Employment

Employment for F-1 and J-1 students is limited, and working without permission is a violation of status and a deportable offense. F-1 and J-1 students may not work off campus without written permission from International Student and Scholar Advising (ISSA). On-campus employment is permitted with certain restrictions. J-1 students must request permission for on-campus employment via iStart. A Social Security number is required for anyone receiving payment. ISSA can assist you with this process.

ISSA offers workshops every semester that explain the different types of off-campus work permission available to F-1 and J-1 students.

F-1 Severe Economic Hardship Employment

Severe economic hardship refers to the financial problems caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control. These financial problems may be the result of losing a graduate assistantship, the death of financial sponsor, inflation in the home country causing the devaluation of currency or exchange rate, etc.

Students who are authorized for off-campus employment are limited to 20 hours of work per week while school is in session and full time only during vacation periods and summers.  It may not be possible to solve the problem through part-time employment.

Qualifications

  • Maintain F-1 status for a full academic year
  • Be in good academic standing and enrolled full-time (unless approved for a Reduced Course Load)
  • Make a good faith effort to obtain on-campus employment before applying
  • Discuss with an International Student Adviser

Required Documents

  1. Documentation of the circumstances causing the severe economic hardship. These circumstances may include:
    • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment through no fault of your own
    • Substantial changes in the exchange rate or value of the currency that you depend on
    • Inordinate increases in tuition or living costs
    • Unexpected changes in the financial state of your source of support
    • Medical bills
    • Other substantial and unexpected expenses
  2. Documentation of your good faith effort in obtaining on-campus employment
  3. Check or money order made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - refer to USCIS fee schedule for form I-765.
  4. Completed G-1145
  5. Completed I-765 with (c) (3) (iii) entered in #27
  6. Copy of all I-20s including a copy of the I-20 issued for this employment
  7. Copy of biographical pages of passport
  8. Copy of most recent visa
  9. Printout of Most Recent I-94 record
  10. Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if applicable
  11. Two passport photos taken within the past 30 days. Your photos should be taken by a professional photographer and must meet Department of State requirements.  Write your name and I-94 number in pencil on the back. It works best to apply a piece of clear tape and write on the tape.  Put the photos in an envelope and write your name and I-94 number on the envelope.

ISSA must receive a copy of your EAD card when it arrives.

Mailing Address

USCIS Chicago Lockbox

U.S. Postal Service (USPS):

USCIS
Attn: I-765 C03
P.O. Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680-5374

FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:

USCIS
Attn: I-765 C03 (Box 805373)
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

On-Campus Employment

F-1 On-Campus Employment Policies

F-1 students are allowed to work on-campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. If you were registered in spring and are registered for the summer term or will enroll for the following fall, you may work full-time on campus (more than 20 hours per week) during the summer.

All employees must complete the Employment Eligibility Verification form known as the I-9.

HR Shared Services processes I-9s for most individuals.  When you are hired for a position including graduate assistantship, you will receive an email regarding confirmation of the hire and onboarding. This email will contain information about processing the I-9.  If you do not receive this email, contact HR Shared Services at 814-865-1473 or email dataonboarding@psu.edu to inquire about processing an I-9. 

If you need to update your I-9 because you have received a new I-20 or DS-2019, schedule a session to update your I-9 through the Penn State Onboarding Scheduler. When scheduling, be sure to select “Other” in the Appointment Detail field and add "Reverification" to the comment.

J-1 On-Campus Employment Policies

J-1 students are allowed to work on-campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. If you have been registered in spring and are registered for the summer term or will enroll for the following fall, you may work full-time on campus (more than 20 hours per week) during the summer.

However, all J-1 student employment requires written authorization each year by the Responsible Officer or Alternate Responsible Officer (RO or ARO) of the student's program. This is done by completing the Permission for J-1 On-Campus Employment form in iStart. If your DS-2019 was issued by a programming agency such as IIE, then the RO or ARO of that agency must give you annual work authorization.

[Note: You can only be authorized for on-campus employment 12 months at a time. You must submit a new request in iStart each year.]

All employees must complete the Employment Eligibility Verification form known as the  I-9. 

HR Shared Services processes I-9s for most individuals.  See Steps 6-8 below for further information.

Steps for Initial On-Campus Employment

  1. Obtain an employment letter from the hiring department. (Visit the Social Security page of this website for more details about Steps 1-4.)
  2. Request a Social Security letter in iStart. You must upload the employer letter.
  3. When the letter is prepared by ISSA, you will be notified by email.  If you are at another Penn State campus besides University Park, you can have the letter delivered to you.
  4. Take all necessary documents to the Social Security Administration office in your area.
  5. You will get a receipt from the Social Security office indicating that you have applied for a Social Security Number (SSN).
  6. New employment:  Review welcome email from HR Onboarding and follow instructions to complete the background check and section 1 of the form I-9.  Continuing employment after extending I-20 or DS-2019:  If you have been working and your I-20 or DS-2019 has been extended, you will not have an email about onboarding so schedule a session at the link below and select ‘other’ in the appointment detail field and add ‘reverification’ to the comment.
  7. Schedule an onboarding session via the Penn State Onboarding Scheduler
  8. Bring original identification documents to your onboarding session to complete section 2 of the I-9.

