Employment options for international students
F-1 students maintaining their non-immigrants are eligible for on-campus employment. The work does not have to be related to the field of study and does not require authorization from a Designated School Official.
On-campus employment includes work assisting a faculty member with a project as well as jobs in the university library, dormitory, dining facilities and administrative offices. International students are not eligible for federally-funded work-study jobs.
On-campus employment also includes working for commercial firms that provide direct services for students on the UNCSA campus. Working for the cafeteria/restaurants located in a University-owned building would be considered on campus employment.
- You must be enrolled full time during each semester.
- You may work no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session.
- You may work full-time on-campus during official university holidays.
- You may not engage in on-campus employment after the program end date listed on your I-20.
- The employment cannot displace a U.S. worker.
- The employment need not be directly related to your field of study.
There is no single office for student jobs. Visit individual offices and ask for any non-work-study job availability; ask faculty members if they need assistance; ask at different departments, not just in your concentration. Be sure to ask about application deadlines or any required meetings.
When you get an on-campus job, you may be required to pay tax on your earnings. You may qualify for exemptions if your home country has a tax treaty with the United States. Please work with your employer and the UNCSA Payroll Office to ensure you complete the necessary paperwork. For more information about U.S. Taxes and Social Security refer to the appropriate websites.
Employment vs. Volunteering
The definition of an employee is “an individual who provides services or labor for an employer for wages or other remuneration.” “Remuneration” is very broad term and includes a variety of non-monetary benefits, such as free housing, food, gifts, etc.
Volunteers are considered to be individuals who volunteer or donate their services, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives. These individuals are not considered employees of the religious, charitable or similar non-profit organization because there is no expectation of pay for the service rendered.
To be considered a bona fide volunteer the following criteria must be met:
- No expectation of compensation in any form.
- Volunteers cannot displace someone who would be paid for providing the same service.
- It cannot be work for which the individual was previously paid or would expect to be paid in the future.
- The service provided must be less than a full-time occupation.
- The service provided is typically considered volunteer work.
- The service provided is for a non-profit organization for public service, religious or humanitarian objective.
- Service provided at a for-profit organization is considered employment and must be compensated.
Volunteering or Unpaid Internship
There is a difference between providing service as a volunteer and engaging in an unpaid internship. Volunteering must meet the criteria explained above. International students may volunteer without expectation of any remuneration for non-profit organizations whose objectives are humanitarian, religious or charitable.
An internship, whether paid or unpaid, requires authorization from the international advisor. An internship is generally offered by for-profit entities in the private sector and must be directly related to the major field of study.
Curricular Practical Training
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is defined as employment which is an integral part of an established curriculum, including: "alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school." Source: [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)].
CPT is available only prior to the completion of the degree program and the student must have an offer at the time of application. CPT employment may not delay completion of the academic program. Students must maintain lawful F-1 status that includes enrolling in a full course of study. "Integral part of an established curriculum" means a training opportunity must be required by the curriculum or, if not required, the student must receive credit for the training. All internships for must be credit-bearing regardless of whether the internship is paid or unpaid.
Employment due to severe economic hardship
Students who experience unexpected sever financial hardship due to no fault of their own, may be eligible to apply for off-campus work authorization. Unforeseen circumstances include a deep devaluation of currency, medical expenses, a substantial increase in tuition, an unexpected change in the sponsor’s financial circumstances, or other substantial unforeseen financial changes. The application is made to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and must include evidence of the unforeseen circumstances. The economic hardship, while it may be severe, cannot be so severe that the student is unable to continue full-time study. To discuss and get information about the application process, make an appointment with the international student advisor.
- You have maintained lawful F-1 status for one full academic year.
- You are in good academic standing and are taking a full course of study.
- Employment will not interfere with your studies.
Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit to obtain off-campus work authorization. OPT is defined in the regulations as temporary employment directly related to a student's field of study. During OPT, a student remains in F-1 status. To be eligible to apply for OPT, the student:
- must be in lawful F-1 status
- must have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year or will complete one academic year by the time the OPT authorization begins
- must not have participated in 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Engaging in part-time CPT does not count towards the 12 months of OPT.
- is eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT per higher academic level.
- is eligible to apply for OPT before and after completion of a course of study (pre and post-completion OPT)
- No offer of employment is required in order to apply.
Pre-Completion OPT is a benefit of F-1 status that permits off-campus employment in the student’s field of study during the student’s course of study.
