Work regulations for F-1 students
Students in F-1 status are eligible to work both on and off campus. No authorization is required in order to work on campus and students may work at any non-work/study job which meets the regulatory criteria for on-campus employment. On the other hand, off-campus employment always requires prior authorization either from International Services or from U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), depending on the type. Students who engage in off-campus employment without first obtaining the required authorization are in violation of immigration regulations and risk termination of their status.
Please review the detailed information about employment on this site and be sure to consult International Services before engaging in any off-campus employment.
On-campus employment for F-1 students
Immigration regulationsF-1 students can work part time (up to 20 hours per week) on campus while they are attending classes and full time (more than 20 hours per week) during vacation semesters or when classes are not in session.
You can work 20 hours per week during the fall and winter semesters. If you are taking fewer than six credits in the summer term, you can work up to 35 hours. If you are taking at least six credits during the summer, work is limited to 20 hours per week.
How to look for an on-campus job
First visit the Financial Aid Office, on the ground floor of the Fisher Administration Center. There you will find postings advertising jobs available on campus. International students are eligible to work only at non work-study jobs — jobs which are not funded by the federal (U.S.) or state government. If you do not find any non work-study job opportunities listed, try visiting individual areas such as the library, Public Safety or the computer labs. Graduate students may also be able to find jobs as research or teaching assistants. Check with your department for information on these positions. You must secure a job no later than October 31 for the fall term and February 28 for the winter term.
Doing the paperwork
If you find a job, report immediately to the Financial Aid Office to complete your employee paperwork. Ask for the International Student Employee Packet. The packet contains an I-9 (Employment Eligibility) form. You must fill out this form and have your employment eligibility verified by the ISO within three days of being hired.
For additional information about working on campus as an international student, please visit the Financial Aid website.
Off-campus work regulations for F-1 students
Students who have been in F-1 status for two consecutive academic terms are eligible for off-campus employment in a position directly related to their field of study. This type of employment is called "practical training." There are two kinds of practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).
Students may participate in CPT only while enrolled at an institution, and the employment must be an integral part of the institution's established curriculum. That is, the work must be essentially an educational experience, integrating training in the workplace with learning in the classroom (for example, an internship required for graduation or cooperative education). On the other hand, OPT does not have a required educational component and it is available to students both while they are enrolled in an academic program and after they graduate.
Students are eligible for one year of full-time optional practical training. Students with a degree in certain fields of science, engineering and mathematics who have been approved for 12 months of OPT are eligible to apply for an extension of an additional 17 months.
F-1 regulations do not limit the length of time a student can engage in curricular practical training. However, students who have participated in 12 months or more of full-time CPT are not eligible for OPT.
Most Detroit Mercy international students who work off campus participate in CPT while enrolled, then engage in OPT after completing their program.
Practical training always requires authorization. You may not engage in CPT until you have been authorized by the International Services Office. Authorization for CPT can be granted within a few days of application. Before engaging in OPT, you must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The approval process for OPT can take several months.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
As stated above, curricular practical training must be integrated with the school's curriculum. You cannot be authorized to participate in CPT simply because the off-campus work you wish to do is related to your major field of study. Some examples of work that can be authorized as CPT are an internship or practicum (including student teaching and clinicals done at a hospital) required by the department for degree completion, a credit-bearing training program described in the school's course catalog or cooperative education. If you are unsure whether a particular job meets the criteria for curricular practical training, please consult the foreign student advisor in the ISO.
Here is a summary of the immigration regulations governing curricular practical training:
- The position must be directly related to the major indicated at item No. 5 on your I-20 form.
- The training must be an integral part of an established curriculum.
- Before you are eligible to participate in curricular practical training, you must have maintained status for two consecutive academic terms, including vacation terms. For example, if you registered for the first time in the winter term, you would be eligible to work in the fall term. If you transferred to Detroit Mercy from another U.S. school, time spent in status in an academic program at that school counts toward the two terms.
- Before you can begin employment, you must be authorized to work by a Designated School Official in the ISO (usually the foreign student advisor).
