Any form of income-earning activity--including internships--requires prior authorization from DHS (the US Department of Homeland Security).
All credit or non-credit, paid or unpaid internships are regulated and must be authorized by DHS. Internships of any type require one academic year in F-1 status prior to authorization. International Student Services (ISS) hosts several information sessions each semester to outline the conditions of employment eligibility and application procedures; click here for the schedule. Students who plan to earn income in the US must apply for a Social Security Administration account for tax purposes. Click on SSA for further information on all Social Security matters. Keep in mind that students in F-1 status are required to file annual US tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and their state and local governments. Consult our office for more information on tax requirements for F-1 students, or, for detailed information and appropriate forms, click on IRS, NY Tax for residents of New York, and NJ Tax for New Jersey residents.
Below are the 4 forms of legal employment available to students in F-1 status:
1. On Campus Employment
Students in F-1 status may engage in On Campus Employment immediately upon their first semester of attendance. Limited positions are available in the Bookstore, Computer Center, Academic Skills Center, and Human Resources. Students must contact these offices directly to pursue these opportunities; International Student Services does not serve as a referral source. Employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session but may be full-time during official school breaks, such as winter, spring, and summer. Students may engage in On Campus Employment only while maintaining F-1 status and up to the completion of studies.
2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Credit-bearing internships (both paid and unpaid)
Specific information on Curricular Practical Training (CPT) may be obtained at one of the information sessions on Work in the US held each semester. Click here for the current semester's Information Session Schedule. Students interested in CPT should attend a Work in the US session and consult the Career & Internship Center (B202) to attend one of their Internship Orientations one semester prior to registering for an internship course. After one academic year in F-1 status, students may participate in credit-bearing, paid or unpaid internships listed in the FIT catalogue. Authorization must be received from the International Student Advisor and DHS before starting the internship. CPT is limited to the length of the credit-bearing course that requires the internship. This time will not be deducted from the 12 months of Optional Practical Training (see below).
After two semesters of full-time enrollment, you may register for a credit-bearing course with an internship component, such as IC291, IC491, IC492, ID493, or TY491. Information about these courses may be obtained from the Career & Internship Center (B202) or your department. Once an employer has been determined, bring the Application for Curricular Practical Training completed by your Internship Coordinator to the Office of International Student Advisors. Authorization may take up to one week, and employment may not begin until authorization has been granted.
Students in one-year Associate's programs may not apply for Curricular Practical Training unless they have been in F-1 status for two consecutive semesters of full-time study prior to the start of employment. Within 90 days of completing two semesters of full-time enrollment in F-1 status, students can participate in Curricular Practical Training, so one-year Associate's students who begin their studies in fall may take their internship course during the summer, and those who begin studies in spring may take the internship in winter.
3. Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Non-credit internships (both paid and unpaid)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12-month opportunity for students in F-1 status to engage in paid employment to gain experience that is directly related to their fields of study. Non-credit-bearing internships fall into this category. Students may submit applications for OPT authorization to USCIS (US Citizenship & Immigration Services, a branch of DHS) within 90 days of having been enrolled for one full academic year in F-1 status and up to 60 days after the completion of study. USCIS authorization must be received prior to starting OPT, and it often takes the USCIS 80 to 90 days to issue the Employment Authorization Card.
Students may use Optional Practical Training before or after completion of studies. These 12 months are cumulative for the length of each degree you complete, provided you move from a lower to higher educational level. In other words, if used on completion of the A.A.S., OPT will again be available on completion of the bachelor's. However, if you already hold, for example, a US bachelor's degree, have used its practical training, and then complete an associate's degree, you will be ineligible for OPT when attaining a lower (or second equivalent) degree. An employment offer is not necessary to apply for OPT.
Before the completion of studies, students may only participate in Part-time Optional Practical Training while maintaining registration of 12 credits or more during the fall and spring terms. This employment may not exceed 20 hours per week during the school year but may be full time during official school breaks. This time is deducted from the 12 months at half-time rate (ex. 4 months before completion of studies = 2 months after completion of studies). Most FIT students choose to save their 12 months for after their completion of studies in order to participate in one full year rather than short periods of part-time employment.
Full-time Optional Practical Training is only available to students on completion of all degree requirements. (Graduate students become eligible for full-time OPT when all requirements but the thesis have been met.) International Student Services (ISS) hosts several mandatory information sessions each semester detailing the conditions of OPT eligibility and application procedures. Click here for the current semester's Information Session Schedule. The International Student Advisor will only endorse the applications of students who attend one of these sessions during their final semester of study. Applications can only be endorsed when all final degree requirements are in progress; incomplete or outstanding courses will prevent you from participating in OPT.
