COVID-19 Updates for F-1 Students

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Employment

Student worker in the Bear's Den

International students under the F-1 visa are eligible for several categories of employment. However, your primary purpose in the U.S. is to study, not to work. Working off-campus is never allowed without prior authorization on your Form I-20. Unauthorized employment will result in the termination of your SEVIS record and may result in denial of future immigration benefits.

Some types of off-campus employment require authorization from the International Student Program (ISP) and/or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). In any case, international students may not work off-campus during their first year of F-1 status. Please see the following sections for more information.

  • On-Campus Employment
    All F-1 students are eligible to work on-campus, and no authorization from ISP or USCIS is required.

    Limitations: 

    F-1 visa regulations state that on-campus employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session and 40 hours per week during summer. However, SRJC policy limits student employee/STNC positions to 25 hours per week. Therefore, you may not work more than 25 hours per week during the summer. 

    Eligibility Requirements:

    • You must be enrolled full-time or have an approved Reduced Course Load (RCL) for the term that you wish to work on-campus. Furthermore, SRJC policy requires student employees to be enrolled in a minimum of 6 units during the semester and 3 units during the summer to be eligible for on-campus employment. 
    • You may start working on-campus as soon as you have completed orientation and receive a job offer.
    • You may not work during the 60-day grace period after completion of your studies.
    • You must apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) in order to receive wages in the U.S.
    • If you have an approved Reduced Course Load (RCL), you must remain enrolled in at least 6 units to be eligible to work on-campus.

    Application Process:

    1. Enroll full-time and attend the ISP Orientation Day.
    2. Visit the Student Employment office and apply for on-campus jobs.
    3. Receive a job offer letter from Student Employment.
    4. Provide the letter from Student Employment to ISP, who will return it with a letter of employment eligibility signed by your DSO.
    5. Bring both letters, your passport and F-1 visa, Form I-20, and I-94 record to the Social Security Administration and apply for your SSN.
    6. Bring your SSN application receipt to Student Employment to start working.
    7. Bring your SSN card to Student Employment to be eligible to get paid.
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
    If you are going to receive income in the U.S., you must apply for a Social Security Number (SSN). The SSN is used to track your income for tax purposes, among other things. To apply for an SSN, you must bring the following documents to the Social Security Administration office in Santa Rosa:
    • Job Offer Letter or EAD Card for OPT
    • Letter of Eligibility from your DSO
    • Passport
    • F-1 Visa
    • I-94 Record (retrievable online)
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
    Students who wish to gain professional experience in their major field of study can apply for CPT authorization. This is a special benefit of the F-1 visa allowing you to work off-campus in a field directly related to your major. For more information about CPT rules and regulations for F-1 students, visit the DHS website.

    CPT Eligibility Requirements:

    • You must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year.
    • You must be in good academic standing.
    • You must be enrolled full-time & in the appropriate 99i course.
    • Work is authorized for a specific employer and position that is directly related to your major.
    • Employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and 40 hours per week during official school breaks. Full-time CPT during a semester is only allowed if you only need 6 units or fewer to graduate and have received a Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization in your final semester.
    • CPT may be renewed each semester, limited to 12 months of full-time CPT or you will lose your OPT eligibility.
    • CPT must be approved by DSO (no USCIS application required).

    Examples of CPT jobs:

    • Culinary Arts Major – Working in a bakery.
    • Computer Science Major – Designing a web page for a local company.
    • Business Administration Major – Working at the Sonoma County Assessor’s Office.
    • Viticulture Major – Working the harvest season for a local winery.

    CPT Application Process:

    1. Make an appointment to meet with Lauralyn Larsen at the SRJC Career Hub (call 527-4329). She will explain Work Experience or Internship course requirements and determine your eligibility. 
    2. Apply for jobs related to your major. Obtain a job offer letter from the employer (see sample). 
    3. Register for the appropriate Work Experience or Internship course using the add code provided by Lauralyn. 
    4. Submit the CPT Request Form. Must be approved by the International Student Advisor and the Internship Coordinator.
    5. Get your new I-20 from the International Student Advisor at ISP and start working. DO NOT BEGIN WORKING BEFORE YOU RECEIVE THE I-20. 