 

Volunteering

What is Volunteering?

 

Volunteering is working for an individual or an organization in an unpaid position for humanitarian, public service, or religious reasons with no expectation of remuneration or compensation.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), individuals must be paid for service that is normally considered paid employment and may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers. Volunteering in what is normally a paid position -- or will be a paid position -- is not permissible.
 
Even though payment (money) may not be exchanged, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) views some types of activity as employment, not volunteer labor. They explain, "the receipt of non-monetary compensation in exchange for services also constitutes employment. A classic example is a student who provides childcare or domestic services in exchange for free room and board. No money is exchanged in this instance, yet DHS would view this activity as employment.” (NAFSA Adviser’s Manual – with permission from NAFSA.)
 
 Examples of true volunteer work would be:

  • Serving in The United Way's "Day of Caring" event

  • Participating in Parent/Teacher Organizations (PTO) 

  • Working at schools (K-12) by cleaning, painting, etc.

  • Helping any charitable organizations with their needs

 
Unless the following activities are performed for a charitable organization, they would be viewed as true employment:  

  • Running experiments in a laboratory

  • Washing test tubes in a laboratory

  • Performing clerical duties

  • Providing computer programming and data analysis

There are two issues to consider:

  1. Can the non-citizen/non-permanent resident be employed? Depending on the situation, both the international student and the employer must determine the eligibility. 

  2. Must the activity be paid? Depending on the situation, the employer could risk violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Note: If there is a question, it is sometimes safer to seek employment authorization than to participate. Please seek counsel from an international student adviser.  

Social Security Number for International Students

Getting a Social Security Number (SSN)

J-1 Scholars

Overview

SSN Requirements

How to Apply for an SSN

Sample Employment Verification Letter

 

J-1 Scholars

If you are a J-1 scholar, this information does not apply to you. Please review the J-1 scholar information on how to apply for a Social Security Number. 

 

Overview

The social security number is used for employment purposes in the U.S. and is needed when employers report wages to the government. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will issue a social security number (SSN) to you for employment purposes only.

An SSN is not necessary for:

  • Establishing a bank account
  • Renting an apartment
  • Opening a cell phone account

Note: If you encounter a person who insists on you providing an SSN in the above instances, please have them contact ISSA, so we can advocate on your behalf.

 

SSN Requirements

  • F-1 Students must provide evidence of on-campus employment from the campus department and verification of enrollment status from ISSA.
  • J-1 students must provide evidence of employment eligibility from the sponsor:
    • If Penn State issued the DS-2019, ISSA will issue the letter.
    • If a programming agency, such as IIE or AMIDEAST, issued the DS-2019, that agency must issue the letter.

 

How to Apply

  1. Documents needed:
    • Original I-20 or DS-2019
    • Original passport
    • Most Recent I-94 (http://www.cbp.gov/i94)
    • Letter from ISSA verifying enrollment and immigration status. Request this through the iStart form called Social Security, found under Letter Requests
    • Letter from the on-campus employer on letterhead including the following:
      • Identity of student employee
      • Job description
      • Anticipated or actual employment start date
      • Employer identification number (EIN) -- Penn State’s EIN: 24-6000376
      • Employer contact information, including the telephone number and name of your immediate supervisor
      • Original signature, signatory’s title, date
  2. Submit application online at ssa.gov
    • Recommended by the SSA
    • Offers the option to schedule an appointment
    • Eliminates the need to complete the form SS-5, application for SSN
  3. Copy/screenshot the Online Control Number on the Social Security Administration (SSA) site once your application is complete
  4. Schedule an appointment with the SSA Office
  5. Visit the SSA Office with all of your printed documents. Note: If the application was submitted online, document the control number that was received at the end of the online application process.

 

Local Social Security Administration Office (ask your Campus Contact for the nearest office):

901 University Drive, Suite 2
State College, PA 16801
(814) 238-5035
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 9 AM – 3 PM
Wednesday 9 AM - 12 NOON
Federal Holidays and Other Closings 

 

Sample Employment Verification Letter

Students must have on-campus employment verification from the hiring department. The verification must be typed on official school or department letterhead and contain the employer's original signature.

Dear Social Security Administration:
This letter is evidence of on-campus employment for (name of student).
Type of job: ____ (e.g. wait staff, library aide, research assistant, etc.)
Start Date: _____
Number of Hours Per Week: _____
Employer Identification Number (EIN): 24-6000376
Employer Telephone Number: _____
Student's Immediate Supervisor: _____
Employer Signature (Original Signature; no photocopy): _____
Signatory's Name and Title: _____
Date:_____

F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT), employment which is an integral part of an established curriculum, is potentially available to F-1 students who have been lawfully enrolled full-time for one academic year. Students in English language programs are ineligible for practical training.

Eligibility Requirements

Part-time vs. Full-time Curricular Practical Training 

Effect of CPT on Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Application and Authorization Process

Updating Your Address while on CPT

Who Hires International Students on CPT?