Full-time OPT must be completed within 14 months of the completion of studies. Applications are accepted within 90 days of the completion of studies and up to 60 days after. Students are encouraged to apply early as this will increase the possibilities of receiving the card prior to the semester's end. Students should not depart the US after their last day of school and may not begin employment until it has been authorized by USCIS. Receipt of the card allows for travel or the start of employment immediately after the completion of studies and also facilitates the job search/interview process. OPT must begin on a specific date within 60 days of the completion of studies date and end 12 months later. Employment must cease upon expiration of the card. Within 60 days after the card's expiration, students are expected to depart the US, transfer to another school, or adjust their status.
While on OPT, students remain in F-1 status and must continue to abide by F-1 terms and conditions. You must still keep your US address current with DHS and FIT International Student Services; you must also alert ISS of any interruptions/changes in your employment, or if you decide to pursue another program of study.
If traveling outside the US, students must obtain the International Student Advisor's signature on page 3 of the I-20. A valid F-1 visa, valid passport, the Employment Authorization Card, and the signed I-20 are required to reenter the US to resume OPT. It is also recommended that you travel with a letter of verification of employment from your employer. The letter should state that you are on OPT, that your employer is aware of your trip abroad, and that they look forward to your return to resume employment. While a valid F-1 visa is not required to apply for OPT or to remain in status in the US, student passports must always be valid for at least 6 months. See Obtaining an F-1 Visa for instructions on renewing an F-1 visa should it expire while you are on OPT and wish to travel abroad and return to the US. Entering the US on a visa other than F-1 at this time will result in the cancellation of employment authorization for OPT.
On April 8, 2008, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published an interim rule affecting post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the H-1B “cap gap.” Although an interim rule, it took effect immediately and remains current.
The rule contains five significant revisions affecting post-completion OPT:
- Elimination of the H-1B “cap gap”
Prior to this rule, the H-1B “cap gap” occurred when OPT expired days or months before an approved H-1B petition took effect on October 1. This “gap” resulted in students having to cease employment when their OPT authorization ended and sometimes having to depart the US prior to October 1. This new rule eliminates this “gap” by automatically extending the F-1 status and employment authorization of any F-1 student who timely files a petition to change to H-1B status and is otherwise maintaining status. This means H-1B applicants can continue working after their OPT end date until the approved H-1B takes effect on October 1. However, if the H-1B petition is not approved, the extension of OPT authorization ends immediately, and F-1 status allows for a 60-day grace period during which one may transfer to a new program, change status, or depart the US. H-1B applicants who receive an I-797 receipt or approval notice should bring it to the OISA immediately so that a cap-gap extension of the I-20 may be requested.
- 17-month extension of post-completion OPT for students with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree
Students who possess a bachelor’s or higher degree in one of the so-called “STEM” fields may apply for a 17-month extension of their 12-month OPT authorization. The extension is available to qualified students who are employed by businesses enrolled in DHS’s E-Verify program. Unfortunately at this time, only one FIT major falls within the DHS-designated STEM fields, so most FIT students are ineligible for this benefit.
- While on post-completion OPT, students may not be unemployed for a total of more than 90 days. (STEM students granted an OPT extension may not be unemployed for a total of more than 120 days.) During post-completion OPT, F-1 status for all students is now considered dependent upon employment.
Unemployment used not to affect students’ status while on post-completion OPT, but now any period of unemployment counts towards the 90 days allowed.
- Students may now file a post-completion OPT application up to 90 days before but no later than 60 days after their program end date.
Because of USCIS’s lengthy processing times and the fact that the 12 months of post-completion OPT must still be completed within 14 months of the program end date, we strongly encourage students to file their OPT applications well prior to their completion of studies. Students who apply for OPT during the 60 days after the program end date jeopardize their chances of being authorized for a full 12 months of OPT.
- While on post-completion OPT, students are still required to report to International Student Services (ISS) any change of name or address and any “interruption of such employment.”
This last phrase suggests that while on post-completion OPT students are expected to report the start and end dates of any employment to ISS, but the current SEVIS configuration prevents this part of the rule's implementation. For this reason, students are strongly encouraged to keep a thorough record of all employment, including start and end dates, and evidence of a legitimate job search while authorized for post-completion OPT.
4. Severe Economic Hardship-Based Employment
After one full academic year in F-1 status, students who experience a dramatic change in their financial situation, which affects their ability to complete studies in the US, may apply for authorization for employment to subsidize their studies. Serious declines in currency exchange, costly unexpected medical conditions, significant tuition increases, and/or a personal tragedy that affects your studies' funding are some of the circumstances that USCIS might consider. This application must be accompanied by extensive documentation of the unexpected change in finances. If approved, an Employment Authorization Card will be issued by the USCIS, allowing you to work off campus. The employment may not exceed 20 hours per week while maintaining full-time registration, does not have to be related to your field of study, and may not begin until proper authorization has been granted. If granted, Severe Economic Hardship authorization will be allotted in renewable one-year increments up to the completion of your current program of study, the end date on your Employment Authorization Card, or your failure to maintain status, whichever occurs first. This time is not deducted from the 12 months of Optional Practical Training.