    Normal preparation time for CPT authorization is 5 business days. Once ISP receives your CPT application, you should receive the authorization on your Form I-20 in 1-3 business days.

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
    Students can apply for a 12-month work authorization following the completion of their program of study at SRJC. To ensure your eligibility for post-completion OPT, you should submit an Application for Certificate or Application for Degree at the beginning of your final semester of study. For more information about OPT rules and regulations for F-1 students, visit the DHS website.

    OPT Eligibility Requirements:

    • You must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year.
    • You must be in good academic standing when you apply.
    • Employment must be directly related to your program of study.
    • You must be on track to complete an AA/AS or Certificate Program at SRJC.
    • Must be recommended by DSO and approved by USCIS.
    • USCIS must receive your application during the 120-day application window (OPT approval takes ~90 days).

    OPT Application Period:

    USCIS must receive the OPT application no more than 90 days before or 60 days after the Program End Date listed on your I-20.

    For Spring 2019 graduates, USCIS must receive your OPT application between February 23rd and July 23rd. Once you receive the updated Form I-20 with the DSO's endorsement recommending OPT, USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days.

    OPT Limitations:

    • Unemployment is limited to 90 days during the 12 months
    • Post-completion OPT is limited to 12-months per educational level
    • Students who complete a Bachelor's Degree in a STEM field can apply for the 24-moth STEM OPT extension

    Post-Completion OPT Application Process:

    1. Attend an OPT/CPT Workshop (see our website for workshop dates).
    2. Apply for graduation and be sure you're on track to complete your program requirements this semester.
    3. Submit the OPT Request Form and prepare your application for USCIS:
      • Form I-765 with category (c)(3)(B) noted in Item 27 (be sure to read all of the instructions).
      • Optional Form G-1145 to get notification when your application has been received by USCIS.
      • Check or money order for $410 payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security."
      • Two passport-style photographs taken within the past 30 days and with your name and I-94 number written on back.
      • Form I-20 endorsed by DSO with OPT recommendation on page 2.
      • Copies of your passport, F-1 visa, I-94 record.
      • If applicable, copies of any previously issued EAD cards and Form I-20s with CPT authorization.
    4. Make an appointment to meet with your DSO to review your application and receive your new Form I-20 with recommended OPT.
    5. Mail your application to USCIS within 30 days of receiving the DSO recommendation.
    6. Receive your EAD in the mail and then start working.

      OPT Employment Reporting:

      You must report your employment during OPT including the information listed below (* indicates required field). Be sure to email employer and address updates to rpetrow@santarosa.edu within 10 days, or use the SEVP Portal to report changes to SEVIS.

      1. Employer Name*
      2. Employer EIN
      3. Job Title
      4. Start Date*
      5. End Date
      6. Full Time/Part Time*
      7. Employer Address*
      8. Supervisor Name
      9. Supervisor Phone
      10. Supervisor Email
      11. Explain how employment is related to student's course of study*
  • Economic Hardship
    Some students experience unexpected financial hardship while studying in the U.S. In special circumstances, USCIS will issue a work authorization for economic hardship.

    Economic Hardship Eligibility Requirements:

    • You must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year.
    • You must be in good academic standing.
    • There must be financial circumstances beyond your control that caused you to suffer economic hardship.
    • You must be unable to get on-campus employment, or the jobs available must be insufficient to meet financial needs.
    • Must be recommended by DSO and approved by USCIS.
    • See the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website for more information on eligibility for Economic Hardship.

