Employment Options Overview
Notice about Unauthorized Employment
Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of immigration status and can result in termination of your record. It is important to understand what constitutes employment and what sort of employment your particular immigration status allows.
Employment is any activity for which you receive compensation. Compensation does not only refer to receiving money. For example, babysitting or housekeeping in exchange for room and board would be considered compensation for services and therefore unauthorized off-campus employment.
Self-employment/freelancing (for example, offering personal services, making and selling products, or otherwise engaging in income-producing activity in the US) is generally prohibited.
Income from investments, interest on bank accounts, and similar funds do not constitute employment because there is no direct service/compensation relationship. Similarly, income from foreign employers does not necessarily constitute employment in the US if that money is paid abroad.
F-1 Employment Options
Before accepting any kind of employment, be sure it is allowed by the F-1 regulations. Note that the off-campus employment opportunities generally require you to have completed one academic year (three quarters) to be eligible to apply for authorization. Consult your ISSS advisor with any questions related to F-1 status and employment.
Your F-1 student status permits you to work part-time on campus (19 hours per week or less) while enrolled in a full course of study, and full-time (more than 20 hours per week) between quarters and during your annual vacation quarter (summer), provided you have an I-20 issued by WWU and are in good academic standing. On-campus employment must not displace a United States resident.
On-campus employment includes:
- Employment for WWU (for example, as a teaching or research assistant, or in the library)
- Work performed on-campus for a commercial firm providing direct services to students (for example, Dining Services).
- Employment at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with WWU. The educational affiliation must be associated with your academic department 's established curriculum and be an integral part of your educational program
You are allowed to work:
- Part-time (19 hours per week or less) during your regular full-time quarters (quarter dates are set by the WWU academic calendar and include finals week).
- Full-time (more than 19 hours per week*) between quarters.
- Full-time (more than 19 hours per week*) during your annual vacation quarter.
*Note that you should communicate with your employer before working over 40 hours per week in any student position.
Expiration of On-campus Employment Eligibility
Your on-campus employment eligibility ends:
- When you graduate. It expires the last day of your final quarter (per WWU calendar), even if your I-20 expiration date is in the future.
- If you transfer to another university; your work authorization expires on the day of your SEVIS record release date.
- If you take fewer credits than allowed by university policy (typically 6 for undergraduate and 4 for graduate)
- If you violate your F-1 status.
Some campus jobs are designated as “work study” positions. The job description might include a statement such as: “position open only to WWU students who qualify for work study awards.” Work study awards are part of federal financial aid packages and are only available to US citizens and permanent residents. As an F-1 student, generally you are not eligible for a work study position and should not apply.
Finding a Campus Job
Search for jobs at the Student Employment Center. This database advertises both on-campus and off-campus jobs. Filter your search to only look for on-campus, non-work study jobs. On-campus jobs are also advertised on flyers posted around campus—in elevators, office bulletin boards, etc.
Your Responsibility: Know the Rules
It is your responsibility to research and understand your on-campus work eligibility. It is generally not the job of WWU staff outside of ISSS to thoroughly know the immigration regulations. It is possible you will be offered employment that you are not eligible to accept or for your employment eligibility to expire without your payroll coordinator notifying you. Be sure to review all information provided by ISSS and consult ISSS if you have any concerns or questions.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is temporary training authorization for work directly related to your major field of study. CPT is authorized by the ISSS office in accordance with the F-1 regulations. You can apply for CPT during the regular academic year (you must remain registered full-time) and during your annual vacation quarter.
CPT may be part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week). If you accumulate 12 months of full-time CPT authorization, you lose your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT), another type of employment authorization for F-1 students. Part-time CPT and fewer than 12 months of full-time CPT authorization does not affect your OPT eligibility.
You may be eligible for CPT if you:
- Are currently in valid F-1 status.
- Have been enrolled at a college or university in the US on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year. ("One academic year" at WWU is defined as three full-time quarters per the academic calendar, including final exams week. An exception to the academic year rule is provided for graduate students whose programs require immediate participation in CPT.)
- Are in a major (pre-major students, who are not yet admitted into a major, are not eligible for CPT)
- Will earn your degree from WWU (visiting exchange students are not eligible for CPT)
CPT can be used:
- Once you attain eligible status and only before completion of studies
- After you receive a written offer of employment showing the name and address of the employer, job description, and the dates of the contract
- After the CPT is approved by your academic advisor and authorized by your ISSS advisor on the I-20
You should apply for CPT as soon as you learn about an internship or practicum that is an integral part of the established curriculum directly related to the course of study.
