Employment is defined as any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food, or any other compensation. Students must not assume that they are automatically eligible to work in the United States. Work authorization of one type or another is needed for an international student to work in the U.S. USCIS considers unauthorized employment to be the most serious violation of F-1 status. Students must consult with an ISA in ISS before accepting any employment.
To be eligible to work in any capacity you must be enrolled in a full course of study. Once employment is authorized you must maintain eligibility or you will lose your right to continue employment, even if it was authorized in writing.
Your F-1 visa status allows you to work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week. College policy is that students may work up to two full jobs for total of 16 hours per week. If needed, to make up for work shift coverage, students are permitted to flex hours in a given week up to 20 hours per week—but the ongoing weekly student cap is 16 hours.
Prior to starting work on campus, students need to apply for a social security number. Your International Student Advisor (ISA) will assist you with the application and provide a group trip to the Social Security Office in North Adams, MA, a 40-minute trip from campus. On-campus jobs include work in Dining Services, Crossett Library, the Student Center, Meyers Rec Barn, and administrative offices. For more information on campus jobs, visit Student Employment.
All off-campus employment requires prior approval for work authorization—either Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training. See below for more information on the two types of work authorization.
Be certain to make an appointment with your International Student Advisor (ISA) prior to submitting any applications for employment, engaging in employment, or accepting employment. Please know that it is your responsibility as an F-1 visa holder to secure work authorization prior to beginning work. Before beginning any work you must receive an updated I-20 document showing CPT work authorization on page two for each employer (if working at more than one approved FWT sites) or approval from USCIS for pre- or post-completion OPT. See below for more information about applying for OPT work authorization.
The U.S. government takes working without work authorization very seriously. Beginning work without receipt of the I-20 showing work approval on page two for CPT or an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by USCIS for OPT is considered a violation of your F-1 status, and will result in required termination of your SEVIS record. If an ISA becomes aware that you engage in off campus employment without work authorization they must report it through the SEVIS database, which means that your SEVIS record will be terminated and your F-1 visa invalid. This also means that you may have to leave the U.S. immediately, and you may not be allowed to return.
Field Work Term
Please find more information about FWT for international students here.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
All off-campus employment requires prior approval by your International Student Advisor (ISA). Be certain to make an appointment with your ISA prior to submitting any applications, engaging in employment, or accepting employment. Please know that it is your responsibility as an F-1 visa holder to secure work authorization prior to beginning work. Registering your FWT is one step in this process, but you must also connect with ISS to receive an updated I-20 showing CPT work authorization on page 2 for each employer (if working at more than one approved FWT sites). The U.S. government takes working without work authorization very seriously. Beginning work without receipt of the I-20 showing work approval on page two is considered a violation of your F-1 status, and will result in required termination of your SEVIS record. If an ISS advisor knows that you work without work authorization they must report it through the SEVIS database, which means that your SEVIS record will be terminated. This also means that you may have to leave the U.S. immediately, and you may not be allowed to return.
To be considered for CPT, the work must not only be related to the student's major field of study but must also be an integral part of an established curriculum. Employment experience that is required for all students in a degree program always meets the requirements for CPT, regardless of whether academic credit is received for the work.
Undergraduate students must have completed one academic year of full-time study in order to be eligible for CPT. Three requirements must be met for employment that is a required part of a degree program. The student must:
- Have an appropriate job offer
- Maintain lawful F-1 visa status
- Demonstrate that the proposed employment is a requirement for the degree program
Duration of CPT
There is no limit to the amount of CPT time students may have as long as they continue to meet all of the application requirements, and continue to maintain full-time enrollment and make normal progress toward their degrees. They may engage in either part-time CPT (20 hours or less per week) during the academic year or full-time CPT (more than 20 hours per week) during official university vacation periods. However, please note that students who work for twelve months or more in full-time CPT are no longer eligible for OPT(Optional Practical Training) after graduation.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students to work off-campus in a field directly related to their major area(s) of study. OPT is offered as Pre-Completion, Post-Completion, and STEM extension, each requiring a separate application. An offer of employment is not required to apply for OPT. All off-campus employment requires prior approval by your International Student Advisor (ISA). Be certain to make an appointment with your ISA prior to submitting any applications, engaging in employment, or accepting employment.
Eligibility for this category requires that students be enrolled full-time for at least one academic year, and are in F-1 status at the time of their application. Employment must be directly related to the student's field of study. Students become eligible for another twelve months of OPT when they enroll in a higher degree level. You are eligible for OPT once for each completed degree.
Pre-Completion vs. Post-Completion OPT
Pre-Completion OPT can be used before the student completes their degree. While school is in session (fall and spring semesters) students are only eligible to work part-time (maximum of 20 hours per week); during winter and summer break students are eligible to work full-time (more than 20 hours).
Part-Time OPT will accrue time at a half rate (i.e. two months of part-time Pre-Completion OPT will equal one month of full-time), this will be subtracted from your total 12 months of OPT. If 12 months of full-time pre-completion OPT is used, post-completion OPT is forfeited.
Post-Completion OPT is used once the student has completed their degree. This is accrued at a full-time rate.
Students do not need a job in order to apply for Pre or Post Completion OPT. However, once granted by USCIS, unemployment time will begin to accrue from the start date of your OPT. Students may apply for periods of OPT before completion of studies, save the total twelve-month period to be used after completion of studies, or use a combination.
While on OPT students are restricted to 90 cumulative days of unemployment. If you accrue 90 days of consecutive unemployment, SEVIS will automatically terminate your SEVIS record, and you will lose your student status effective immediately. Once you report your new employer information to ISS, your 90 days of unemployment will stop accumulating.
If you do not have an employer at the time of your initial OPT application, you will need to update ISS once you find employment.
STEM OPT Extension
Students who hold degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) may be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT), for a total of 36 months of post-completion OPT. Only students who have completed degrees in a STEM designated field qualify for this extension. It might be possible to apply for the STEM extension based on a prior U.S. degree in a STEM field.
Your ISA can help you determine if your degree or concentration is eligible for the STEM extension. In addition to having completed a degree in a STEM field of study, you must have a job offer or be working for an employer registered with "E-Verify," a federal employment verification system, and you and your employer must complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT students.
When to Apply
You may submit the STEM application up to 90 days before your initial OPT period ends.
Job Seeking Tips for International Students
Begin the job search process early – it may take up to a year. Try to begin 6 months to one year in advance of when you would like to start working.
Research the employers and the positions in which you are interested.
Practice speaking confidently about your experience, skills and career goals.
Utilize the resources and services accessible through the Field Work Term and Career Development Office. The FWT/career advisors are available to meet with you to review your resume and cover letter, conduct mock interviews, and help you identify and research potential employment opportunities.
Every student’s situation is different so be sure to make an appointment with an advisor from the ISS office to discuss your employment plans and to learn about relevant work permission guidelines and immigration regulations.
Research alternative job titles and common skill requirements. Knowing about all of the variations will create a larger list of positions to target.
Be knowledgeable about your current visa status and about the H-1B visa process.