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Working as an International Student

Career Success in Philadelphia 

Philadelphia, with its rich history and vibrant culture, is not only a fantastic place to study but also a hub for diverse job opportunities. As an international student or scholar, familiarizing yourself in the job market can be challenging, but fear not! Philadelphia offers a variety of job opportunities for international students and scholars willing to navigate the job market strategically. Here's a comprehensive guide to help you initiate the job hunt in the City of Brotherly Love.

Understanding Your Worth: Negotiating Salaries with Confidence


Securing a job that not only aligns with your skills but also pays your worth is crucial. Research industry standards and salary ranges for your field to establish a baseline. Leverage resources like Glassdoor, Payscale, or industry reports to gain insights into the compensation landscape. When it comes to negotiations, don't hesitate to discuss salary expectations during interviews. Confidence, backed by knowledge, is key to ensuring you receive fair compensation for your skills and expertise.


Utilizing University Career Centers: Your Job Search Ally 


Most universities in Philadelphia have robust career centers designed to assist students and scholars in their job search. Schedule appointments with career advisors to adjust your resume, cover letter, and interview skills. They can provide valuable insights into industry trends and connect you with alumni who have successfully navigated the local job market. Additionally, career centers often organize job fairs and networking events, offering a direct pathway to potential employers.

Networking Magic

Networking is a powerful tool in any job hunt, and Philadelphia offers numerous opportunities to expand your professional connections. Attend industry-specific events, workshops, and conferences to meet like-minded professionals and potential employers. Joining online platforms like LinkedIn can also enhance your networking efforts. Don't be afraid to reach out to alumni or professionals in your field for informational interviews. Establishing meaningful connections can open doors to hidden job opportunities and provide valuable insights into the local job market.

Utilizing Professional Organizations: Joining the Community

Philadelphia boasts a variety of professional organizations across different industries. Joining these groups can not only expand your professional network but also provide access to exclusive job listings and industry insights. Look for organizations related to your field, attend their events, and actively participate in discussions. Being part of a professional community can give you a competitive edge and demonstrate your commitment to your chosen industry.

Maximize networking opportunities with these organizations in Philadelphia:

  • Venture Cafe: Their Thursday Gathering brings together creators, entrepreneurs, investors, coworkers, students, and visionaries. 

  • Philadelphia Startup Leaders: Founded by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, PSL is the largest and most engaged community of startup innovators in Philadelphia. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, PSL supports current and aspiring founders through education, mentorship, and networking opportunities, empowering them to scale their businesses successfully.

  • Internations: A community of expats in Philadelphia with meetup events and online forums. 

  • Student university organizations: Get involved in professional organizations on your campus.

Job hunting Resources:

  • LinkedIn: Create a professional profile, connect with professionals in your field, and explore job postings.

  • Indeed: A comprehensive job search engine with a vast database of job listings.

  • Glassdoor: Research companies, read reviews, and find salary information along with job postings.

  • Handshake: Many universities use Handshake as a platform to connect students with employers for internships and job opportunities.

  • Idealist: Focuses on jobs and internships in the nonprofit sector, ideal for those interested in socially impactful work.

Internship Opportunities: A Gateway to Full-Time Employment

Internships are an excellent way to gain hands-on experience, build your resume, and make valuable connections in Philadelphia. Many companies use internships as a pipeline for full-time positions, so approach your internship with dedication and enthusiasm. Attend company events, network with colleagues, and express your interest in long-term employment. A successful internship can often lead to a direct job offer or serve as a stepping stone to other opportunities in the city.

Navigating the Numbers: Application Data and Job Placements

Understanding the job market statistics in Philadelphia can help you tailor your job search strategy. Research the average number of applications it takes to secure an interview and the average number of interviews before landing a job. This data can provide realistic benchmarks for your job hunt. Stay informed about job placement rates for international students in your field, and use this information to refine your approach and set achievable goals. Ask your university’s career center for post-graduate outcomes to see where former international students started their careers.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Job hunting can be a rollercoaster of emotions, and setting realistic expectations is vital. Understand that rejection is a part of the process, and it doesn't reflect your abilities. Keep a positive mindset, learn from each experience, and use rejection as a stepping stone towards improvement. The road to landing the perfect job may have bumps, but staying resilient and adapting to feedback will ultimately lead you to success.

Working as an International Student


For students and scholars in F-1, J-1, or M-1 status, any work off-campus requires special authorization from your international office, the US government, or both. Before you explore any job opportunities you should talk to your international advisor to make sure you have a clear understanding of the regulations governing work authorization and any rules set by your school for international students seeking employment.


On-Campus Employment

(F-1 and J-1 student visa-holders)


If you work on your university campus, you are generally not required to have any special type of authorization, but it is still a good idea to ask your international student advisor before taking a paid job just to be on the safe side. Students with a J-1 visa need written permission from their international advisor before working on-campus.


On-campus jobs are considered to be any jobs:


  • On the school’s premises and on the school’s payroll;

  • On the school’s premises working for a company that provides services to students (e.g. in the cafeteria); or

  • At off-campus locations that are educationally affiliated with the school and either a) associated with the school’s established curriculum or b) related to contractually funded research projects at the postgraduate level. Any employment at locations like this must be an integral part of your educational program (e.g. paid Biology research for a student studying Biology).