CPT Sample Offer Letter

Eligibility Requirements

CPT is an authorized training opoprtunity available to F-1 students before degree completion. In most cases, F-1 students use CPT to participate in an internship. For an internship to be curricular, it must occur before all of your coursework is completed. The only exception is if the internship will provide data directly to the thesis and the student cannot otherwise acquire the data at Penn State. CPT falls into one of these two categories:

Required Part of Degree Program

  • If the academic program requires practical work experience to graduate, you may participate in CPT as long as you meet the other requirements of lawful status.
  • If the employment is required by your academic program, CPT does not need to be credit-bearing.
  • Students must be enrolled full-time for one academic year before being eligible for CPT authorization. However, this rule can be waived for certain graduate students if their program requires practical training or employment at an earlier time.

Optional Part of Degree Program

  • If there is a training opportunity that is an important part of your program, you may be able to participate in CPT.  You would need to be enrolled in an internship class through your department during the semester or term that you are working at the internship.
  • Students must be registered full-time every fall and spring semester unless they have been approved for a Reduced Course Load by an International Student Adviser.
  • Students who have not completed all coursework required for their degree may not request a Reduced Course Load for the sole purpose of participating in a CPT opportunity.
  • Students collecting data from a CPT experience for their paper or thesis must complete their CPT a month before the end of the semester so that they have time to work their research into their paper or thesis for submission to their adviser.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Curricular Practical Training

  • CPT may be part-time or full-time:
    • Part-time: 20 hours or fewer per week.
    • Full-time: more than 20 hours per week.
  • Full-time CPT that is not a required part of a degree program will only be authorized during vacation periods such as summer break.

Effect of CPT on Optional Practical Training (OPT)

If you accumulate 365 days or more of full-time CPT, you will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Application and Authorization Process

  1. Register for the course that will cover the internship (if applicable).
  2. Fill out the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) form in iStart.
  3. Upload the letter on employer letterhead indicating the
  • job title
  • exact start and end dates of employment
  • # of hours of work per week
  • place of employment, and
  • a brief description of duties.

[Note: The place of employment MUST include the street address, city, state, and zip code.]

  1. Your request will be forwarded to your Academic Adviser for verification.
  2.  If approved by ISSA, a new I-20 with CPT authorization will be created for you.

**Please note that failure to provide an employment letter containing all of the required elements will result in delayed processing. To facilitate ISSA review, please circle or highlight the required elements in the employer letter.**

Curricular Practical Training is not meant to be a convenient employment opportunity nor is it meant to be a device to save Optional Practical Training months. If all eligibility requirements are met, an International Student Adviser will authorize CPT on a new I-20. You must be careful not to continue employment beyond the date authorized on your I-20 unless you apply for and are granted an extension of your work authorization.

Updating Your Address while on CPT

The Department of Homeland Security requires that our office submit your most current address in SEVIS – both home country and local addresses. You can change your address at any time by accessing your personal information in Account Management.

Who Hires International Students on CPT?

If you plan to do CPT, it is important that you plan early by visiting Career Services to learn about their services. Finding employment is difficult, and it is even more difficult for international students for legal and cultural reasons.

Career Services can help you with the following:

  • Developing career goals
  • Job search strategies
  • Resume writing and interviewing
  • On-campus interviewing including job fairs
  • Internship searches
  • And more!

CPT Sample Offer Letter

Note: Must be printed on employer's letterhead stationery 

February 6, 2024


Ms. Helene Schmitt
500 Vairo Blvd, #123
State College, PA 16803


Dear Helene,


We are excited to offer you the position of Summer Intern with ISSA, International Student and Scholar Advising for Summer 2024. Please find the following information to confirm the specifics of your internship:

Position Title: Summer Intern
Start Date: May 13, 2024
End Date: August 10, 2024
Number of Work Hours Per Week: 40 hours per week
Employment location: 409 Boucke Building, University Park, PA 16802

Your Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Help with reception – welcome international students and connect students with international student advisers
  • Check the office website links
  • Shadow international student advisers (ISAs) – learn day-to-day interactions of ISA with international students by shadowing one ISA per day, 2-3 days per week
  • Presentation – share observations and feedback on the office services

You will be reporting to Mark Smith, International Student Advising Team Lead at ISSA. You can contact him at (814) 111-1111 or mmz111@psu.edu.


Should you have any questions regarding this offer, please contact me. Thank you and we look forward to working with you!


Sincerely,
Mark Smith
International Student Advising Team Lead, ISSA

F-1 Internship with an International Organization

F-1 students may accept employment with an American institution of research and public international organization designated under the International Immunities Act.

This type of employment may be full or part time and does not have to be related to the student's major.  Students may be employed beginning in their first semester.  Employment with an international organization does NOT affect the student's OPT eligibility.  Students must maintain full-time enrollment during the academic year.  Employment authorization may be granted for one year and is renewable.