- Meet with your major advisor to discuss your plans for CPT. If an internship component is not required for your major, there must be some way for you to get academic credit for completing the internship. **Some departments may not agree to support an internship that is not required.
- Receive an offer of employment/internship related to the field of study and get a letter from the prospective employer indicating the position title, dates of employment, number of hours of work per week, place of employment, and a brief description of the work.
- Request the CPT Certification form from ISSS. Meet with your departmental advisor to discuss the internship/employment and show him/her the offer letter. Have the advisor fill out and sign the CPT Certification form.
- Make an appointment with your ISSS advisor so you can finalize the CPT application. Bring the job offer letter and signed CPT Certification Form.
If you qualify for CPT based on these documents, your ISSS advisor will issue you a new Form I-20 endorsed on page 2 with details of your CPT employment. Do not begin working until you receive your I-20 endorsed for CPT. Be careful to comply with the restrictions on your employment as stipulated in the endorsement. Your endorsed I-20, together with your passport and I-94 record, is evidence of your eligibility to work and may be used to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 that all US employers are required to complete.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides F-1 students with an opportunity for hands-on work experience related to their academic field of study.
You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:
- You are currently in F-1 status.
- You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (three quarters, including final exams weeks) or will complete one academic year by the date the OPT approval begins.
- You have not exceeded 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization. (Part-time CPT does not affect OPT eligibility.)
Note: You do not need a job offer first; you can apply for OPT without a job offer.
You are eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level. For example, you may apply for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor's degree and then another 12 months after completing a master's degree. You may apply for OPT authorization during your academic program, after your program completion, or a combination of both. An additional 24-month extension may be possible depending on your STEM field of study.
OPT authorization that begins after completion of your academic program is called post-completion OPT. This is the most common type of OPT. Post-completion OPT is full-time, and it can begin:
- After you complete your degree or exchange program.
- After you complete all course requirements for your degree, excluding thesis or equivalent.
OPT used while you are a student is called pre-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT is very uncommon. Usually current students are eligible for alternate employment authorization, such as Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Because pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of OPT eligibility, most students prefer to save OPT for after program completion.
While approved for OPT, you are still in F-1 status and must report address changes and employment information to your ISSS advisor.
12 months of OPT: How to Apply
Apply early! Allow three months for processing by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), plus additional time for obtaining your academic advisor's signature on the OPT I-20 form, ISSS processing, and mailing to USCIS. You cannot work until you receive OPT approval.
You may submit your application to USCIS as early as 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date. (Your program end date is the last day of your final quarter, including final exams week, according to the academic calendar.) Please note that your OPT application must arrive at the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issue date, or the request will be denied.
ISSS strongly encourages you to apply for OPT three months prior to your program end date. Though USCIS will accept your application up to 60 days after your program end date, you cannot begin work until the application is approved. A delayed application may result in delayed work authorization and/or loss of full OPT eligibility (12 months) due to the three-month processing time by USCIS.
Please read through the materials below and contact ISSS to set up a time to discuss your OPT application.
24-month STEM Extension of OPT: How to Apply
You are eligible to apply for a 24-month OPT extension, beyond the initial 12 months of OPT, if you meet all of the following conditions:
- You are currently approved for post-completion OPT
- You completed a bachelor's or master's in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field. Visit the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website for the STEM Designated Degree Program List. Eligible degrees are listed by their Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code. Your degree's CIP code is listed on the "primary major" line in the top left corner on the third page of your I-20.
- You have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer
Apply before your current EAD expires. USCIS recommends you apply up to 90 days before your OPT expiration. You can continue to work for up to 180 days while the application is pending.
Contact your ISSS advisor for details and forms for applying for 24-month STEM Extension of OPT.
After OPT Approval
Limits on Periods of Unemployment
Between the start and end date of your post-completion OPT authorization (the dates on your EAD), you cannot be unemployed for more than 90 days. If you received a 24-month STEM extension, you are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days. Each day (including weekends) that you do not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. There is no grace period after 90/150 days of unemployment. To avoid violating status, USCIS recommends that prior to reaching the unemployment limit, you should prepare to transfer to another school, change education level, depart the US, or change to a different immigration status.
Reporting Requirements to ISSS
Address changes, legal name changes, and employment information must be reported to ISSS using the OPT Reporting Form within 10 days of any changes. Failure to update ISSS with employment information in a timely manner may result in the automatic termination of your immigration record by the SEVIS system. The following information is required:
- Name of employer
- Start date of employment
- Mailing address of employer
- Change of employer, with end and start dates of employment
- How employment is related to your coursework
- Decision to exit the US and complete F-1 status prior to OPT expiration date (if applicable)
- Your current residential address
- Your email address
- Your phone number
Keep documentation of your OPT employment history for your own records. You may need it for future benefits applications.