Students can only work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week while classes are in session, but there is no limit during breaks in study (e.g. winter and summer vacations).


Curricular Practical Training - CPT

(F-1 student visa-holders)


Authorization: DSO

Processing time: short

Application fee: free


Not all students will be permitted to use CPT during their studies. Employment for which CPT authorization is granted must result in academic credit being earned, or be required for completion of a degree (e.g. rotations for a nursing student). An internship or job must be secured before you can apply for CPT, and the connection between the employment and the academic credit you earn must be very clear.

Some important considerations for CPT:


  • Students must have completed one academic year before becoming eligible, unless CPT authorization is required in connection to coursework in your first semester of graduate study.

  • If you use more than 12 months of full-time CPT (20 hours or more per week), you are not eligible for OPT after you graduate (see below).

  • There is no limit to the amount of part-time CPT (less than 20 hours per week).

  • CPT employment must be connected to a class you are taking, and must be authorized in advance.


Optional Practical Training - OPT

(F-1 student visa-holders)


Authorization: DSO and USCIS

Processing time: 1-3 months

Application fee: $470 (online filing), $520 (paper filing)


OPT is a benefit for all students in F-1 status who are in the USA for at least one academic year. It can be used during your studies or immediately after, and you do not need a job offer to apply. Most students save OPT until after they graduate, unless they do not plan to take a break between degrees or do not plan to stay in the USA.


  • You must have completed one academic year before becoming eligible.

  • Pre-completion OPT can be part-time (less than 20 hours per week).

  • Post-completion OPT must be full-time (20 hours or more per week).

  • OPT employment must be related in some way to your field of study.


OPT can be used once at each academic level (i.e. Associates, Bachelors, Masters, Doctoral), but it is not an option for students studying English as a Second Language.


24-month STEM OPT Extension

(F-1 student visa-holders)


Authorization: DSO and USCIS

Processing time: 1-3 months

Application fee: $470 (online filing), $520 (paper filing)


STEM OPT is an additional 24 months of employment authorization after the completion of one year of OPT. Students are eligible to apply for STEM OPT if they meet certain conditions:

You must have earned your degree (or a prior degree) in a field that is included on this list

(You can find your program CIP code on the first page of your I-20).

The employment must be directly related to the STEM degree that the application is connected to (i.e. your job should utilize the knowledge and skills you attained during your studies).

You must be employed full-time (20 hours or more per week).

Your employer must be enrolled in the US government’s E-Verify database.

Your employer must be willing to complete and sign a formal training plan for you.


Severe Economic Hardship

(F-1 student visa-holders)

Authorization: DSO and USCIS

Processing time: 1-3 months

Application fee: $470 (online filing), $520 (paper filing)


If you find yourself suddenly unable to cover the costs of living and studying due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, you can apply to the US government for special permission to work off-campus. The application will need the support of your international student advisor, and must include details of the circumstances that resulted in your loss of financial support.


These circumstances may include loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of your home country’s currency or the exchange rate, major and unexpected increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial condition of your source of support (e.g. the death of a family member paying for your studies), medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses.


  • You must have completed one academic year before becoming eligible.

  • You must continue to study full-time.

  • There is no limit on the number of working hours per week; but

  • You need to demonstrate in the application that the work will not interfere with your ability to study full-time.

If approved, this authorization lasts for one year at a time. If you end up in a position where you might need to consider filing a Severe Economic Hardship application, you should discuss this with your international student advisor as a first step. 

USCIS Premium Processing Service

Premium Processing is an expediated service offered by USCIS for certain types of visa and immigration applications, including applying for Employment Authorization under an F-1 visa. This service guarantees that applications will be reviewed and notification of adjudication within a specific timeframe.

Processing time: 30 business days for I-765 filings

Application fee: $1,685 + application fee for I-765 listed above

The Social Security Number (SSN)


What is it?


Social Security is a type of tax that is deducted from your paycheck, and every worker in the USA pays this tax. A SSN is also a key piece of identifying information about a person, and can be required for loan applications and other official purposes. A person’s credit score is also connected to their SSN, which makes it a useful thing to have if you can get one. A SSN is for life, and does not change regardless of

your circumstances.


People in nonimmigrant status in the USA (e.g F-1, M-1, J-1 visa-holders) are only eligible for a Social Security Number once they are legally employed.


How to Apply


If you are offered a job on-campus during your studies, you will need to apply for a SSN in-person at your local Social Security Administration office (and you should ask your international advisor about the location of your nearest office).


You will need to gather the following documents in order to apply:


  • Passport

  • I-94

  • Letter signed by your international advisor that:

    • Identifies you;

    • Confirms your current school status; and

    • Identifies your employer and the type of work you will be doing.

  • Letter from your employer that states:

    • Your job;

    • Your employment start date;

    • The number of hours you will be working; and

    • Your supervisor’s name and telephone number.


After applying, your SSN may take a few weeks to be delivered in the mail. You are legally permitted to start working before receiving your SSN.


If you apply for OPT employment authorization and do not yet have a SSN, you can apply for one on the

same application form.

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