How to Apply

  1. Request I-20 by meeting with an international student adviser. Provide your written offer of an internship from one of the qualifying organizations.
  2. Within 30 days of the recommendation by ISSA on your new I-20, you must apply to USCIS for employment authorization with the following:
  1. Written certification from the qualifying international organization on the organization's letterhead with proposed start/end dates indicating that the proposed employment is within the scope of the organization's sponsorship;
  2. Check or money order for $410 made out the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  3. Two passport photos taken within the past 30 days.  Your photos should be taken by a professional photographer and must meet Department of State requirements.  Write your name and I-94 number in pencil on the back. It works best to apply a piece of clear tape and write on the tape.  Put the photos in an envelope and write your name and I-94 number on the envelope.
  4. Completed Form G-1145.
  5. Completed I-765 with (c) (3) (ii) entered in #16.
  6. Photocopy of all I-20s (pages 1 and 3) including a copy of the I-20 DISSA will issue for this employment.
  7. Photocopy of biographical page(s) of passport.
  8. Photocopy of most recent visa.
  9. A photocopy of Form I-94 Departure Record. Students who entered/reentered the U.S. May 2013 or later can print the I-94 from the CBP website; students who entered prior to May 2013 should photocopy the front and back of the white card stapled in the passport.
  10. Photocopy of any previously-issued EAD (Employment Authorization Document).

USCIS Service Center Addresses

Direct USCIS filing addresses for form I-765

Notes

  • Make sure you upload a copy of your EAD card when it arrives via iStart, so ISSA can add it to your record. 
  • Remember: You must maintain full-time student status during fall and spring semesters.

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Students who have been in F-1 status for at least one academic year are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which is temporary employment in their field of study for purposes of gaining practical experience.  Students are eligible for OPT at each higher degree level (i.e., Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD.)

Below please find an overview of the types of OPT available to F-1 students. 

The Four Types of OPT

  1. Post-Completion OPT is the most common type of OPT. It begins after the completion of a student’s degree program.
  2. Pre-Completion OPT is for work opportunities during the degree program for which CPT is not an option.  This can include summer (as long as the student will return for fall semester) or during the academic year.
  3. 24-Month STEM OPT is a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT for students who have completed a STEM field recognized by the Department of Homeland Security and who are working for employers enrolled in the eVerify program.
  4. Cap-Gap OPT is a short extension of OPT to cover the period between the end of OPT and the beginning of H1-B, for those who have a pending/approved H1-B Change of Status petition.

Note: Students who have completed 12 or more months of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT.  Part-time CPT or CPT which totals less than 12 months does not affect OPT.

Post-Completion OPT

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students that allows for up to 12 months of practical experience, i.e., employment in your field of study.

Two types of practical training are available to F-1 students:

Note: Pre-Completion and Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) use the same available 12 months, but Post-Completion OPT can only be used when you will complete your degree in the near future and meet the Post-Completion OPT eligibility requirements.


Post-Completion OPT Eligibility

Applying for OPT: A Two-Step Process

OPT Timeline and Deadlines

OPT Availability and Employment/Unemployment

Completing the OPT Application Form I-765

OPT Reporting Requirements

How to Withdraw a Pending OPT Application

Travel while on OPT

OPT Resources


Post-Completion OPT Eligibility

You are eligible to apply for OPT if you:

  • Have not been approved for a total of 365 days of full-time CPT (Curricular Practical Training).
  • Were enrolled full-time for at least one academic year (two semesters). Summers do not count.
  • Have maintained active F-1 status.
  • Will complete your degree in the near future.

Applying for OPT: A Two-Step Process

  1. Request an OPT I-20 in iStart.
    ISSA issues eligible students an updated I-20 including the OPT recommendation.
  2. Submit form I-765, the signed I-20 with the OPT recommendation, and other required documents to USCIS online.
    • Check the current USCIS processing times for form I-765.
    • You must be in the U.S. when you submit form I-765.

OPT Timeline and Deadlines

  • Apply for OPT as early as 90 days before your program end date.
    • Note: ISSA can issue the I-20 with the OPT recommendation only after the 90-day window opens.
  • Pick an OPT start date that falls within the 60-day grace period after your program end date.
  • Submit your OPT application to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) within 30 days of the date of OPT I-20 issuance or by the 60th day from the program end date, whichever comes first.
  • The OPT application window closes on the 60th day from the program end date.
  • Submit your OPT I-20 request in iStart early to give ISSA time to issue your OPT I-20. We recommend submitting the form at least 4 weeks before the end of your program end date.

Determining Your Program End Date

Are you... End of the semester in which you will graduating Oral defense date Four weeks after your defense date Any date after the completion of all of your degree requirements/courses but before your defense date
Undergraduate student

                                   x

     
Medical student

                                   x

     
Law student

                                   x

     
Graduate student with coursework only

                                   x

     
Graduate student with a paper, thesis, or dissertation requirement

                                   x

           x

                         x

                                                                           x

 

 

Note: You cannot work on campus past your I-20 program end date unless you can continue working with your OPT EAD card. This is important if your program end date on the I-20 will be shortened for OPT purposes!

