F-1 Student Employment

Working off campus without authorization is a violation of your status which will result in your I-20 being terminated without the option for reinstatement. Read the sections below to learn more about the different types of work authorization available to you as an F-1 student.

On-Campus Employment

You may work up to 20 hours per week during fall and spring semesters without written permission from International Student Services (ISS) or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). During winter, spring and summer breaks, you are allowed to work full-time. UA policy may only allow 30 hours per week depending on enrollment and term during these official breaks.

Upon initial entry to begin a new program, you may not begin on-campus employment more than 30 days prior to the first day of classes. If you are an incoming (SEVIS) transfer student, you may only engage in on-campus employment after receiving a new Form I-20 from the University of Arizona. 

Some off-campus locations are treated as on-campus sites if they are directly owned by the University of Arizona or have strong educational affiliation. If you are unsure whether your work site is considered on-campus, you should speak with an ISS advisor for clarification.

Your on-campus employment authorization ends on the end date of your I-20.

You are only eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) if you have on campus employment or authorization to work off campus. If you have on-campus employment, such as a student work position or graduate assistantship, International Student Services (ISS) will provide you a letter to take to Social Security Administration (SSA) to apply for your SSN. For more information go to Taxes: Social Security Number (SSN)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

You must apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to receive authorization from International Student Services (ISS) to work off campus in a paid or unpaid position. CPT will only be authorized if the experience is directly related to your major area of study and is a required or integral part of your program’s established curriculum. It cannot be used solely for career development or to facilitate employment.
 

Eligibility Criteria

  • You are in F-1 status.

  • You have been continuously enrolled full-time for at least 1 academic year. Exceptions apply for graduate students whose programs require immediate participation in CPT.

  • You meet the minimum cumulative GPA requirements:

    • Undergraduate Students: 2.5

    • Graduate Students: 3.0

  • You have reached advanced standing or Professional Admission in your major, if applicable (undergraduate students only).

  • Your CPT experience meets one of the conditions below and you register for the required units.

    • Condition #1: The CPT experience is based on a requirement for all students in the program in order to graduate. If required by your department, you must register for the appropriate units.

    • Condition #2: The CPT experience is necessary for collecting data or conducting research for the thesis or dissertation. You must register for thesis, dissertation or research units. If your CPT experience occurs over the summer, you must show registration for thesis, dissertation or research in the summer or the following fall semester. A signature is required from both the academic advisor and faculty advisor (see page 1 of the CPT Request Form). Master’s Project students should also apply under this condition and should enroll in master’s project summer units if occurring over summer.

    • Condition #3: The CPT experience is based upon the awarding of course credit. You must register for internship, practicum or independent study units. IBM Co-op students should also apply under this condition.
       

How many times can I participate in CPT?

The number of times you can participate in CPT depends on your major and degree requirements and proof that the CPT opportunity is directly related to your major area of study and a required or integral part of your curriculum. U.S. immigration regulations require that CPT be used for employment that is a required or integral part of the curriculum and not solely for career development.

If you have already engaged in CPT and would like to apply for CPT again, you must submit a new application. We must receive sufficient documentation explaining what learning outcomes were met during the previous period of CPT and what will be accomplished during an additional period of CPT.
 

Part-time vs. Full-time CPT

CPT is limited to part-time employment (up to 20 hours a week) during the fall and spring semesters. If you are a graduate student who has completed all coursework you may be eligible for full-time CPT (more than 20 hours a week).  During official school breaks, CPT can be authorized part-time or full-time.

If you complete 12 or more months of full-time CPT you will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
 

Maintain your status on CPT

While on CPT, you must:

  • Make normal progress towards your degree

  • Maintain full-time enrollment

  • Wait for CPT approval before beginning work

  • Work only during your authorized CPT dates

  • Work only for your authorized employer

While on CPT, you may not:

  • Delay completion of your degree to participate in CPT

  • Begin working before your CPT has been approved

  • Work beyond your authorized CPT dates

  • Work for an employer or at a location not authorized on your I-20
     

Additional Resources

In general, F-1 students who have been in the U.S. less than five years are exempt from Social Security (F.I.C.A.) taxes. Your earnings are subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes. Students must file a tax return on or before April 15 each year, which will determine if any of the withheld taxes can be refunded. 