- Curricular practical training can be part time (up to 20 hours per week) or full time (more than 20 hours per week). If you are authorized for part-time work, you must be registered for a full load of courses: 12 credits for undergraduates; nine credits for graduate students. If you are authorized to work full time, you will be required to register only for the course that relates to your employment.
- Immigration regulations do not limit the length of time you can participate in CPT, but if you engage in 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you won't be eligible for any optional practical training after finishing your program.
- You may not do curricular practical training after completion of studies.
If you have obtained employment that meets the criteria for CPT and you are eligible per USCIS regulations to engage in CPT, the foreign student advisor will authorize you to work by issuing you a new SEVIS I-20 endorsed on Page 3 for curricular practical training. The authorization will state the name and address of the company, whether the work is full time or part time, and the dates you are authorized to work. Show this to your employer to confirm your authorization to engage in curricular practical training.
Important: Authorization for CPT is granted on a semester to semester basis and is valid only for the employer and dates indicated on Page 3 of your I-20. You must be re-authorized by the ISO in the following cases:
- You wish to be employed during the next semester (even if you are continuing the same job).
- You change jobs during the semester.
- You wish to change from part-time to full-time work or vice-versa during the semester.
Curricular Practical Training and Cooperative Education
At Detroit Mercy, most students authorized by the ISO to engage in curricular practical training are participating in the cooperative education (co-op) program. Cooperative education is a required part of the curriculum for undergraduate architecture, engineering and nursing students. Co-op is also available to students in most undergraduate majors except dental hygiene and education and is available on a limited basis to graduate students. Co-op is generally not available to post-graduate/doctoral-level students.
If co-op is required for your major or if you are interested in working off campus through the co-op program, it is important that you familiarize yourself early in your stay at Detroit Mercy with the services of the Detroit Mercy Career Education Center and with the CEC's Guide to Cooperative Education for information about additional requirements, policies and procedures.
Undergraduate students are not eligible for co-op until the end of their sophomore year and must have been in F-1 status for at least 2 consecutive academic terms, including summer vacation terms.
Graduate students are not eligible for co-op until the second semester at Detroit Mercy if they have been in F-1 status for at least one term elsewhere or after being in F-1 status at Detroit Mercy for at least two consecutive academic terms, including summer vacation terms.
You must be in good academic standing with a minimum GPA. (Minimum GPA varies by program and level. (Please refer to the Guide to Cooperative Education for specifics).
The co-op program limits undergraduates to three full-time or six part-time co-op experiences for academic credit and one full-time or two part-time experiences for non-credit.
Graduate students are limited to two full-time or four part-time co-op experiences for academic credit and one full-time or two part-time experiences for non-credit.
All full-time co-op experiences are alternating. That is, you cannot participate in full-time co-op two semesters in a row.
You must complete at least 12 weeks of full-time or part-time work during the academic term.
- You may not participate in co-op in the final semester of study unless it is a requirement for the degree (can be full- or part-time). If co-op is not required for the degree, it can only be done part-time and with other required on-campus academic coursework.
Remember that approval to participate in a co-op experience does not constitute authorization to work off campus. Once you have been approved for co-op by a coordinator in the Career Education Center or in your College, you must obtain authorization for curricular practical training from International Services before reporting to your job. Working without authorization is a violation of your F-1 status. If you are considering a cooperative education experience, it is a good idea to consult with the ISO foreign student advisor well in advance of the time you will need to obtain your authorization for CPT.
In order to be authorized for CPT under co-op, please present the following to the foreign student advisor in the ISO:
- Proof of registration for co-op credit
- An offer letter from your employer on employer letterhead stating the start and end date of the employment and the number of hours per week
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional practical training, like curricular practical training, is work in a position that is directly related to your field of study. However, OPT regulations do not require that the work be an integral part of a course of study and OPT can be done either before or after completion of studies. In addition, you do not need to have a job offer before applying for OPT.
Summary of immigration regulations pertaining to OPT
- Students are eligible to participate in OPT after two consecutive terms in status.