OPT Availability and Employment/Unemployment

  • OPT available for each academic level (i.e., Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD)
  • Employment must be closely related to your program of study, i.e., major.

Note: A job offer is not required at the time of application.

  • Total of 90 unemployment days available during the 12 months of the Post-Completion OPT.
    • The unemployment days start counting on the start date on the OPT EAD card.
    • Once all 90 unemployment days are used up, your OPT is no longer valid, you are considered out of status, and need to leave the U.S.
  • Reporting your OPT employment via iStart on or after the start of your OPT stops the unemployment counter.
  • You can only begin working after the OPT start date listed on your EAD card has arrived and you have received your EAD card.

Completing the OPT Application Form I-765

  1. Set up an online USCIS account
  2. Complete the OPT application form I-765
    Note: You must be in the U.S. when you submit the I-765 to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). 

Access ISSA's Guide to Form I-765 (pdf format)

Be sure to have the following required documents ready:

  • Processing fee for form I-765
  • Passport-style photo
  • Signed I-20 with the OPT recommendation on page 2 (make sure you have signed and dated on page 1)
  • Copy of the F-1 visa in your passport (even if it is expired)
  • Copy of your passport photo page
  • Your most recent I-94 arrival record
  • CPT and previous OPT I-20s, if applicable
  • I-20s with a different SEVIS ID, if applicable
  • Previous EAD card, if applicable

Note: Premium processing for OPT, using form I-907, is available from USCIS at an additional cost. This is an optional upgrade to speed up the processing time with a guaranteed USCIS review window of 30 days.

OPT Reporting Requirements

Use the OPT Reporting form in iStart (listed under Employment Authorization Requests) to:

  • Report any address and contact information changes within 10 days
  • Report any change in your employment, such as starting employment or changing employers, within 10 days

A legal name change must also be reported. Submit supporting documents via the Status/Contact Information Update form in iStart (listed under Other Requests).

Additional information: Study in the States website

How to Withdraw a Pending OPT Application

If you have filed your OPT application, form I-765, with USCIS but need to withdraw it, follow these steps:

  1. Access your MyUSCIS account and upload a letter via "unsolicited evidence" that requests the withdrawal of your application. 
  2. Contact ISSA via Submit a Question  in iStart and let us know you have withdrawn your OPT application, so we can update your SEVIS record.

Note: If you need to upload a document to your pending I-765 form and have not yet heard from USCIS, you may do so via "unsolicited evidence" in your MyUSCIS account.

Travel While on OPT

  • While on OPT, the travel signature on your I-20 is valid for 6 months.
  • USCIS strongly cautions against travel while the OPT application is pending. Wait for your EAD card to arrive in the mail if possible.
  • Visit this site for additional travel information, including which documents to carry when re-entering the U.S.

OPT Resources

ISSA's Guide to Form I-765 (pdf format)

Form I-765 Employment Application for OPT

Form I-765 Filing Instructions (General instructions start on page 14.)

Study in the States OPT Reporting Requirements

Pre-Completion OPT

Pre-completion optional practical training (OPT) is an off-campus employment authorization and available to eligible F-1 students during their academic program, i.e., before program completion/graduation.

General Information 

Eligibility Requirements

Applying for Pre-Completion OPT: A Two-Step Process

Completing the OPT Application Form I-765

General Information

  1. Pre-completion OPT can be used for:
    • Full-time (more than 20 hours/week) or part-time (fewer than 20 hours) employment during summer vacation as long as you will enroll for the upcoming fall semester.
    • Part-time employment (20 hours or fewer per week) while school is in session if students continue to enroll full time for courses.
  2. For master’s and PhD students, full- or part-time employment after completion of all course requirements except thesis/dissertation.
  3. Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher-level degree (i.e., bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD.) If you apply and are approved for Pre-completion OPT for a total of 12 months, you will no longer be eligible for Post-completion OPT. 
  4. Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12-month total of OPT, including Post-Completion OPT, for which students are eligible at each higher degree level.
    • Full-time Pre-completion OPT is deducted at a one-to-one ratio: For example, one month of full-time Pre-completion OPT subtracts one month from the 12-month total, including Post-completion OPT.
    • Part-time Pre-Completion OPT is deducted at half the rate: For example, four months of part-time Pre-Completion subtract two months from the 12-month total, including Post-completion OPT.
  5. When applying for Pre-Completion OPT, a job offer is not required. However, once USCIS approves your application, any unused days cannot be recovered.
    Note: It takes approximately 90 days to receive the EAD card, so plan accordingly.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for pre-completion OPT, you must:

  • Have been enrolled continuously for one academic year (fall and spring semester) by the time the pre-completion OPT employment starts. You may apply for pre-completion OPT 90 days prior to the end of the one academic year.
  • Be in active F-1 status.
  • Your pre-completion OPT employment must be closely related to your major of study.

Applying for Pre-Completion OPT: A Two-Step Process

  • Request the I-20 by completing the OPT form. Your academic adviser must complete the advisor portion of the form informing ISSA of your graduation date before a new I-20 can be issued. If you have a secondary major, you must also obtain a letter from your second-major academic adviser that confirms the completion of that program. ISSA generally requires 10-14 business days to process iStart requests. During peak periods, however, it may take longer.
  • Make sure the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your OPT application within 30 days of the issue date of the new OPT's recommended I-20.