If you do not have an SSN, you may apply for one after your CPT request is approved (no earlier than 30 days prior to your internship start date). For more information about how to apply, visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website (select "Original Card for a Noncitizen Adult"). 
 

How to Apply

Submit the following paperwork to ISS at least 3 weeks prior to your proposed start date:

  1. CPT Request Form

  2. Letter from employer (internship site) including: title and duties of the position, company information, number of hours per week, start and end date. Must be printed on official employer letterhead. For a template, see page 3 of the the CPT Request Form

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a form of temporary employment authorization for eligible F-1 students. The authorization is recommended by International Student Services (ISS) and awarded by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It allows you to work anywhere in the United States, as long as the employment is directly related to your program of study.  OPT is not employer-specific.
 

Pre-Completion vs. Post-Completion

OPT can be utilized before you complete your program (pre-completion OPT) and/or after you complete your program (post-completion OPT).

In total, you may be eligible for 12 months of standard OPT for each higher degree level you complete. If you do pre-completion OPT, then the time you utilize will be subtracted from the time available to you for post-completion OPT (subtracted at half the rate for part-time pre-completion OPT).  For example, a student who utilizes 2 months of full-time pre-completion OPT and 2 months of part-time pre-completion OPT will have 9 months remaining for post-completion OPT. 

 

Pre-Completion OPT

Post-Completion OPT

Hours

Part-time (20 hours or less) during the fall/spring semesters

Part-time or full-time (more than 20 hours) during winter/summer breaks

Graduate students only: full-time during the fall/spring semester if all coursework is completed

Full-time authorization, but only must work at least 20 hours per week to maintain status

Unemployment

No penalty for unemployment

Cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment

STEM &
Cap-Gap Extension

You cannot apply for the STEM or cap-gap extension from pre-completion OPT

If otherwise eligible, you may be approved for the STEM or cap-gap extension from post-completion OPT

If you are interested in applying for pre-completion OPT, please contact ISS at (520) 621-4627 to schedule an appointment with an advisor or check our website for quick advising times.
 

Eligibility Criteria

You must meet the following eligibility requirements to be recommended for OPT:

  • You are in F-1 status

  • You have been continuously enrolled full-time for at least 1 academic year. If you have done a leave of absence, were in a different status previously or fell out of status within the last year, meet with an international student advisor.

  • You are in good academic standing. If you have a low GPA or are on academic probation, ISS may hold your application until your grades are posted.  

  • You have not completed 12 or more months of full-time CPT.

  • You have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same or higher degree level.
     

When can I apply for post-completion OPT?

USCIS can receive your post-completion OPT application:

  • No earlier than 90 days before your program completion date

  • No later than 60 days after your program completion date

Normal processing time for ISS is 15 business days (21 calendar days). Please allow additional time to mail your application to USCIS. If you have filed your application with USCIS during this period, you can remain in the U.S. after your 60-day grace period has ended with a pending application.

Program Completion Date

For immigration purposes, your program end date is the date that you complete your degree requirements, not the date of your graduation ceremony or degree conferral. Review the chart under Academic Changes: Program End Date.

If you are completing your degree requirements prior to your I-20 end date, ISS will shorten your I-20. Please remember that you must stop all on-campus employment by the end date of your I-20.

If you are completing your degree requirements after your I-20 end date, ISS will not automatically extend your I-20. You must instead formally request a program extension from ISS (go to Academic Changes: Program End Date for more information).

If you are an undergraduate or master’s student finishing your program during summer or winter, you must enroll in at least one in-person class during your final term.  For example, if you complete your degree during summer session II, you must register for at least 1 unit of in-person coursework during summer II. 
 