- The position must be directly related to the major indicated at item No. 5 on your I-20 form.
You are eligible for one year of full-time OPT. However, if you complete a degree, complete 12 months of optional practical training, and then complete a degree at a higher level, you are eligible for an additional year of optional practical training. If you use up your optional practical training, leave the country for a period of more than five months, then reenter and complete another two consecutive academic terms in F-1 status, you are then eligible for another 12 months of OPT. The same is true if you change from F-1 to another status for a period of more than five months, then change back to F-1 and complete the required eight months in status.
Students with a degree in certain fields of science, engineering and mathematics who are approved for 12 months of OPT are eligible to apply for an extension of an additional 17 months.
For students not eligible for an extension, all OPT must be completed within 14 months of the date of program completion.
If you have done 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training, you are not eligible for any OPT.
OPT is full time if done after completion of studies (post-completion OPT) and may be full time if done after completion of all degree requirements except the thesis. If done before completion of studies (pre-completion OPT), the employment must be part time while you attend classes and can be full time during vacation periods.
In the initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT available to all students, not more than 90 days of unemployment is permitted. Students who have obtained a 17-month extension may not be unemployed for more than 120 days during the aggregate 29-month period.
- You may attend school part time while engaging in full-time OPT as long as you do not begin a degree program at a higher level or complete a transfer to another school.
Applying for OPT
Before you apply, consider the following:
The starting date for your employment: For post-completion OPT, your starting date can be any day in the 60-day period following the date on which you complete your studies. The ISO considers the date of completion to be the date listed in the academic calendar as the official end of the term in which you finish your program.
The timing of your application: OPT requires authorization by USCIS. Your application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the date you finish your program (see above). The earliest you can submit an application to USCIS for post-completion OPT is 90 days before you finish your program. If you are applying for pre-completion OPT and you have not yet completed two consecutive terms in valid F-1 status, the earliest you may submit your application to USCIS is 90 days before the end of your second term. However, if you have completed the two terms in status, you may apply for pre-completion OPT up to 120 days before your chosen employment start date. Since the application process can take several months, you are advised to apply as early as permitted.
Click here to download the OPT application packet. The packet contains:
Academic Clearance form to be signed by your academic advisor certifying your expected date of completion (for students applying for post-completion OPT only)
USCIS form I-765 (application for employment authorization) and instructions for completing the form
Employment Information form
Information on applying for OPT
Submit to the foreign student advisor:
A money order (preferred) or check for $380, made payable to USCIS.
Two passport-size color photos (must be 2" x 2").
A copy of both sides of your I-94 card.
A copy of the information page of your passport or, if you do not have a passport, a copy of your driver's license. Your picture must show clearly. No dark copies accepted.
Completed form I-765.
Completed Employment Information form.
- Academic Clearance form signed by your academic advisor (if applicable).
The foreign student advisor will review these materials and, if all is in order, will recommend you for the requested period of OPT by issuing you a new SEVIS form I-20.
The application materials will be sent to USCIS. If you are approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). You may not begin to work until you receive this card and until the beginning date indicated on the card.
Once authorization is granted, it cannot be canceled. Time spent unemployed during your authorized period will be forfeited. Remember: students approved for 12 months of OPT may be unemployed for no more than 90 days during the twelve-month period. Students who have been granted a 17-month extension may be unemployed no more than 120 days during the aggregate period of 29 months. Authorization for employment ends once this limit has been reached.
Student's Responsibilities While on OPT
All students must provide the ISO with a copy of the EAD card and must inform the ISO within 10 days of a change of name or address, or any interruption of employment.
Students with a 17-month OPT extension must also inform the ISO of any change of employer name, employer address or the loss of employment. In addition, these students must make a validation report to the ISO every six months starting from the date the extension begins and ending when the student's F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels or transfers, or the 17-month OPT extension ends, whichever is first. The validation confirms the currency and accuracy of the student's name and address, employer information and/or loss of employment.
Under no circumstances should you leave the United States prior to applying for OPT, if OPT is your intent. To do so will end F-1 status and all available benefits. OPT may not be recommended by the ISO after completion of the program of study and departure from the country before filing an OPT application with the ISO at Detroit Mercy.