Eligible students may engage in Pre-Completion OPT during official school breaks, summer vacation. Students can be authorized for
- full-time (20 hours or more per week) during official school breaks or annual summer vacation or
- part-time (less than 20 hours per week) while still enrolled as a full-time student
Time engaged in pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of post-completion OPT. Students who work full-time with pre-completion OPT for 12 months are not eligible to apply for post-completion OPT.
Post-Completion OPT Reporting Requirement
Post-Completion OPT is a benefit of F-1 status that permits off-campus employment in the student’s field of study after the student’s program completion date. Post-Completion OPT is a maximum of 12 months that must be completed within a 14-month period.
Beginning March 23, 2018, the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) created a portal that enables students to update the following information into their SEVIS record:
- Update your physical home address (must be done within 10 days of moving)
- Update your mailing addresses
- Update your telephone numbers
- View your OPT employment authorizations
- Add new employers
- Delete employers where employment never occurred
- Edit your employment information, including:
- Employer name
- Employer address
- Dates of employment
- Other editable employment fields
After registering, you can use the:
- Profile Tab in your account to view or update their physical and mailing addresses and telephone numbers
- Employment Tab in their account to add, edit, or delete employers within a given standard post-completion OPT employment segment.
"When the status of an OPT request in SEVIS is "Approved" and the OPT is active, SEVIS sends to the SEVP Portal your following OPT-related data:
- SEVIS ID
- Email address
- Name and Date of Birth
- U.S. address and telephone
- Information on your OPT authorization
- Employer information"
The Portal will also automatically email you with a unique link to create a Portal account when the status of your request for OPT in SEVIS changes to 'Approved' and is active. The email will be from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov, with the subject line, "Optional Practical Training Approval - the next step. Create an SEVP Portal account." - "The only way to get to the Portal registration pages is to use the link in the email."
If you get locked out of your portal, contact the international advisor and request that the portal be unlocked.
Download the SEVIS Student User Guide for additional information about the SEVIS Portal.
Note: While the use of the portal is encouraged, it is not mandatory. However, failure to report employment can result in the accrual of unemployment days. Even if you use the portal, it is essential for you to complete OPT Employment Reporting Form to the international advisor so that a new I-20 with the employment information can be issued.
To apply for OPT, a student must request a new I-20 from the international advisor. To so, the student must bring all of the completed documents listed on the OPT Application Checklist. The advisor will review the documents, issue the I-20 after which the student mails the packet to USCIS.
OPT applications can be submitted to USCIS no earlier than 90 days prior to the completion date on the I-20 and no later than within the 60-day grace period. Applications received by USCIS prior to or after this window of time will be denied. In addition,
- USCIS must receive the OPT application no more than 30 days after the Form I-20 recommending OPT has been issued.
- Students must apply for OPT from within the United States. If a student departs the U.S. during the 60-day grace period without having applied for OPT, the student is no longer eligible for OPT since the student is no longer in F-1 status.
- Students do not need a job offer at the time of application.
- Students may not begin employment until they have received the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and until the start date indicated on the EAD.
- Students may remain lawfully in the U.S. beyond the end of the 60-day grace period if the OPT application is still pending at USCIS.
- Students who wait to file their OPT application after the completion date on the I-20 (during the 60- day grace period) cannot select an OPT start date that is beyond the last day of the 60-day grace period. Applying during the grace period may result in the possible loss of some of the OPT time.
Maintenance of F-1 Status
Students completing their programs and commencing Post-Completion OPT employment must keep in mind the following regulations and guidelines so as not to violate the rules of their F-1 status:
- Students may only work after receipt of the EAD, only for the dates as specified on the EAD, and only in positions directly related to the field of study and degree program for which the OPT was recommended. Students should only engage in employment appropriate to their level of education.
- Students may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment within the OPT period; those who have accrued 90 or more days of unemployment are expected to leave the U.S. immediately. A student’s SEVIS record will be automatically terminated if he or she has accrued 90 days of unemployment OR if it appears that the student has accrued 90 days of unemployment because the student has failed to report his or her employment information to the international advisor. (Refer to the SEVIS Reporting Requirements section for more information.)
On-Campus Employment after Completion of Program
Students may not continue working on campus at UNCSA after the completion of their studies unless they have received an EAD, the on-campus employment is directly related, to their field of study, is commensurate with the student's degree level and their OPT dates cover the dates of employment.
Delayed Completion of Course of Study
For students who have applied for OPT to begin after completion of study, failure to complete the program of study as expected (due to an "incomplete" or failing grade, or otherwise failing to meet graduation requirements) can impact students' eligibility for OPT. Students must apply for an extension of the Form I-20 prior to the Program End Date if they will not complete their studies before the Program End Date listed on the current form.
