F-1 Employment Options
Any form of work-related activity--including internships--requires prior authorization
from DHS (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security).
All credit or non-credit, paid or unpaid internships are regulated and must be authorized by DHS. Students in F-1 status may apply for authorization to participate in Internships after one academic year of full-time enrollment. International Student Services (ISS) hosts several information sessions each semester to outline the conditions of employment eligibility and application procedures; click here for the schedule. All students are strongly encouraged to attend a Work in the US session during their first semester of study, so they may learn about F-1 employment options and prepare accordingly. Social Security and U.S. tax regulations related to F-1 status are also covered in these sessions.
Below are the 4 forms of legal work-related experience available to students in F-1 status:
1. On Campus Employment
Students in F-1 status may engage in On Campus Employment immediately upon their first semester of attendance. Limited positions are available in the Admissions office, FIT Bookstore, Computer Center, Academic Skills Center, Residential Life, and Student Life. Students must contact these offices directly to pursue these opportunities; International Student Services does not serve as a referral source. Employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session but may be full-time during official school breaks, such as winter, spring, and summer. Students may engage in On Campus Employment only while maintaining F-1 status and up to the completion of studies.
2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Credit-bearing internships (both paid and unpaid)
After one academic year, students in F-1 status may participate in credit-bearing, paid or unpaid internships listed in the FIT catalog. Authorization must be received from the International Student Advisor and DHS before starting the internship. CPT is limited to the length of the credit-bearing course that requires the internship. This time will not be deducted from the 12 months of Optional Practical Training (see below).
After two semesters of full-time enrollment, students may register for a credit-bearing course with an internship component, such as IC291, IC491, IC492, ID493, or TY491. Information about these courses may be obtained from the Career & Internship Center (B202) or the major department. Once an employer has been determined, students pursuing internships must bring the Application for Curricular Practical Training completed by the Internship Coordinator to International Student Services. Authorization may take up to one week, and employment may not begin until authorization has been granted.
F-1 students in one-year Associate's programs may not apply for Curricular Practical Training unless they have been engaged in two consecutive semesters of full-time study prior to the start of employment. Within 90 days of completing two semesters of full-time enrollment, F-1 students can participate in Curricular Practical Training, so one-year Associate's students who begin their studies in fall may take their internship course during the summer.
Specific information on Curricular Practical Training (CPT) may be obtained at one of the information sessions on Work in the US held each semester. Click here for the current semester's Information Session Schedule. Students interested in CPT should attend a Work in the US session and consult the Career & Internship Center (B202) to attend one of their Internship Orientations one semester prior to registering for an internship course.
3. Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Non-credit internships (both paid and unpaid) and employment to gain practical experience
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12-month opportunity for students in F-1 status to engage in internships and/or paid employment to gain experience that is directly related to their fields of study. Non-credit-bearing internships fall into this category. Students may submit applications for OPT authorization to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, a branch of DHS) within 90 days of having been enrolled for one full academic year in F-1 status and up to 60 days after the completion of study. USCIS authorization must be received prior to starting OPT, and it often takes the USCIS 80 to 90 days to issue the Employment Authorization Card.
Students may use Optional Practical Training before or after completion of studies. These 12 months are cumulative for the length of each degree completed, provided one moves from a lower to higher educational level. In other words, if used on completion of the AAS, OPT will again be available on completion of the bachelor's. However, if a student already holds, for example, a U.S. bachelor's degree, has used its bachelor's-level practical training, and then completes an associate's degree, s/he will be ineligible for OPT when attaining a lower (or second equivalent) degree. An employment offer is not necessary to apply for OPT.
Before the completion of studies, students may only participate in Pre-completion Optional Practical Training while maintaining registration of 12 credits or more during the fall and spring terms (9 credits or more for graduate students). This employment may not exceed 20 hours per week during the school year but may be full time during official school breaks. This time is deducted from the 12 months at half-time rate (ex. 4 months before completion of studies = 2 months after completion of studies). Graduate students become eligible for full-time pre-completion OPT when all requirements but the thesis have been met. Most FIT students choose to save their 12 months for after their completion of studies in order to participate in one full year rather than short periods of part-time employment. Pre-completion Practical Training applications are available in our office.
Post-completion (full-time) Optional Practical Training is only available to students on completion of all degree requirements. International Student Services (ISS) hosts several mandatory information sessions each semester detailing the conditions of OPT eligibility and application procedures. Click here for the current semester's Information Session Schedule. The International Student Advisor will only endorse the applications of students who attend one of these sessions during their final semester of study. Applications can only be endorsed when all final degree requirements are in progress; incomplete or outstanding courses will prevent students from participating in post-completion OPT.