Note: The OPT application is not approved by ISSA, but rather by USCIS. (2) It is also very difficult to cancel an application once it has been submitted to USCIS, so make sure of your plans before you apply.

  1. Request an OPT I-20 in iStart.
    ISSA will issue an updated I-20 with the Pre-Completion OPT recommendation on page 2 to eligible students.
  2. Submit form I-765, the signed I-20 with the OPT recommendation, and other required documents to USCIS online within 30 days of the date of OPT I-20 issuance.
    • Check the current USCIS processing times for form I-765.
    • You must be in the U.S. when you submit form I-765.

Completing the OPT Application Form I-765

  1. Set up a MyUSCIS account
  2. Complete the Pre-completion OPT application form I-765

Be sure to have the following required documents ready:

  • Processing fee for form I-765
  • Passport-style photo
  • Proof of enrollment
  • Signed I-20 with the Pre-completion OPT recommendation on page 2 (make sure you have signed and dated on page 1)
  • Copy of your passport photo page
  • Your most recent I-94 arrival record
  • CPT and previous OPT I-20s, if applicable
  • Previous EAD card, if applicable

Note: Premium processing for OPT, using form I-907, is available from USCIS at an additional cost. This is an optional upgrade to speed up the processing time with a guaranteed USCIS review window of 30 days.

STEM Extension OPT

If you are an F-1 student with a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) major, you may be eligible for the 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT.

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International Student & Scholar Advising (ISSA) has implemented a one-time STEM OPT-related service fee of $250, payable via the STEM OPT form in iStart, at the time the student is eligible to apply for STEM OPT. The fee helps offset costs for STEM OPT-related services ISSA provides during a time when students no longer pay tuition and fees. These services range from ISSA issuing the I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation to assisting students with fulfilling their STEM OPT reporting requirements.

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Before you apply for STEM Extension OPT and complete form I-765 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), follow these steps:

STEM OPT Eligibility 

Employment Requirements

Application Timeline

Completing Form I-983 Training Plan

While Your Application Is Pending

Reporting Requirements for STEM OPT

Resources

STEM OPT Eligibility

  • Apply for and be approved for 12-month post-completion OPT
  • Qualifying STEM degree
    • Check your major’s CIP code listed on your I-20 and compare it to the Eligible CIP Codes for the STEM OPT Extension
    • You may use an “unused” STEM degree earned in the U.S. within 10 years of the STEM OPT application.
    • STEM OPT is available twice in a student’s lifetime.

Employment Requirements

  • You and your employer must complete the STEM OPT training plan form I-983.
  • Your employer must participate in USCIS’s E-Verify program.
  • Employment must be paid.
  • Employment must be directly related to the STEM major.
  • Work a minimum of 20 hours/week
  • No self-employment or contract-based/third-party employment

Application Timeline

  • Earliest date to apply is 90 days before the expiration date of your 12-month post-completion OPT
  • There is no grace period between the standard post-completion OPT and STEM OPT. The employment authorizations must be back-to-back and seamless.
  • USCIS must receive your STEM OPT application within 60 days of the DSO recommendation on the I-20 or by the end of the post-completion OPT (end date listed on the EAD card) – whichever comes first. 

Completing Form I-983 Training Plan

You and the employer must complete the I-983 training plan, and you must submit the form to ISSA with the STEM OPT form (listed under Employment Authorization Requests) in iStart. In September of 2023, the U.S. government made the change to allow electronic signatures on the form I-983.

Step-by-step instructions for completing the I-983 form can be found here.

Tips for Completing the I-983:

  • You do not need to complete page 5 of the I-983, but you should submit it with your STEM OPT I-20 request in iStart.
  • Your immediate supervisor and the "Employer Official with Signatory Authority" may be different individuals at your place of employment.
  • Complete the evaluation on student progress (top of page 5) at the 12-month anniversary of the STEM OPT start date (start date of the STEM OPT EAD card).
  • Complete the bottom of page 5 at the 24-month anniversary of the STEM OPT start date (end date of the STEM OPT EAD card) or at the end of your employment.
  • Complete a new I-983 training plan when you switch employers.
  • The I-983 is kept by your school, but you should always keep a copy as well.

While Your Application Is Pending

  • You can continue to work for 180 days after the post-completion OPT EAD card end date if:
    • You submitted the STEM OPT application within the required timeframe, and
    • USCIS receives form I-765 before the OPT EAD card expiration date.
  • Once your OPT EAD card expires, you will need to renew your form I-9 with your employer. It is recommended that you have your I-797 Notice of Receipt from your STEM OPT application, along with the other required documents, when you do so.

