Resources for Current International Students
- On-Campus Employment for International Students
- Getting a Social Security Number
- Economic Hardship Employment
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
International Students cannot work without legal authorization. During the first year in F-1 status, you are eligible to work on-campus only. After you have completed one full year of academic study (two semesters), you may also apply for immigration permission to work off-campus in a position related to the major indicated on your I-20. However, you must obtain specific employment permission from either the International Office or from USCIS to accept ANY off-campus employment, even if it is for a co-operative education or internship experience required for completion of your degree. Any unlawful employment may jeopardize your eligibility for future USCIS benefits such as Practical Training and adjustment to other types of non-immigrant or immigrant status.
F-1 students in status can work on-campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and 40 hours a week during school breaks (if available). On-campus employment is facilitated through the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. On-campus employment opportunities are limited and not guaranteed. Students should not rely upon on-campus employment to fund their studies or as a substantial contribution to their finances.
Can I apply for a job off-campus?
No. Only students who suffer an economic hardship while on an F-1 student visa. Qualifying circumstances include an unforeseen financial problem while studying in the United States. If you meet certain conditions, you need to get off-campus employment authorization from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An economic hardship employment authorization will not allow you to earn enough to pay the cost of a full-time course of study that is required to keep your current F-1 student visa status. It should be a supplement to the student's income and should not be the sole source of support. Failure to comply with regulations means students may not be eligible for benefits normally granted to F-1 students and may jeopardize a student's stay in the U.S.
Find out more about student employment.
Federal and State Tax Returns
Even if you do not have a job in the U.S., You must submit U.S. Income Tax forms every year. All international students are required to file certain U.S. income tax forms every year even if you had NO U.S. source income. Tax Preparer Assistance Programs are available to help or you can stop by the ECC Financial Aid Office.
A social security number is a federal tax identification number used to file US and state income tax forms and to apply for other federal benefits. International Students have a process that they must follow if you’ve received a job offer. If you are studying at ECC as a student with an F-1 nonimmigrant status and have received an offer for on-campus employment or are legally authorized to work in off-campus employment, you may apply for a social security number from the U.S. Social Security Administration.
The closest Social Security Administration Office to campus is at
To qualify, students must prove one of the following:
- The student has received an offer for on-campus employment. You must present a letter from the designated school official (DSO) certifying your eligibility for on-campus employment (this letter is generated by the International and Programs Office and must be signed by the DSO). Learn about ECC On Campus Employment.
- A letter from your on-campus employer verifying employment (this letter is produced by the Scholarships and Financial Aid Office and must be signed by the Director of Financial Aid). Learn more at the ECC Financial Aid Office.
- The student has been authorized by a DSO for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to engage in an approved cooperative education or internship program. You must present your SEVIS I-20 showing your authorization for curricular practical training on page three of your I-20. See Form I-20 "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status."
- The student has been authorized for Optional Practical Training or Severe Economic Hardship (LINK) by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. You must present your employment authorization document (EAD) card issued by USCIS. Read details in Form I-765 "Application for Employment Authorization."
If you meet one of these requirements, you need to prepare documents 1-7 to apply for a social security number.
- Complete a social security card application, Form SS-5-FS "Application for a Social Security Card (Outside of the U.S.)."
- Get the proper employment authorization documents, as indicated above.
- Get a letter from the international student advisor verifying my F-1 student visa status and full-time enrollment at Elgin Community College.
- Get a copy of your current original Form I-20 "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status."
- Bring an original of your valid passport, and one additional document establishing your identity. See list of possible documents here.
- A copy of Form I-94 "Arrival/Departure Record."
- If you have changed your immigration status after entering the U.S., you will need to show your approval notice for change of status to F-1 international student.
- If you have transferred your immigration status after entering the U.S., you will need to show your approval notice for change of status to F-1 international student.
- If you have transferred to ECC from another U.S. college or university, you will need to show all original I-20 documents for any previous school attended.
- If you have transferred to ECC from another U.S. college or university, you will need to show all original Form I-20 "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status" for any previous school attended.
Economic hardship allows F-1 students affected by certain conditions and who have suffered severe financial hardship to apply for off-campus employment.
