Working (F-1 Students)
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International Student Employment Options

International students who are interested in working while studying at Northwestern are very limited on their options, especially in their first fiscal year at our institution. We encourage International Students to have a secure financial backing before attending any U.S. institution, as employment options on F-1 visas will not be enough to support a student while attending college.  Any money made while working as an F-1 student should only be considered supplemental income in addition to the costs of attending college.

Students on an F-1 visa are required to work no more than 20 hours per week overall while classes are in session (this does not mean 20 hours per job). Below are the options for working while on an F-1 Visa. Please note that, upon receiving any Employment Authorization document (Social security card, Employment Authorization card), it is strongly advised that you give a copy to the International Student office, along with keeping them informed of any employment that you have obtained. This is in order to protect you as an international student working while on an F-1 visa.


Northwestern allows international students to work on-campus for a maximum of 15 hours per week during the academic terms and up to 40 hours per week (full-time) during the academic breaks, such as spring break, summer break, or holiday break. International Students are responsible for finding their own on-campus employment.  Once they have obtained employment, they must apply for a Social Security card before being allowed to start working. In order to apply for a Social Security card, the student will need to ask their employer to send an email to the International Academic Adviser with the following information:

  • Name of Student
  • Job Description
  • Start Date
  • End Date
  • Supervisor's Name & Contact information

Upon receiving this information, the International Student Adviser will compose letters that show that the student has obtained employment and are authorized to work on-campus.  The student will take the letters, along with an application to the Social Security office in Enid. Should the student need a ride, they may request one by submitting a travel request. This process takes approximately two (2) weeks.  Upon receiving your Social Security card, it is a requirement that you give a copy of the card to the International Student office, along with the Human Resources department.


To qualify for off-campus employment, the student:

  • Must apply for authorization through the International Office and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • Must be currently in legal status
  • Must have been enrolled as an F-1 Student at Northwestern for a minimum of one academic year (9 months)

The options for off-campus employment are explained below.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

  • CPT must relate to your major and the experience must be part of your program of study.
  • When you enroll at the graduate level, your designated school official (DSO) may authorize CPT during your first semester if your program requires this type of experience. Ask your DSO for details.
  • Your DSO will provide you a new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that shows that the DSO has approved you for this employment.
  • You can work on CPT either full-time or part-time.
  • CPT requires a signed cooperative agreement or a letter from your employer.
  • If you have 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you are ineligible for OPT, but part-time CPT is fine and will not stop you from doing OPT.

Optical Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is employment that is directly related to your field of study.  It is designed to complement your academic work by providing you an opportunity to obtain actual work experience in your field of study. 

  • As an F-1 student you are allowed up to 12 months of OPT for each educational level you pursue. For example: if you take 12 months of OPT after completing your bachelor's degree, you are eligible for another 12 months of OPT for each additional level of degree program you complete (Master's, Ph.D).
    • You can use part of your 12 months of OPT before completing your degree (i.e., during the summer breaks), or
    • You can save the full year of OPT to use after you graduate. 
  • In order to be eligible for practical training you must be in lawful F-1 student status for at least one full academic year (9 months) and submit the application materials to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in a timely manner.
  • You may not begin work until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  • While school is in session, you are limited to 20 hours of work per week.
  • You must keep the International Student office up-to-date with any employment changes, including but not limited to new employers, or new contact information by submitting the OPT Employment Information form

For further information on OPT, you may refer to the OPT Policies, provided by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

What to file:

  • Completed Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” (instructions for filling out the form may be found here).  For best results:
    • Complete the form in blue ink
    • Attempt to make your signature no larger than 1" wide x ½” tall and do NOT cross the lines. (fit it in the white space). If your signature is too large, USCIS will return the application to you.
    • List a local address that is valid for the next three (3) months where you can receive all correspondence.
  • Two Photos – passport style. Print your name and admission number (found on your I-94 card) lightly on the back in pencil.
  • Copy of student visa, passport photo page, & I-94 card (both sides), and all previous I-20s.
  • Check for $380 made payable to Department of Homeland Security in order to receive EAD
  • Copies of any prior EAD cards (if applicable)

Upon gathering this information, bring these items to the International Student Office in Fine Arts 208.  The International Academic Adviser will provide a new I-20 and a letter that will show his/her recommendation for this employment and assist you in sending your OPT application.

17-Month OPT STEM Extension

You may qualify for an additional 17 months of OPT under the following circumstances:

  • The degree for your current period of post-completion OPT is a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) program listed here.
  • The employer from which you are seeking employment uses the E-Verify program.
  • You have not previously received a 17-month extension of OPT.
  • Your DSO will provide you with a new Form I-20 that shows the DSO recommendation for this employment on page two.
  • You must apply for work authorization by electronically filing a Form I-765 with USCIS and paying a filing fee. USCIS will send you an EAD upon approving your petition.
  • You may continue to work on your expired EAD for OPT up to 180 days while your 17-month extension petition is pending if you meet these conditions:
    • You are currently in a period of post-completion OPT.
    • You properly and in a timely manner filed your application for the 17-month extension with USCIS.
  • You must report changes in name, address, employer and loss of employment to your DSO within 10 days of any change.

Employment Based on Severe Economic Hardship

If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request employment authorization based on severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control. In order to be eligible for employment based on severe economic hardship, you must:

  • Be a valid F-1 status-holder for at least one academic year (nine months)
  • Be in good academic standing, and enrolled in a full course load
  • Be able to provide evidence of unforeseen economic hardship caused by circumstances beyond your control
  • Show that on-campus employment is either unavailable or insufficient
  • Guarantee that employment will not interfere with your studies

In order to file for employment based on Economic Hardship, you must bring the following items to the International Student Office in Fine Arts 208.

  • A personal statement describing the unforeseen hardship situation and, if possible, attach backup documentation; for example, news articles, a letter from home telling of a change in family circumstances or proof of a currency devaluation in your country, etc.
  • Completed Form I-765, using the code (C)(3)(iii) at item 16. Do not date the form until you are ready to send the application to the U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • Check for $380 made payable to Department of Homeland Security in order to receive EAD.  If you feel that you cannot afford this fee, you may apply for a fee waiver by filing a Form 912. For information on how requirements for receiving the fee waiver and information on how to fill out this form, please click here.
  • Copies of your current and previous I-20s
  • Copy of paper or print-out of electronic Form I-94.
  • Copy of your F-1 visa page (except Canadians) or I-797 (approval of change of status to F-1), if applicable
  • Copy of your unofficial transcript available from RangerNet.

The International Academic Advisor will write a letter of recommendation to include in your application and assist you in mailing it to USCIS.  This process can take three (3) months or more.