While it is not recommended, you are permitted to depart the U.S. and reenter as long as your OPT application is pending with USCIS and you have the I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) from the USCIS. Nevertheless, it is strongly recommended that you do not travel until receiving an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card and a job offer. When OPT is approved, if you have finished your academic program, you may not reenter the U.S. from abroad unless you have an EAD card, as well as a job or an offer of employment. (If you are a Canadian student and are living in Canada, please consult the ISO for information.)
If you have your EAD card and a job, you may return to the U.S. to resume employment after a temporary absence of not more than five months. You will need a valid visa, your EAD card and your I-20 with an endorsement for travel on Page 3 which is no more than six months old.
Severe Economic Necessity Employment
Students in F-1 status who are experiencing extreme financial hardship due to circumstances beyond their control may apply to USCIS to work off campus at any type of job for a one-year period.
In order to be eligible:
You must have maintained your F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters.
You must be in good academic standing and be carrying a full course of study.
The financial hardship must be due to circumstances beyond your control. For example, the currency exchange rate has substantially declined, you have lost your on-campus employment, or you have large, unexpected medical bills.
On-campus employment opportunities must be either unavailable or insufficient to meet your needs.
This type of employment is limited to 20 hours per week while you are attending classes. It may be full time while you are on vacation or during school holidays.
It is quite difficult to obtain this type of work permission and your application must be carefully documented. If you believe you qualify for this type of employment, the foreign student advisor can help you to apply.
On-campus employment regulations for students in J-1 status are essentially the same as those for students in F-1 status: You are permitted to work part time (up to 20 hours per week) while attending classes and full time (more than 20 hours per week) during vacation period and school holidays. University rules for on-campus employment also apply. For more information, please refer to the section on F-1 on-campus employment above.
Students in J-1 status are eligible to work off-campus work in their field of study only. This type of employment is referred to as academic training. At Detroit Mercy, a period of academic training is often a part the J-1 program.
- You must be authorized by the ISO before you can begin to work.
- Have your employer write a letter of offer stating the dates of employment and the employer's address.
- Take this letter to your academic advisor or dean and ask him or her to complete a Recommendation for Academic Training for J-1 Student form. (If your advisor does not have a copy of this form, please ask for one at the ISO.)
- Bring the advisor Recommendation form to the ISO. Upon receipt of these forms, the ISO director will issue you a letter which authorizes you to work. Show this letter to your employer when you report to work.
Social Security card
Students in F-1 status:
In order to obtain a Social Security card, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- You have obtained on-campus employment at your school
- You have been authorized for Curricular Practical Training by a Designated School Official (DSO) at your school
- You have been authorized for Optional Practical Training by USCIS
When applying for a Social Security card, you must present the following documents:
- Passport (Canadians who do not have a passport may present a Canadian birth certificate.)
- I-94 card
- One of the following:
- For on-campus employment, a letter from the DSO that identifies your employer and the type of work you are, or will be, doing AND evidence of that employment such as a recent pay slip or a letter from your employer. The letter must describe your job, your employment start date, the number of hours you are, or will be working, and your supervisor's name and telephone number. The letter must be printed on University letterhead, signed by your supervisor and dated. A form letter is available for your supervisor to fill out online.
- Form I-20 with Page 3 endorsed for Curricular Practical Training by a DSO
- Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) issued by USCIS (for Optional Practical Training)
Students in J-1 status:
When applying for a Social Security card, you must present the following documents:
- Passport (Canadians who do not have a passport may present a Canadian birth certificate.)
- I-94 card
- A work authorization letter from the Responsible Officer (RO) at your school (for on- or off-campus work)
At the Social Security Office, you will be asked to fill out an application. Depending on the time of day you visit the office, you should expect to wait up to one or two hours.
Although you may visit any Social Security office to obtain your card, we recommend that you visit the one near the McNichols Campus. Since they are familiar with Detroit Mercy foreign-student applications, there should be less likelihood of problems.
