your passport, the page with the visa, and the page with dates of extension of your passport if applicable.
  7. Two photos of you. Please read the following SPECIFICATIONS
    You must print your name and I-94 number on the back of the pictures.
    OPT photos may be purchased at HUB Express in Monroe Hall (Across from Artesano's). The following businesses are also able to provide the correct photographs
    1.Walmart Super Center – 1200 Marketplace Drive, 585-292-6000
    2.FedEx Kinko’s – 941 Jefferson Road, 585-240-2670
    3.Clix – 1425 Jefferson Road, 585-292-1660
  8. Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance available online at https://www.uscis.gov/forms
Traveling Abroad While on OPT

If you plan to travel abroad, you must carry your

  • Most recent I-20 endorsed by an international student advisor within the preceding six months.
  • All previous I-20s
  • Passport valid for at least 6 months,
  • Valid U.S. F-1 visa,
  • EAD card
  • Letter from your employer.
     

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.

Insurance While on OPT

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.

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.

Frequently Asked OPT Questions

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:

  • What is the earliest date you might want to start working? What if you are offered a position with a company that wants you to start as soon as you complete your degree?
  • If you want the latest possible date to start working (you are not going to travel and you are not going to start working), the latest day is 60 days after you complete your degree requirements.
  • You may not change your OPT dates after your application is sent to USCIS.

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.

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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