Reporting Requirements for STEM OPT 

  • Report all employment and address changes within 10 days via the STEM OPT Reporting form in iStart to be in compliance with federal requirements. 
  • Report your STEM OPT participation to ISSA every 6 months. See the Dept. of Homeland Security’s STEM HUB for more information about the reporting requirements. 
  • After 12 months on STEM OPT, complete the 12-month self-evaluation (top portion of page 5 of form I-983). 
  • After 24 months on STEM OPT or when you change employers, submit the final self-evaluation (bottom portion of page 5 of form I-983). 
  • Update the STEM OPT training plan, form I-983, with any material changes and submit it to ISSA via iStart within 10 days. Examples of material changes include updated EIN, increase in salary, employer address.
  • If you change employers, you will need to submit a new form I-983 training plan with your new employer and submit it to ISSA.  
  • Report any change in immigration status via the STEM OPT Reporting form in iStart 
    Note: If your Penn State access account is no longer active, you may need to use the “limited services access” link beneath the regular student log-in to gain access to iStart.
  • Do not exceed the number of unemployment days because your F-1 status and OPT authorization will no longer be valid. You have an additional 60 days of unemployment during the STEM OPT period plus any unused unemployment days from your 12-month OPT period, for a possible total of 150 days. 

Resources

Cap-Gap Extension

This extension is for students with a pending or approved H1-B petition with a change of status option.

  • Students on Post-Completion or STEM OPT are permitted on April 1st to continue working between the end of their OPT and the beginning of their H-1B period on October 1 if the H-1B petition was filed before the end of the student's OPT period.
  • Students with a pending or approved H1-B petition who are not currently on OPT (such as current students or students in the 60 grace period) are eligible for an extension of F-1 status but may not work during the Cap-Gap period.
  • Students who chose consular processing are not eligible for this extension.

NOTE:  This extension is automatic, but proof of the extension is not given unless requested. Students may request an I-20 for proof of the extension by completing the Cap Gap form in iStart. The extension ends if USCIS rejects, denies, or revokes the H-1B petition or if the employer withdraws the petition.

 

J-1 Academic Training

You may participate in academic training during or after your studies if it is approved before your program ends. However, the period of academic training will begin to count upon the program end date. 

 You are eligible for academic training as long as you meet the following criteria: 

  • You are primarily in the United States to study rather than engage in academic training;
  • You are in good academic standing; 
  • You are participating in academic training that is directly related to your major field of study; 
  • Your academic training is temporary and not a permanent position; and
  • You receive written approval in advance from ISSA for the duration and type of academic training. 

[Note: You are required to have health insurance that meets the Department of State requirements during the entire period of academic training.] 

Time Limitations 

For exchange, undergraduate, and master's degree students, academic training cannot exceed the number of months of study or 18 months, whichever is less

For PhD students the limit is 36 months or the number of months of study, whichever is less.  No more than 18 months of academic training may be used prior to the completion of studies.  A new form DS-2019 must be issued for each 18 month period. 

Process 

  1. Complete the Academic Training form in iStart.
  2. Upload an employment letter describing the details of the training program including: the job title, employment description, employment start and end dates, the number of hours per week, and the employment location. 
  3. Your request will be sent to your academic adviser who will confirm: the goals and objectives of the specific training program; the training program description, including its location, the name and address of the training supervisor, number of hours per week, and dates of training; how the training relates to your major field of study; and why it is an integral or critical part of your academic program. 

An international student adviser will determine whether the academic training request meets the criteria and time limitations and, if approved, will issue a new DS-2019 for I-9 purposes. 

 You may submit additional requests to extend your employment or change employers if:

  • Your request is made before your current employment authorization expires and
  • Your employment does not exceed the time limitations listed above. 

J-1 Economic Necessity

This type of off-campus work permission is for J-1 students who can demonstrate that they are experiencing serious and unforeseen economic hardship. This hardship must have occurred after the student acquired J-1 status. This may include loss of funding due to no fault of the student, a substantial change in the value of the student's home currency, or significant unexpected expenses.

Please note the following:

  • Authorization can be granted one year at a time and the employment does not have to be related to the student's academic program.
  • Employment must be no more than 20 hours per week during the academic year but may be full-time during the summer.
  • Students must maintain full-time enrollment during the academic year.
  • Students must make an effort to find on-campus employment

You must schedule an appointment with an international student adviser to be considered for Economic Necessity. You may not begin working until your request is approved. If approved, you will be issued a letter from ISSA authorizing your off-campus employment.


Please note: You may not combine on-campus employment and economic necessity employment in order to work more than 20 hours per week during the academic year.


 

J-2 Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

EAD Application

The following is required for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) application and should be assembled in the order listed.  You will then mail this to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

  1. Check (made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) in the amount of $410 U.S. dollars.
  2. A completed Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization. For question #16 use code (c)(5) for J-2 work authorization.
  3. Two passport-style photographs with the J-2’s name and date of birth printed lightly in pencil on the back.
  4. DS-2019 photocopies – both J-1’s and J-2’s.
  5. Passport photocopies – J-2’s photo and biographical page.
  6. I-94 photocopies, both J-1’s and J-2’s. Copy both sides if you have a hard copy (issued prior to May 2013).
  7. Personal statement.  The statement must be signed and dated and must state:
  • The reason you wish to work;
  • That the J-1 has adequate funds to cover studies and living expenses; and
  • That any income that you earn will not be used to support the J-1.
  1. Copy of any past EAD card(s).

