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Current International Students

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.


On Campus Employment

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.

Off Campus Employment

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)


Curricular Practical Training

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.

Optional Practical Training

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 SEVIS Update Request 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, and all previous I-20s.

  • Check for $410 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 Ryerson Hall 126.  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.

After applying:

  • USCIS will generally spend a response in the form of a letter within two (2) weeks.  This letter will have a receipt number, which you will need to keep on hand to check your application status.
  • You may not work until you have received your EAD card.
  • You may travel across the U.S. and across the border; however, if you are approved while you are out of the country, you  may have issues returning if you are approved during your absence and do not have proof of employment.
  • You must continue to keep in contact with the International Student Office.

Upon Approval:

  • You will receive your EAD card via mail.
  • You will receive an email from do-not-reply.sevp@ice.dhs.gov to set up your account for the SEVP Portal. Make sure you set up your account within 30 days or the link in the email will no longer be valid.
  • Report changes in name, address, email address, and employment to your DSO or through the SEVIS OPT Portal within 10 days of any change using the OPT SEVIS Update Request Form
  • You have a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. This number is cumulative for the entire year.  If you are having issues finding employment after 60 days, it is strongly recommended to contact your DSO to explore your options.


24-Month OPT STEM Extension

You may qualify for an additional 24 months of OPT under the following circumstances:

  • You have been granted OPT and are currently in a valid period of OPT;

  • 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.

  • The employer from which you are seeking employment uses the E-Verify program.

  • You have not previously received a 17 or 24-month extension of OPT.

How to apply:

For a detailed checklist on what must be filed, click HERE. You will be required to contact the International Student Office for an updated I-20.  Please allow up to five (5) business days for processing.

After applying:

  • 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 must continue to report changes in name, address, email address, and employment to your DSO or through the SEVIS OPT Portal within 10 days of any change using the OPT SEVIS Update Request Form

Employer requirements:

If an employer wants to provide a practical training opportunity to a STEM OPT student during his/her extension, they must:

  • Be enrolled in E-Verify and remain in good standing
  • Report material changes to the STEM OPT student's employment to the DSO within 5 business days
  • Implement a formal training program to augment the student's academic learning through practical experience.
  • Provide an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours and compensation.
  • Complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.  Instructions may be found HERE.  In this form, employer must attest that:
    • You have enough resources and trained personnel available to appropriately train the student;
    • The student will not replace a full-or part-time , temporary or permanent U.S. worker; and
    • Working for you will help the student attain his or her training objectives. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may visit your worksite(s) to verify whether you are meeting the STEM OPT program requirements, including whether you are maintaining the ability and resources to provide structured and guidecd work-based learning experiences for the STEM OPT student. More information on Employer Resposibilities may be found HERE.

For more information, please refer to the DHS STEM OPT Hub

SOURCE: www.uscis.gov

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