Employment Allowed While on OPT
You may accept any job that is related to your field of study and commensurate with your level of education. You should be employed at least 20 hours per week. During the 12-month OPT period, this may include:
- Multiple employers: you may work for more than one employer, but all employment must relate to your degree program
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). Keep a list of all positions, dates, and duration
- Work for hire: contract employment
- Self-employment: you may start a business and be self-employed. You must have a business license and document your active engagement in business related to your degree
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm: Keep documentation of working an average of 20 hours per week while employed by the agency
- Volunteer service: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, as long as this does not violate any labor laws. This volunteer service counts as employment for purposes of maintaining F-1 status
24-month STEM extension-approved students:
You must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to your STEM degree. Employment may include:
- Multiple employers: you may work for more than one employer, but all employment must relate to your degree program and each employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- Work for hire: contract employment. The company for whom you are providing services must be registered with E-Verify.
- Self-employment: you may start a business and be self-employed. You must register your business with E-Verify and work full time. You must have a business license and document your active engagement in business related to your degree.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm: you may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency of firm (for which you are providing services) need not be registered with E-Verify.
- Volunteer service: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, as long as this does not violate any labor laws. This volunteer service counts as employment for purposes of maintaining F-1 status.
You will need a Social Security number in order to receive payment from your employer. In general, as an F-1 student you will be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the US, as long as you continue to declare nonresident status for tax purposes. Unless you qualify under a tax treaty between the US and your home government, your earnings as an F-1 student will be subject to applicable federal, state, and local taxes, and employers are required to withhold those taxes from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, see our Tax Resources page.
Medical insurance is an extremely important consideration while you are on OPT. If you are not insured through your employer, you should purchase an individual plan.
Travel and OPT
If your pre-completion OPT application is pending or approved, you may travel and reenter the US.
If your post-completion OPT application is pending, you may travel and re-enter the US.
After graduation, if your post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you may not re-enter the US unless you have evidence of employment. You should carry the following documents with you:
- I-20 signed for travel by an international student advisor within the last 6 months
- EAD card*
- Valid passport
- Unexpired F-1 visa (unless returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean)
- Evidence of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer)
* On the EAD card, there is a statement "Not Valid For Reentry" which means that the EAD card alone is not a proof of your legal status to seek entry into the US. You must have all of the documents mentioned above to be able to reenter the country.
Once the approved period of OPT has begun, time spent outside the US will count as unemployment against the 90/120-day limits. Travel while employed either during a vacation authorized by an employer or as part of your employment will not count as unemployment.
If you have dependents in F-2 status who will travel without you, be sure they carry a photocopy of your EAD card and proof of your employment along with their updated F-2 I-20 that is properly signed for travel.
Study While on OPT
While approved for OPT you may take recreational courses, but if you begin a new degree program, your OPT is automatically terminated.
Students who do not exceed 90/120 days of unemployment and report employment to ISSS as required are automatically granted a 60-day grace period after the end date listed on the EAD. Within this 60-day grace period, you have the following options:
- Depart the US. Once you leave the US (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies and OPT period, you are not eligible to reenter with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within and preparation to depart the US.
- Request a new I-20 if you will continue at WWU in a new degree program. If you are an undergraduate and will begin graduate studies, your new I-20 will be issued by Graduate Admissions.
- Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school.
- Apply to change status to another visa category.
H-1B Cap Gap Extension
H-1B is a work visa that is sponsored by an employer. Students commonly transition from Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, part of F-1 status, to H-1B status. There are a limited number of H-1Bs available each fiscal year, for most employers, and this limit is often called the "H-1B cap."
New H-1Bs become effective each October 1, but the application period for most employers begins six months earlier, April 1. The "cap gap" occurs when a student's F-1 status and/or OPT expire before their approved H-1B begins October 1.
The Cap Gap Extension
The H-1B Cap Gap Extension allows certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in the US in F-1 status until the start date of their approved H-1B employment period, even if the OPT authorization and/or F-1 grace period would have otherwise expired before October 1.
You are eligible for the cap gap extension if both:
- Your employer files an H-1B petition for you, on or after April 1, and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1.
- You are still within your OPT authorization period, or 60-day grace period following the OPT expiration, when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1).
If your OPT authorization is still valid when your employer submits your H-1B petition to USCIS, your OPT authorization is extended. You can continue working in F-1 status through the extension date.
If your OPT authorization is expired but you are in your 60-day grace period when your employer submits your H-1B petition to USCIS, your F-1 status is extended. You cannot work but you can remain in the US through the extension date.