Tips 

  • Keep a photocopy of your application.
  • If you already have a job offer, you can include a job offer letter with your application. It may help expedite the processing of your application.

Submitting the EAD Application to USCIS

Mail the above documents to the USCIS Lockbox having jurisdiction over the address you have put on the I-765. The following addresses are from the I-765 instruction sheet (revised 9/21/2016).

USCIS Dallas Lockbox

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries

USCIS
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For Express mail through private courier services such as United Parcel Service (UPS) or Federal Express (FedEx)

USCIS
Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

USCIS Phoenix Lockbox

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries

USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For Express mail through private courier services such as United Parcel Service (UPS) or Federal Express (FedEx)

USCIS
Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Notes

  • USCIS will mail your EAD card to the address on the I-765. The address you use on the I-765 should be valid for at least 90 days (and sometimes more) because our experience is that government mail forwarded to another address is frequently lost. If you move, you should call the USCIS National Customer Service Center.
     
  • Within 2-3 weeks you should receive a notice confirming that your application has been received and informing you approximately how long the processing period is likely to be. You will receive a case number, which you may use to check updated information on the status of your application on the USCIS web site.
     
  • After your application has been processed, you will receive the EAD card, a plastic ID card with the J-2's photo on it. You can then take the card to a Social Security Administration office and apply for a Social Security Number and card which you can then use for employment purposes. See also Obtaining a Social Security Number.
     
  • Your EAD card will be valid up to the expiration date on the card. It can be extended further, provided the DS-2019 form for the J-1 and J-2 have not expired and the J-1 program is continuing. To extend your Employment Authorization Document, you will need to re-submit all of the above-mentioned documents to USCIS and enclose a copy of both sides of your EAD card.

Employers Who Have Hired International Students on OPT or Academic Training

If you plan to seek Optional Practical Training (OPT) (F-1) or Academic Training (J-1) upon completion of your academic program, it is important that you plan early by visiting Career Services to learn about their services. Finding employment is difficult, and it is even more difficult for international students for legal and cultural reasons.

Career Services can help you with the following:

  • Developing career goals
  • Job search strategies
  • Resume writing and interviewing
  • On-campus interviewing including job fairs
  • Internship searches
  • And more!

Address, Phone, and Employer Update Instructions

If you are on your first anniversary of Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT you must provide the following information to ISSA: 

  • Information regarding employment, your local U.S. address and valid phone number information.
  • If you are on STEM OPT, you must also validate your employment information every 6 months and submit an evaluation of the I-983 within ten days of your start date and within 10 days of the second 12 months of start date of the STEM OPT.
  • In addition, you must also submit an I-983 evaluation of the conclusion of all STEM OPT regardless of the time you spent working for a company. 

Note:  Failure to provide this information will affect your OPT and legal stay in the U.S.

How to update this information:

  1. Log into iStart.
  2. For Limited Access, you will need to enter your 9 digit Penn State ID, your date of birth, and your limited access pin.  If you do not know your limited access pin, select "Email Me My Limited Access Pin."  If you don't receive your Limited Access Pin, contact issa-adviser@psu.edu to update your email address for access.
  3. On the left, go to Employment Authorization Requests and select OPT Employer and Local Address Update."
  4. Students on STEM OPT must also use this form to validate their STEM participation every six months.
  5. If you still have access to your access account, log onto https://accounts.psu.edu/ and update your ocal address.
  6. Update ISSA using this form as often as necessary -- when employer changes, when employment address changes, when personal address changes, when employment ends, when the I-983 must be submitted, etc.

J-1 International Interns

Hosting International Interns

International Interns support the mission of the Fulbright-Hays Act as part of the Exchange Visitor Program which fosters global understanding through educational and cultural exchanges. International Interns come to the United States in J-1 status. Interns are not “employees” in the traditional sense; rather, they are current foreign undergraduate university students of foreign universities who are seeking to enhance their skills through work-based learning and cultural exchange. As the intern’s supervisor, you will host and assist him/her in gaining those skills and building knowledge of American techniques, methodologies, and technology.

Interns may be paid, but payment is not a requirement of the internship. Interns must be regularly supervised and mentored throughout the internship, which can last between 3 weeks minimum and 12 months maximum. They must meet the goals set forth in the Trainee/Intern Participation Plan, which you and your intern will complete together, and they must be evaluated at regular intervals. You will work closely with the intern and with International Student and Scholar Advising (ISSA) throughout the internship. It is also important to note that all exchange visitors are expected to return to their home country and undergraduate university studies upon completion of their program in order to share their exchange experiences.

Interns come in J-1 status under the Department of State to foster global understanding. They are expected to participate in social and cultural activities to learn about Americans and the U.S. as well as teach Americans about their countries and culture, with the hope they establish long-lasting relationships.

Only requests for interns made by an academic department will be considered. Please email ISSA-Adviser@psu.edu for more information.