What is Economic Hardship Employment?
Economic Hardship Employment allows current F-1 students who experience an unforeseen financial hardship while studying in the United States to obtain off-campus employment authorization from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under certain conditions. Economic Hardship Employment can help in difficult instances to supplement a student’s income and/or sponsorship. Economic hardship employment authorization will not allow an F-1 to earn enough to bear the cost of full-time course of study required to maintain F-1 student status. It is a supplement to the student’s income and should not be the sole source of support.
Who is eligible for Economic Hardship Employment?
To be eligible for Economic Hardship Employment, an F-1 student must meet the following conditions per federal regulations:
- Completed at least one full academic year of study (full-time enrollment in the fall and spring semesters) and be in good standing with ECC.
- Prove to USCIS that employment is necessary due to severe economic hardship caused by circumstances beyond his or her control that arose after obtaining F-1 status. Examples of unforeseen economic hardship include "loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial conditions of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses."
- Be capable of continuing full-time study while engaging in Economic Hardship Employment.
Economic Hardship Employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session and 40 hours per week during official school breaks. Students may work in any field and, unlike OPT or CPT, the job does not need to be related to the student’s course of study. Authorization is granted in one-year intervals, up to the expected date of completion of studies. Students must reapply to USCIS each year to renew work authorization; authorization becomes invalid if a student transfers schools.
Economic Hardship Employment requires a student to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and receive the EAD before employment begins. Students must be able to demonstrate the unforeseen economic hardship and receive the recommendation of the International Office in order to apply for Economic Hardship Employment.
Important reminders about economic hardship employment:
- If an application is preliminarily approved, the International Office will inform USCIS and will issue a new Form I-20 with work authorization. Students cannot begin work until he or she receives an EAD card.
- Apply for a social security number only after receipt of the EAD card and a job offer.
- It is the student’s responsibility to comply with all immigration regulations which apply to F-1 students, including employment regulations. Working without proper authorization is a serious violation of F-1 status. Failure to comply with regulations means students may not be eligible for benefits normally granted to F-1 students and may jeopardize a student’s stay in the U.S.
Applying for Economic Hardship
To begin, complete and submit the economic hardship application.
What is Curricular Practical Training
Curricular practical training (CPT) allows students in the United States on an F-1 visa to seek authorization for practical training. Using this authorization, you can engage in temporary employment to gain practical experience in your field of study. To qualify, CPT must be “an integral part of an established curriculum.” Students must be enrolled in a course that provides academic credit for CPT.
CPT can be an alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with ECC for which the student receives credit. This can be a required part of the program where employment is required in the field of study to graduate or a non-required part of the program where the practical experience is for credit and directly related to the student’s field of study.
To be eligible for CPT, an F-1 student must have completed at least one full academic year of study (full-time enrollment in the fall and spring semesters) and work in a position that is an integral part of the established curriculum. Students in the Intensive English Program are not eligible for CPT. Students applying for CPT must be in good academic standing per SOAP (Standards of Academic Progress) guidelines.
CPT may be granted for either part-time (maximum of 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) employment. Students may engage in CPT only for the specific employer, location, and period approved and recorded by the DSO in SEVIS. The student must have an offer of employment from an employer offering work that qualifies as curricular practical training and receives written authorization from the DSO before work begins. USCIS approval is not required. Students on CPT must maintain a full course load at all times unless previously approved for a reduced course load (RCL).
If you have been authorized for Curricular Practical Training, see details about getting a social security card here. Remember, students on CPT must apply for and receive a social security number prior to beginning work.
Applying for Curricular Practical Training
To begin, complete, and submit the curricular practical training application.
What is the effect of CPT on OPT?
There is no regulatory limit on either the number of times or the length of time a student may engage in either part-time or full-time CPT. This will be governed by the nature of the training and the requirements of the student's program. F-1 students who engage in an aggregate of 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training, however, become ineligible for optional practical training (OPT) at the educational level the CPT is authorized.
Important reminders about CPT:
- If the CPT application is approved, the DSO will inform USCIS and will issue a new Form I-20 with CPT authorization.