How to Apply

Applying for OPT authorization is a 2-step process:

  1. Submit the following documents to ISS to request an I-20 recommending OPT:
  1. Submit the documents listed under Step 2 of the OPT Request Form to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. The filing fee for USCIS is $380.

Normal processing time for ISS is 15 business days. Processing time for USCIS is approximately 3 months. For information about how to expedite your application with USCIS, read Chapter 12 – Request to Expedite Applications or Petitions of the USCIS Policy Manual.  ISS will not expedite OPT requests and cannot review letters to USCIS to request expedited processing.
 

Where to Mail Your Documents

If you live in Arizona and would like to send your documents via express mail or courier (for example: USPS Priority Mail Express, FedEx, UPS), send all materials to: USCIS, Attn: AOS, 1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100, Phoenix, AZ 85034.

If you do not live in Arizona or would like to mail your application through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) go to Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (under the category (c)(3)(i)). 
 

Change of Address

If you change your address while your OPT application is pending, you must notify ISS and USCIS immediately.

To notify USCIS, go to File a Change of Address Online at USCIS.gov to report your new address.

To notify ISS, submit the OPT Reporting E-form in UA International.
 

Maintain Your Status on OPT

While you are on OPT, you are still in F-1 student status and your SEVIS record is still maintained by the University of Arizona.  ISS will remain your point of contact for all immigration questions and requests related to your F-1 record.

While you are on OPT, it is your responsibility to take the following actions to maintain your status:

  • Only work in jobs related to your major field of study (paid, unpaid or volunteer positions). For information about the types of employment you can accept on OPT, review the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) OPT Policy Guidance.

  • Work an average of at least 20 hours per week

  • Do not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment (post-completion OPT only)

  • Report all changes to your address, employment information, visa status or permanent departure from the U.S. within 10 days of the change through the OPT Reporting E-Form.
     

Additional Resources

  • Review Travel: Outside the U.S. for a list of documents you must carry to reenter the U.S. as an F-1 student on post-completion OPT.

  • Review Private Health Insurance for examples of health insurance providers that offer plans tailored to international students.

  • If your employer has any questions about how to verify your eligibility to accept employment or complete the Form I-9, you can refer them to the M-274 Handbook for Employers.

  • After you receive your EAD card, you are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) if you do not already have one. For more information about how to apply, visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website (select "Original Card for a Noncitizen Adult"). 
     

Workshops

ISS holds OPT workshops each semester to explain the application process and regulations affecting OPT in detail. They are open to all UA students. Check your UA email and the Programs & Events Calendar for dates. If you are a UA department interested in arranging a workshop for your students, contact Lara Pfaff.

STEM OPT Extension

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT. It is available two times to eligible F-1 students who have completed a STEM degree within the last 10 years from an accredited U.S. institution. The regulations for the 24-month extension, effective May 10, 2016, replace the previous regulations for the 17-month extension of OPT. 
 

Eligibility Criteria

You must meet the following eligibility requirements to be recommended for the STEM extension:

  • You are in a valid period of post-completion OPT

  • You must have recently completed a degree, or have a prior degree, at the bachelor's level or higher, in a field on Department of Homeland Security's STEM-Designated Program List. If your STEM application is based on a previous degree, it must have been awarded within the past 10 years by an accredited U.S. institution. Your degree did not need to be STEM-designated at the time it was awarded.

  • You are employed in a paid position by an employer registered in E-verify. You must work at least 20 hours per week and the employment must be directly related to your STEM degree. Your initial post-completion OPT employer does not need to be the same as your STEM OPT extension employer.  Because the Form I-983 requires a salary amount and employer official certification, self-employment and volunteering do not qualify for the STEM OPT extension.

  • You have not previously completed 2 STEM extensions.
     

When can I apply?

You must apply for STEM OPT extension before your current period of post-completion ends.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can receive your application:

  • No earlier than 90 days before your OPT period ends.

  • No later than the day before your OPT period ends.