60-Day Grace Period
Once students have completed their period of Post-Completion OPT, they are permitted to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status up to 60 days in order to prepare for departure from the U.S. During this period, a student may also have his or her SEVIS record transferred to a new school if starting another academic program, or file an application to change to another status other than F-1, if eligible. Students are not permitted to continue employment during this period. Travel within the U.S. is permitted during the grace period. However, departure from the U.S. and re-entry in F-1 status is not permitted during this time (once a student departs the U.S. after the OPT end date the grace period is concluded).
SEVIS Transfer or New Academic Program
Students approved for Post-Completion OPT are eligible to transfer their SEVIS record to begin a new program of study at another institution at any time during the OPT period. Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated as of the SEVIS release date. Students may also continue their education at UNCSA; however, if a student begins a new program of study at UNCSA prior to the expiration of OPT, the OPT period will automatically terminate as of the start of classes. If beginning a new program after the OPT end date, whether completing a SEVIS transfer to another school or remaining at UNCSA, students must obtain a new Form I-20 within the 60-day grace period and must begin the new program of study within five months of the end of the OPT period.
Students are required to update the international advisor with documentation and information as specified below on an ongoing basis (when applicable) for the duration of the OPT period. Students must:
- submit a copy of the EAD card, once received.
- report any change in residential address within 10 days of moving
- report all employment activity – PAID or UNPAID – as soon as employment is terminated and/or any new employment commences by submitting the OPT Employment Reporting Form. Termination of and commencement of new employment must be recorded in SEVIS by the international advisor.
- submit the Departure Notice form if permanently leaving the U.S., changing to a status other than F-1, or transferring to another school in the U.S.
Reporting OPT Employment Information on Employment Reporting Form
The Department of Homeland Security requires the following information be reported:
- the employer’s name and complete address
- dates of employment, for all jobs held while on OPT
- date of termination of employment
- students should report the employer’s information as soon as possible after beginning work in order to avoid losing F-1 status due to excessive unemployment time.
- students must also provide an explanation of how each job held is related to their major or program of study at UNCSA
Reporting New Address Information
All updates to your residential address should be reported to the international student advisor on the OPT Employment Reporting form.
Types of Allowable OPT Employment
OPT Employment must be full-time defined as a minimum of 20 hours per week. Students can work for more than one employer at the same time. All employment activity while on OPT must be related to the student’s field of study and appropriate to their level of education. If a student has a variable schedule, within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week. Keep in mind that OPT activity less than 20 hours per week will count toward unemployment accrual.
Per the Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s (SEVP) “Policy Guidance 0801-01: Updates to Post-Completion Optional Practical Training”, the following types of employment are allowed during Post-Completion OPT:
- Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers. The student should maintain a list of all employment, the number of hours, dates and duration.
- Work for hire. 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. 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 or consulting firm. Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws (Refer to section Employment vs Volunteering). 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.
90-Day Unemployment Limit and SEVIS Termination
Students approved for Post-Completion OPT may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment within the OPT period. Students must be engaged in at least 20 hours of employment or other OPT activity per week; periods with activity of less than 20 hours per week will be counted toward unemployment accrual. Students who have accrued 90 or more days of unemployment are expected to leave the U.S. immediately.
The SEVIS system will auto-terminate records of students on OPT who are out of compliance. A student will be considered out of compliance if they have exceeded the 90-day limit on unemployment time, and also if they have failed to report their employment information to their school, even if unemployment time was less than 90 days. A termination in SEVIS will immediately cause a student to fall out of status, ending his or her eligibility for employment and other immigration benefits.
To avoid a SEVIS termination, F-1 students must report all required information about their employment activities while on OPT, whether paid or unpaid, in a timely manner to the ISSS office.
The Importance of Documenting Employment Activities
It is highly advisable that students keep accurate records of their OPT employment as they may be required by USCIS or the Department of State to show proof of their OPT activities. These documents may include:
- job postings and formal job descriptions
- time sheets and pay stubs
- job offer letters and employment verification letters confirming starting and ending dates of employment
Documentation of OPT employment may also be extremely important at a later date for individuals considering long-term employment in the U.S. as they may be requested during the course of future immigration benefit applications such as an H-1B (work visa) petition or application for U.S. permanent residency.
Contact: Ronit Weingarden, International Advisor and principal designated school official, PDSO
TaWanna Archia, International Advisor, DSO