    Economic Hardship Application Process:

    1. You must get a DSO recommendation on your Form I-20 signifying that you meet the eligibility requirements.
    2. File USCIS Form I-765 and pay $410 application fee.
    3. Wait until you receive the EAD card to begin working.
    4. If approved, you must re-apply to USCIS each year.
  • Volunteering & Unpaid Internships
    F-1 students are allowed and encouraged to volunteer in the community. However, you should not confuse volunteering with unpaid internships. Volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation. Internships, both paid and unpaid, are primarily offered by the private sector and related to the intern’s major field of study. The U.S. Department of Labor has guidelines for those seeking an unpaid internship. 

    The following six criteria must be met for an internship to be considered a legitimate unpaid internship (and not employment below minimum wage, in violation of Department of Labor laws):

    • The internship, even though it includes actual operation on the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
    • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
    • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
    • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
    • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
    • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

    CPT authorization is strongly recommended for all unpaid internships, whether the student does or does not need to provide employment authorization documents to the company. The F-1 regulations are written in such a way that CPT is an authorization to do practical training as part of the curriculum for the academic program, and as such is significant in more ways than simply for the employer to verify employment eligibility. CPT authorization is more than just permission to get paid. You should have CPT authorization for unpaid internships for the following reasons:

    • CPT authorization by the university serves to demonstrate that this practical experience is part of the curriculum.
    • CPT authorization is a way of reporting in SEVIS the student's activity, employment, and location where they are working and therefore maintaining their status.
    • If ever a student is doing a job on an unpaid basis that someone would be hired and paid for, employment authorization in the form of CPT, OPT, etc. is advised.
    • If the unpaid internship at some point changes into a paid one (or if your employer decides to compensate you for your work in any way – for example, give you a monetary gift), you won’t be able to accept the payment if your internship was not authorized as CPT. Please keep in mind that F-1 students cannot be retroactively remunerated or in any way compensated for work done in an unpaid internship if they did not obtain work authorization prior to when the work was performed.

    Based on the above, we recommend that you apply for CPT authorization if you have an internship offer (paid or unpaid) that meets CPT eligibility criteria.

    If the position is unpaid and for some reason it is not possible for you to obtain CPT authorization, please make sure that your prospective supervisor is aware of U.S. Department of Labor regulations concerning unpaid internships and that you have assurances (preferably written) to that effect before you accept the position. We also recommend that at the end of your internship you ask your employer to provide you with a letter confirming that there was no remuneration or any other type of compensation provided in any form during the dates you were participating in the internship. Please keep such a letter for your permanent records.

  • Taxes
    Visit the Study in the States website where you can learn more about the basics of filing taxes. Each year, the deadline to file taxes for the previous calendar year is April 15th. Depending on your circumstances, you’ll need a specific form to prepare your tax return:
    • If you worked on- or off-campus in the U.S.: You’ll need a W-2 form from your employer to complete your tax return. The W-2 reports your annual wages and the amount of tax withheld from your paycheck. Contact your employer if you haven’t received this form by the end of February. Using the W-2 form, you will need to file Form 8843 and most likely Form 1040NR-EZ and CA Form 540NR.
    • If you received a scholarship or fellowship grant or any other source of U.S. income: you'll need to login to your SRJC Portal, look under Tax Credit, select the tax year, and you can see your scholarship information on your Form 1098. If you have received taxable scholarships in the last calendar year then you will need to file Form 8843 and most likely Form 1040NR-EZ. More information about scholarships and taxes is available on the SRJC website.
    • If you have not received any source of income: you’ll need to file Form 8843. All international students and scholars are required to file tax forms even if they didn’t work or receive income in the U.S.

    Look up each individual form's instruction sheet to see when and where to file your tax forms. SRJC faculty and staff are prohibited from giving tax preparation advice. For tax preparation assistance, there are a number of legal resources, including online software programs (see Glacier or SprinTax), free community services (try CAP Sonoma), and a number of local accounting firms.

Disclaimer: ISP is able to provide you with general guidance. However, any advice provided to you by our office, does not constitute legal advice. Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, USCIS may change its interpretation of immigration polices, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. This office will do its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.