Normal processing time for ISS is 15 business days. Please allow additional time to mail your application to USCIS. If you have filed your application with USCIS during this period, your employment authorization is automatically extended up to 180 days. You may continue working while your STEM extension is being processed by USCIS. We recommend against traveling outside the U.S. while your application is pending with USCIS (Read Can I reenter if my request for OPT is pending? for more information).
 

How to Apply

Applying for the STEM OPT extension is a 2-step process:

  1. Submit the following documents to International Student Services (ISS) through the STEM OPT Extension e-form (under F-1 Student Employment) in UA International to request an I-20 recommending the STEM OPT extension:

    Document Notes
    Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
    • Complete and sign pages 1-4
    • The SEVIS School Code for the UA is: PHO214F20092000
    • For the Designated School Official (DSO) enter:
      Joanne Lagasse-Long 
      915 N. Tyndall Ave.
      Tucson, AZ 85721
      (520) 621-4627
      intl-opt@email.arizona.edu
    OPT Reporting e-form
    • You must have submitted the OPT Reporting e-form within 1 month of when you submit your STEM application to ISS
    Diploma from previous institution
    • Only required if your STEM degree was not awarded by the UA

    Copy of I-20 from previous institution

    • Only required if your STEM degree was not awarded by the UA
    • You do not have an I-20 for your previous STEM degree, please submit a letter from your previous school's international office confirming the SEVIS school code and CIP code of your degree
    $150 OPT Case Management Fee Receipt  
  1. Submit the following documents to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card:
    Document
    Notes
    • Enter code (c)(3)(c) at item #16
    • You are responsible for the completion and accuracy of the I-765
    • We recommend that you review the form instructions and type your answers (your signature must be hand-written)
    $380 check or money order
    • Payable to the Department of Homeland Security
    2 U.S. passport photos
    • For photo requirements, review the I-765 instructions (page 7, item C)
    • Photos must have been taken within 30 days of when you submit your application to USCIS
    Photocopies of I-20s
    • I-20 stamped "copy" with original signature (don't forget to sign the bottom of page 1)
    • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
    • Do not send any original I-20s to USCIS
    Form I-94
    Photocopies of passport
    • Photocopies of biographical page(s) with photo, validity dates, amendments, etc.
    • Photocopies of F-1 visa pages (if any)
    Photocopies of all previous EADs
     
    Form G-1145
    • Recommended

USCIS must receive your application prior to the expiration of your current EAD card, and within 60 days of when your I-20 was issued by International Student Services (ISS). Your application for STEM OPT extension does not have to be approved before your EAD expires. Based on a timely filed application, your OPT employment authorization will be automatically extended up to 180 days while your application is pending with USCIS. Your I-20 from ISS recommending the STEM OPT extension and the I-797 receipt notice from USCIS showing that your application was received prior to the expiration of your EAD are your documentation of your extended OPT employment authorization while your application is pending.

Normal processing time for ISS is 15 business days. Processing time for USCIS is approximately 3 months. For information about how to expedite your application with USCIS, read Chapter 12 – Request to Expedite Applications or Petitions of the USCIS Policy Manual.  ISS will not expedite OPT requests and cannot review letters to USCIS to request expedited processing. 
 

Where to Mail Your Documents

If you live in Arizona and would like to send your documents via express mail or courier (for example: USPS Priority Mail Express, FedEx, UPS), send all materials to: USCIS, Attn: AOS, 1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100, Phoenix, AZ 85034.

If you do not live in Arizona or would like to mail your application through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) go to Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (under the category (c)(3)(i)). 
 

Maintain Your Status on OPT

While you are on STEM OPT, you are still in F-1 student status and your SEVIS record is still maintained by the University of Arizona.  ISS will remain your point of contact for all immigration questions and requests related to your F-1 record.

It is your responsibility to take the following actions to maintain your status:

  • Work at least 20 hours per week in paid positions for E-Verify employers in positions related to your STEM degree

  • Do not accrue more than 150 days of unemployment throughout the entire period of OPT and STEM extension (90 days during the first 12 months of OPT plus an additional 60 days during the 24 month extension)

  • Submit the OPT Reporting e-form

    • Within 10 days of any changes to your address, employment information, visa status or permanent departure from the U.S.

