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Working as an International Student

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: $410


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: $410


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: $410


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. 

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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