- CPT cannot begin until authorized by the Center for International Education and Programs. This authorization is only valid for a specific employer, location, and period and on a part-time or full-time basis as approved and recorded by the International Office.
- If there are any changes regarding a student’s employment, the student must notify the DSO so that the student’s SEVIS record can be updated. Processing time is 3-5 business days.
- It is the student’s responsibility to comply with all immigration regulations which apply to F-1 students, including employment regulations. Working without proper authorization is a serious violation of F-1 status and may jeopardize the student’s stay in the U.S.
What is Optical Practical Training (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization that allows F-1 visa students to secure practical training directly related to their major area of study. There are three types of OPT: pre-completion OPT (OPT done prior fulfilling all graduation requirements and while enrolled full-time); post-completion OPT (OPT completed after all requirements for graduation have been met) and 17-month STEM OPT (associate’s degree students are ineligible for STEM OPT). All OPT requests must be submitted in writing, approved by the DSO and recommended by the DSO in SEVIS.
To be eligible for OPT, an F-1 student must have completed at least one full academic year of study (full-time enrollment in the fall and spring semesters) and work in a position directly related to their course of study. Students in the Intensive English Program are not eligible for OPT. Students applying for pre-completion OPT must be in good academic standing per SOAP (Standards of Academic Progress) guidelines. F-1 visa students are allowed 12 months of full-time OPT at each educational level (associates, bachelor, masters, and doctorate). OPT may be granted for either part-time (maximum of 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) employment and may be used during the following time periods as indicated:
- During the summer term (or annual vacation) – part-time or full-time
- During the academic year – Part-time only
- After completion of all degree requirements - Full-time only
If you have been authorized for Optional Practical Training see details about getting a social security card here.
To begin, complete, and submit the optional practical training application.
What is pre-completion OPT?
OPT is OPT "authorized to be worked before the student's program end date. Students with approved pre-completion OPT may work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Students who are eligible to register for the next term, and who plan to do so, may have approval to work full-time when school is not in session" (SEVP OPT Policy Guidance 3.2.1-2).
Students must remain enrolled in a full course of study during pre-completion OPT. Students may apply for pre-completion OPT "up to 90 days before being enrolled for one full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not start prior to the completion of the full academic year" (8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(11)(i)(B)(1)).
Students are allowed 12 months of OPT at each educational level; the time worked during pre-completion OPT counts towards the 12 month total and is deducted at a rate of 50 percent. For example, if a student work six months pre-completion OPT; they will have taken away three months of post-completion OPT. Only nine months of post-completion OPT would then be available. ECC encourages students to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of completing pre-completion OPT while maintaining a full course of study.
What is post-completion OPT?
Post-completion OPT is granted to students who will work after completion of a course of study. Students may file for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before the program completion date and before the end of the student's program completion grace period (60 days after degree completion). A student must file for OPT within 30 days of the DSO's recommendation in SEVIS. Students should apply for OPT before completion of coursework. The application for OPT must arrive at the USCIS office before the 60 day grace period is over. The OPT start date must begin within the grace period (i.e., within 60 days of graduation) and cannot be changed once processed.
Post-completion OPT requires that you work at least 20 hours or more per week. Before applying for post-completion OPT, you must submit a signed letter from the ECC Assistant Registrar that you are eligible for and have applied for graduation.
Important reminders about OPT:
- Terminate all on-campus employment
- You may only work until the last day of the term in which you complete your degree requirements. You cannot be engaged in on-campus employment and OPT (off-campus employment) at the same time.
- Verify completion of all degree requirements.
- All degree requirements need to be completed before beginning post-completion OPT.
- If degree requirements are not finished, OPT employment cannot begin until degree requirements are completed and OPT employment time already granted by USCIS will be lost.
- Verify your mailing address
- Home address needs to be valid for at least 90 days after applying to avoid the return of the application by USCIS. College address may be used if you are unsure of an address change. You are required to inform ECC of any address or phone number changes within 10 days. USCIS requires you to update this information with the International Office to maintain your immigration status while on OPT.