The length of your extension depends on your H-1B petition phase:
- Filed: If your H-1B petition is properly filed (but not yet receipted or approved), your OPT authorization is extended to June 1. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to June 1.
- Selected for receipting: If your H-1B petition is selected for receipting, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to September 30.
- Approved: If your H-1B petition is approved, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to September 30.
How to Apply
The cap gap extension of F-1 status is automatic. It begins when your employer submits the H-1B petition to USCIS.
To obtain documentation of your F-1 status extension, submit proof of your H-1B petition by e-mail to your ISSS advisor. If your H-1B petition is:
- Filed: submit a copy of the petition and FedEx, UPS, or USPS Express/certified mail receipt to your ISSS advisor. (If your regular OPT authorization is valid through June 1, do not request a new I-20 based on H-1B filing only. Wait for the receipt or approval notice.)
- Selected for receipting: submit a copy of the I-797 Notice of Action (receipt notice) to your ISSS advisor.
- Approved: submit a copy of your approval notice to your ISSS advisor.
Your ISSS advisor will print a new I-20 for you that indicates the extension of your F-1 status and (if eligible) extension of your OPT employment authorization. The extension benefit is automatic, so you can continue working (if eligible) and remain in the US while waiting for the new I-20.
USCIS provides thorough Cap Gap information.
Severe Economic Hardship
If you are suffering a severe economic hardship due to unforeseen changes in your financial circumstances, you may apply to USCIS for authorization to work off-campus. You must have been in F-1 status for one academic year, be in good academic standing, and document that on-campus employment opportunities are unavailable or insufficient to meet your financial needs. Examples of unforeseen circumstances include loss of financial support or on-campus employment, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial condition of your source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses. Note that you will need a new I-20 from ISSS to include with this application. Please see an ISSS advisor to discuss your situation.
Employment with an International Organization
As an F-1 student, you may work for a qualified international organization, as defined by the International Organization Immunities Act of December 29, 1945. If you have an offer from an employer on the List of International Organizations you may apply to the USCIS for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Contact your ISSS advisor to discuss your situation before you complete the required documentation. The advisor will determine your eligibility and assist you in completing and submitting the application to USCIS.
Application processing times vary between two to four months. If approved, USCIS will issue an EAD for a maximum of one year. Do not begin working until you receive the EAD. You may work part-time or full-time but must maintain a full course of study in F-1 status during your employment. This employment does not affect your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Employment authorization is automatically terminated if you fail to maintain status or transfer to another school.
J-1 Employment Options
J-1 students may work on campus under the following conditions:
- Employment pursuant to the terms of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship
- Employment on the premises of the school you are authorized to attend (WWU)
Employment must total no more than 19 hours per week, except during school breaks and the annual vacation quarter. Your on-campus employment must be authorized in advance. The employment can be authorized up to 12 months at a time. Notify your ISSS advisor, who will update your SEVIS record. The SEVIS record update is the authorization. Email your ISSS advisor with the following information:
- Employer name (WWU hiring department)
- Employer address
- Number of hours per week
- Employment start and end date
- Whether or not the employment relates to a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship, or if it simply occurs on the WWU campus
Employment that is necessary because of serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic circumstances that have arisen since acquiring exchange visitor status. Employment on account of economic circumstances may be authorized up to a maximum of 12 months at a time. Employment must total no more than 19 hours per week, except during school breaks and the annual vacation quarter. Schedule an appointment with your ISSS advisor to discuss eligibility and receive authorization for the employment.
Academic Training is work related to your field of study and may be paid or unpaid. You may be authorized to participate in Academic Training during your studies or commencing not later than 30 days after completion of studies. Employment for Academic Training has an overall limit of 18 months, which includes training both before and after completion of studies. However, the total training period may not exceed the amount of time spent in the full course of study. All Academic Training is counted as full-time, even if employment is on a part-time basis.
To apply for Academic Training you must obtain both an offer of employment and a written recommendation from your academic advisor and submit to the ISSS advisor. Contact your ISSS advisor for details on applying for Academic Training.
Dependents in J-2 status may request employment authorization from USCIS. Income from the J-2's employment may be used to support the family's customary recreational and cultural activities and related travel, among other things. Employment will not be authorized if the income is needed to support the J-1. Employment may be authorized up to twelve months, and may be renewed annually.
The application for employment authorization may take up to 90 days to be processed. If approved, the J-2 will be issued an employment authorization document (EAD). The card will have an expiration date, and may be renewed annually. During the period of authorized employment the J-2 may accept any kind of employment, full-time or part-time. The J-2's employment authorization is valid only while the J-1 is maintaining status.
To apply for an EAD, contact your ISSS advisor for more details.