Working under other statuses
Once you have found off-campus employment, you may find that your employer is willing to sponsor you for H-1B status, or even for adjustment to Permanent Resident status. If your employer intends to file a petition for you, you should be sure to consult the company's attorneys about the regulations and procedures involved so you have a thorough understanding of your situation and can avoid any problems with your status that might arise.
Applying for TN Status (Canadian & Mexican Citizens Only)
Under the terms of the NAFTA trade agreement, Canadian and Mexican citizens (not landed immigrants) in certain professions are eligible to work in the U.S. in TN status. To see a list of qualifying professions, click here. TN status is currently granted for a period of six months to one year and is renewable indefinitely.
Application for TN status is made at a U.S. port of entry (including border points and international airports). The applicant must present:
- Proof of Canadian or Mexican citizenship
- A letter of offer from a prospective American employer, which includes a description of the position, the job title, the salary and benefits, and the anticipated length of stay
- Any diplomas, transcripts or professional licenses which show that the applicant meets the criteria to perform the occupation at a professional level
This U.S. work visa status may generally be used for persons and categories not eligible for the TN visa status. For more information, click here and speak with your employer.
International students who work in the U.S. may be required to pay income taxes on all or part of their earnings (including tuition remission). Although the ISO does not offer advice or assistance with specific tax matters, the following general information may be of help:
- The U.S. agency responsible for the collection of taxes is called the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
- Any student who was present in the U.S. for any part of the previous tax year (calendar year) must file IRS form 8843, whether or not he or she had income.
- You must also file IRS form 1040 NR or 1040 NR-EZ in addition to Form 8843 if you had U.S. earned income (or tuition remission in exchange for services as a teaching or research assistant) in excess of $3,300, had wages or scholarship income exempt by treaty, or are due a refund of taxes.
- Students employed in the U.S. are subject to income tax withholding. That is, the employer deducts some of your wages each pay period to pay any income tax you may owe to federal (U.S.), state and local governments.
- When you are first hired, your employer will require you to fill out form W4. This form allows your employer to withhold the correct amount from each of your paychecks. Sample W4s for federal, state and local withholding are available at the ISO.
- After the end of the tax year, your employer will send you a form W2. This form reports to both you and the government how much money has been withheld to pay your taxes. You must submit this form when you file your income taxes (due April 15). When you have figured how much tax you owe, you will compare this amount to the amount on the W2. If your employer has withheld more than the amount of the tax that you owe, the government will refund the additional amount to you. If you owe more money than your employer has withheld, you will be required to pay the additional money to the IRS when you file your taxes.
- In some cases there is a tax treaty between the student's country and the U.S. which makes all or part of the student's wages exempt from taxes. Students should check IRS publication 901 (U.S. Tax Treaties) to find out if they are exempt from taxation and withholding under a treaty. If a student claims to be exempt under a treaty, he must file IRS Form 8233 with his employer.
At tax filing time, forms are available at the Detroit Mercy library. In addition, you can obtain information and download IRS forms and publications at any time of the year from the IRS website: www.irs.gov.
Although ISO staff members are not qualified to offer advice or assist you in filing your income tax return, we can confidently refer you to a website created by the University of Texas at Austin that can guide you through the federal tax filing process.
For problems that cannot be resolved through this resource, please consult a tax preparation service or a tax attorney or visit the IRS website for instructions on how to obtain information on federal tax filing from the IRS.
Social Security Taxes
Most U.S. workers are required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. These taxes provide income and medical care benefits to retired workers who have paid into the fund. These taxes, like income taxes, are withheld from employees' wages each pay period. However, students in F-1 and J-1 status who have been in the U.S. for less than five years do not have to pay Social Security taxes and should not have these taxes withheld from their paychecks. Since not all U.S. employers are aware of these regulations, you should make sure when you are first hired that your employer is informed of them. The ISO has printed information packets available which students may present to their employers. Should your employer withhold Social Security taxes, you can receive a full refund, either from the employer or the government. Consult IRS publication 519 for more detailed information.