Post-completion OPT must be completed within 14 months of the completion of studies. Applications are accepted within 90 days of the completion of studies and up to 60 days after. Students are encouraged to apply early as this will increase the possibilities of receiving the card prior to the semester's end. Students who apply during the 60-day grace period following completion of study jeopardize their chances of being authorized for a full 12 months of OPT. Students should not depart the U.S. after their last day of school and may not begin employment until it has been authorized by USCIS. Receipt of the card allows for travel or the start of employment immediately after the completion of studies and also facilitates the job search/interview process. OPT must begin on a specific date within 60 days of the PROGRAM END DATE as noted on the I-20 and end 12 months later. Employment must cease upon expiration of the card. Within 60 days after the card's expiration, students are expected to depart the U.S., transfer to another school, or adjust their status.
While on post-completion OPT, students remain in F-1 status and must continue to abide by F-1 terms and conditions. Those authorized for post-completion OPT must report to ISS all internships and/or employment, and any changes or interruptions in employment within 10 days via a link provided once the OPT has been authorized. They must also keep their U.S. address current with DHS and FIT International Student Services. Failure to report current employer information and U.S. address may result in termination of F-1 status and the loss of OPT. Students authorized for post-completion OPT should let ISS know if they decide to pursue another program of study or elect to depart the U.S. permanently before their OPT ends.
Those authorized for post-completion OPT do not need to secure a paid position, only one related to the field of study for which the OPT was granted. Volunteering, freelancing, and being self-employed in the field of study are all acceptable activities, as are paid and unpaid internships, and must be reported to ISS. There is no upper limit to the number of positions held at any one time, but the total hours of post-completion OPT-related work must be more than 20 hours per week.
While on post-completion OPT, students may not be unemployed for a total of more than 90 days. (STEM students granted an OPT extension may not be unemployed for a total of more than 120 days.) During post-completion OPT, F-1 status for all students is now considered dependent upon employment.
If traveling outside the US, students must obtain the International Student Advisor's signature on page 2 of the I-20. A valid F-1 visa, valid passport, the Employment Authorization Card, and the signed I-20 are required to reenter the U.S. to resume OPT. It is also recommended that those on OPT travel with employer information showing on page 2 of the I-20, or a letter of verification of employment from their employers. The letter should state that you are on OPT, that your employer is aware of your trip abroad, and that they look forward to your return to resume employment. While a valid F-1 visa is not required to apply for OPT or to remain in status in the US, student passports must always be valid for at least 6 months. See Obtaining an F-1 Visa for instructions on renewing an F-1 visa should it expire while you are authorized for post-completion OPT and wish to travel abroad and return to the US. Entering the U.S. on a visa other than F-1 at this time will result in the cancellation of employment authorization for OPT.
Elimination of the H-1B cap gap
The H-1B cap gap used to occur when OPT expired days or months before an approved H-1B petition took effect on October 1. This gap resulted in students having to cease employment when their OPT authorization ended and sometimes having to depart the U.S. prior to October 1. Current regulations, however, eliminate this gap by automatically extending the F-1 status and employment authorization of any F-1 student who timely files a petition to change to H-1B status and is otherwise maintaining status. This means H-1B applicants can continue working after their OPT end date until the approved H-1B takes effect on October 1. However, if the H-1B petition is not approved, the extension of OPT authorization ends immediately, and F-1 status allows for a 60-day grace period during which one may transfer to a new program, change status, or depart the US. H-1B applicants who receive an I-797 receipt or approval notice should provide it to ISS immediately so that a cap-gap extension of the I-20 may be requested.
24-month extension of post-completion OPT for students with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree
Students who possess a bachelor's or higher degree in one of the so-called STEM fields may apply for a 24-month extension of their 12-month OPT authorization. The extension is available to qualified students who are employed by businesses enrolled in DHS's E-Verify program. At this time, only one FIT major falls within the DHS-designated STEM fields, so, unfortunately, most FIT students are ineligible for this benefit.
4. Severe Economic Hardship-Based Employment
After one full academic year in F-1 status, students who experience severe changes in their financial situation caused by unforeseen circumstances that affect their ability to complete studies in the US may apply for authorization for employment to subsidize their studies. Serious declines in currency exchange, costly unexpected medical conditions, significant tuition or cost-of-living increases, and/or a personal tragedy that affects your studies' funding are some of the circumstances that USCIS might consider. This application must be accompanied by extensive documentation of the unexpected change in finances. If approved, an Employment Authorization Card will be issued by the USCIS, allowing you to work off campus. The employment may not exceed 20 hours per week while maintaining full-time registration, does not have to be related to your field of study, and may not begin until proper authorization has been granted. If granted, Severe Economic Hardship authorization will be allotted in renewable one-year increments up to the completion of the current program of study, the end date on the Employment Authorization Card, or one's failure to maintain status, whichever occurs first. This time is not deducted from the 12 months of Optional Practical Training.
Social Security and Income Taxes
Students who plan to earn income in the U.S. must apply for a Social Security Administration account for tax purposes. Click on SSA for further information on all Social Security matters. Keep in mind that students in F-1 status are required to file annual U.S. tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and their state and local governments. Consult our office for more information on tax requirements for F-1 students, or, for detailed information and appropriate forms, click on IRS, NY Tax for residents of New York, and NJ Tax for New Jersey residents. These important work-related topics are covered in the Work in the US information session.