- Be aware of travel risks
- You should not travel outside the U.S. until receiving the EAD card from USCIS. USCIS may consider pending applications to be abandoned if the applicant departs the U.S before receiving the EAD card.
- For travel outside the U.S. after receiving the EAD card, you must have the following documents in your possession to be granted re-entry to the U.S.: a letter from your employer verifying employment; latest pay stub; a valid passport, valid F-1 visa, and a valid I-20 document with a travel signature that is less than 6 months old. Note you cannot travel outside the U.S. without a job offer that is verifiable through your employer.
- If you travel outside the U.S. and your F-1 visa is not valid, you must apply for one at the U.S. Embassy in your home country. Please note that it may be difficult to obtain a new F-1 visa if degree requirements are already completed and the sole reason for returning to the U.S. is to complete Optional Practical Training.
- Keep in contact with the International Office
- You are still considered a student at ECC while engaging in OPT. It is your responsibility to ensure your contact information is up to date with ECC and the International Office.
- You are required to notify the International Office of your planned departure date upon completion of OPT.
- Unemployment while on OPT
You must not be unemployed for more than 90 days while on OPT, or you will be considered out of status. USCIS has allowed volunteering on OPT as long as the work is directly related to your major.
Information and employer verification
For F-1 visa students currently on OPT, you are required to report any changes in employment to the Center for International Education and Programs within 10 days of any change. You are still considered a student at ECC while engaging in OPT. It is your responsibility to ensure your contact information is up to date with ECC and the Center for International Education and Programs.
Federal regulations require an F-1 student on OPT to report "any change of name or address, or interruption of such employment to the DSO for the duration of the authorized training." A student is also required to maintain full-time employment and report the details of the employment, including any changes in employment status. Employment must be related to the student's completed degree. A student may be required to show proof that employment is related to his/her degree.
SEVP's OPT Policy Guidance states that the following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to his/her program of study.
Qualifying employment for post-completion OPT
- Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's program of study. For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week. A student may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to his/her program of study.
- Payment by multiple short-term employers. Per SEVP, a student may work for multiple short term employers (gigs) BUT must maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
- Work for hire. Per SEVP, this is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, a student should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed business owner. A student may start a business and be self-employed. The student must be able to prove that he/she has the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to his/her degree program.
- Employment through an agency. Per SEVP, if a student is on post-completion OPT, he/she must be able to provide evidence showing he/she worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
- Volunteers or unpaid interns: Standard OPT. Per SEVP OPT Policy Guidance, a student may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the employer, to verify that he/she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. Please note that if a student is unable to find paid employment and/or elects to work in a volunteer or unpaid internship capacity, he/she must consult with a DSO before accepting employment.
90 Day Unemployment Rule
Immigration regulations for OPT state that if a student is not employed 90 days after the start date listed on the EAD card, he/she is considered out of status. Unemployment is described as time spent without a qualifying job during OPT. Each day that the student is not employed is counted toward the limit on unemployment time. If a student is unable to secure a paid job and are coming to the 90 days of unemployment, he/she may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for post-completion OPT, and he/she must be able to provide evidence from the employer that he/she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of unpaid employment.
If a student exceeds the 90 day period of unemployment then he/she has violated his/her F-1 status. A student is then required to either:
- Apply to continue his/her education by a change of level or transfer to another SEVP certified school; OR
- Take action to otherwise maintain legal status by applying for another immigration status; OR
- Depart the United States.
Employment Verification and Reporting Requirements
A student must report his/her employer and position to ECC, including any changes to this information. To comply with federal regulations in reporting OPT employment, a student must complete the form and submit a letter from the employer on company letterhead with the following information:
- Employer name
- Employer address, phone number, and email
- Supervisor's name and contact information
- Position title
- Start date of employment
- End date of employment (if applicable; this is generally used only for contract or short-term gigs)
- Indicate whether the position is paid or unpaid
- Number of hours worked each week
- A description of the position's duties and responsibilities
Updating OPT Employment Information
Students on OPT should remember to keep copies of all pay stubs, contracts, and position descriptions. To update your OPT employment information, please submit the aforementioned documents.
To begin, complete and submit the OPT employment update application.