    • Within 10 days of any material changes to your Form I-983 (upload the updated version through the e-form)

    • Every 6 months to validate your SEVIS information, regardless of whether there have been any changes

    • Every 12 months complete and upload page 5 of Form I-983. The self-evaluation must be signed by your supervisor.

Additional information about reporting requirements, including what to do if you believe your employer is not complying with the terms and conditions of the 24-month extension regulations and Form I-983, are available at Study in the States

Students currently on the 17-month extension of OPT who did apply for the additional 7-month extension by the August 8th deadline should follow the rules of the 17-month extension regulations for the remainder of their OPT period.
 

Additional Resources

  • Review Travel: Outside the U.S. for a list of documents you must carry to reenter the U.S. as an F-1 student on STEM OPT extension.

  • Review Private Health Insurance for examples of health insurance providers that offer plans tailored to international students.

Cap-Gap Extension

The cap-gap extension is available to F-1 students who are beneficiaries of a timely filed H-1B extension but whose F-1 status (OPT or the 60-day grace period following the end of OPT) ends between April 1 and October 1 of the current year.  
 

Eligibility

You are eligible for the cap-gap extension if you are in active F-1 status and are the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that:

  • has been filed on or after April 1 of the current year, and prior to the end of the 60-day grace period following the end date of your EAD card for post-completion or STEM OPT (not available for students authorized for pre-completion OPT)
  • is subject to the H-1B annual cap
  • requests an employment start date of October 1 of the current year
  • requests a change of status

If you are the beneficiary of a H-1B petition filed while you were on a valid period of post-completion or STEM OPT, then you are eligible for an automatic extension of your OPT authorization to September 30 of the current year.

If you are the beneficiary of an H-1B petition filed while you were in the 60-day grace period following your post-completion or STEM OPT, then you are eligible for an automatic extension of your F-1 status (but not work authorization) to September 30 of the current year.
 

How to Apply

Upload a copy of your I-797 Receipt Notice or Approval Notice to the Cap-Gap Extension e-form in UA International. If your employment or address has changed, you should also resubmit the OPT Reporting E-form.

Normal processing time is 15 business days.

If you have any questions, please send an email to intl-opt@email.arizona.edu, or call the ISS front desk at (520) 621-4627 to schedule an appointment with an international student advisor (phone appointments are available for students outside of Tucson).  Please be aware that advisors at International Student Services are not immigration attorneys. We can provide general information about the cap-gap extension and maintenance of your F-1 record while on OPT, but we cannot provide detailed information about the eligibility requirements, processing or maintenance of status for H-1B.
 

Additional Resources

Read more about the cap-gap extension in the SEVP OPT Policy Guidance.

Severe Economic Hardship

If you are an F-1 student experiencing severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances, you might be eligible to apply for employment authorization.

Examples of economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances include:

  • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment due to no fault of your own

  • Substantial changes to the currency or exchange rate of your home country

  • Substantial increases to the cost of tuition and/or living expenses

  • Excessive medical bills

  • Unexpected changes to your source of financial support

If you are approved for economic hardship, you can work off campus part-time (up to 20 hours a week) during the fall and spring semesters and full-time (more than 20 hours a week) during official breaks.

To apply, make an appointment with an advisor at International Student Services (ISS) to discuss your eligibility. If the advisor recommends that you proceed with the application, they will tell you what documents to submit and issue you a new I-20. Processing time is 10 business days.

The employment authorization document (EAD card) is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The average processing time for USCIS is 3 months. Even if the ISS advisor recommends your application, USCIS has the final authority to grant or deny your work authorization.

Economic hardship can be authorized for up to 12 months. You must reapply if you want to continue working after the expiration date. The authorization becomes invalid if you complete your degree, leave the University of Arizona, or violate your F-1 status.