Student worker in the Bear's Den

One of the benefits of your F-1 visa is that you are eligible for several categories of employment in the United States. The International Student Program can help you understand your options for working both on- and off-campus.

Remember that your primary purpose in the U.S. is to study, not to work. Earning money for any service is never allowed without prior authorization on your Form I-20. If ISP receives irrefutable evidence that you worked without authorization, this will result in the termination of your SEVIS record and F-1 student status. 

Employment Categories

On-campus employment, practical training, and off-campus employment opportunities are all available to F-1 students. Some types of employment require authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Please review the various categories of employment below to learn about the eligibility requirements and application process for each option. International students cannot work off-campus during their first year of F-1 status.

On-Campus Employment

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


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 official school breaks. 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/winter break. 


There are several types of on-campus jobs:

  • Student Employment – Only currently enrolled SRJC students may be hired for these positions. All Student Employment jobs pay the same wage ($15/hr) and hiring is managed by the SRJC Student Employment office: https://careerhub.santarosa.edu/student-employee
    • F-1 Students are not eligible to apply for Federal Work Study (FEW) funded positions
  • STNC (Short-Term Non-Continuing) – Anyone can be hired as an STNC. These are temporary positions that offer various hourly wages and require varying levels of experience. STNC hiring is managed by the SRJC Human Resources department: https://hr.santarosa.edu/current-openings
  • Bookstore/Dining/Housing – SRJC has contracted with external companies to provide our bookstore as well as on-campus dining and housing services to SRJC students. F-1 students are allowed to work for these companies, as the jobs are physically located on-campus. The hiring process is done by the company; visit their offices for details.

If you have multiple on-campus jobs, you must be sure that your total hours do not exceed 20 hours per week for all jobs. Your supervisor may not be aware of the F-1 student visa regulations, so it is your responsibility to follow the rules.

Students who are enrolled full-time at a California Community College are prohibited by Education Code § 88003 from being employed in permanent classified service positions. 

Eligibility Requirements:
  • You must be enrolled full-time
    • If you have an approved RCL authorization, Student Employment jobs still require enrollment in 6+ units during the semester and 3+ units during summer.
  • 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.
  • Telecommuting has been permitted by DHS if you can explain explain how you are providing student services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer.
Application Process

Visit the Student Employment website and apply for on-campus jobs on Handshake. Once you receive an offer, follow the instructions below to apply for your Social Security Number (SSN). You must do this before you can begin working. 

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is an experiential learning opportunity for students who wish to gain professional experience in their field of study after completing two semesters at SRJC. CPT is authorized by ISP and the Career Hub. For more information about CPT, visit the DHS website.

Eligibility Requirements
  • You must be in good academic standing.
  • You must be enrolled full-time.
  • You must have a job offer for a position related to your major. 
  • You must enroll in 1+ unit of Internship (99i) and these units must count towards your degree. 
CPT Rules
  • You may work a maximum of 20 hours per week during the semester. You may work more than 20 hours per week during summer session.
    • Full-time CPT during a semester is only allowed if you have a Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization in your final semester and need 6 or less units to graduate.
  • Your CPT authorization may begin as early as the first day after the previous term, and must end by the last day of the current term.
  • If you wish to extend your CPT for another term, you must re-apply by following the process below. 
Application Process
  1. Submit the Internship Interest Form to request an appointment with the Internship Coordinator in the Career Hub.
  2. Look for jobs related to your major. The Career Hub can also help you update your résumé and prepare for job interviews.
  3. Obtain a job offer letter from your prospective employer.
  4. Submit the Add Code Request Form and then register for the 99i course.
  5. Submit the CPT Request Form. Must be approved by the International Student Advisor and Internship Coordinator.
  6. Receive your updated Form I-20 with CPT authorization on Page 2. 
    Do not begin working until you receive your I-20, or your SEVIS record must be terminated.
  7. Start working.

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

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Students can apply for up to 12 months of work authorization after completing their program of study at SRJC. OPT is authorized by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). For more information about OPT, visit the DHS website.

Eligibility Requirements
  • You must be in good academic standing.
  • You must be on-track to complete an Associate's Degree program at SRJC.
  • You must receive our recommendation on your Form I-20 before applying to USCIS. 
  • You must apply for OPT within 30 days of the DSO's recommendation. 
OPT Rules
  • You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
  • During OPT, you must work more than 20 hours per week. 
  • You may volunteer and/or work for more than one employer.
  • All positions must be directly related to your program of study.
  • Unemployment is limited to 90 days. 
Application Process

The OPT application window is 120 days: 90 days before or 60 days after the Program End Date on your Form I-20. Spring 2024 graduates can apply between February 24th and July 23rd.

  1. Apply for graduation and check with your Counselor to ensure your eligibility.
  2. Submit the OPT Request Form to provide your preferred OPT Start Date (must be during your 60-day grace period).
  3. Prepare the following document files for your USCIS Form I-765 online application:
    • A passport-style photograph taken in the past 30 days (see guidelines)
    • A copy of the biographical page of your passport
    • Your most recent I-94 record
    • Copies of any previously issued EAD cards and/or I-20s with CPT authorization (if applicable)
  4. Make an appointment to meet with your DSO to submit your application online:
    • You will receive your new Form I-20 at this appointment.
    • Be sure to use employment category (c)(3)(B) for Post-Completion OPT.
    • You will be redirected to pay.gov to submit the $470 application fee using a debit/credit card.

Do not begin working until you receive your EAD card in the mail and your start date has been reached.

Employment Reporting Requirements

Once your OPT authorization begins, you must report the information below within 10 days. You may use the SEVP Portal to report this information or email ralvarez@santarosa.edu and we will update your SEVIS record for you.

  1. Employer Name - REQUIRED
  2. Employer EIN
  3. Job Title
  4. Start Date - REQUIRED
  5. End Date
  6. Hours per Week - REQUIRED
    • Full Time: more than 20 hours/week
    • Part Time: 20 or less hours/week
  7. Employer Address - REQUIRED
  8. Supervisor Name
  9. Supervisor Phone
  10. Supervisor Email
  11. Explain how employment is related to student's course of study - REQUIRED

SEVP has provided further guidance on the different types of employment allowed on Post-Completion OPT (see SEVP Policy Guidance 1004-03, 7.2.1, p.17-18). One easy way to determine this relationship is if the position description lists a degree in your field as a necessary or recommended qualification.


If you wish to travel outside the U.S. during OPT, there are varying levels of risk, depending on where you are in the OPT application process: 

Before OPT Approval 

If your OPT application is in PENDING status, it is okay to travel travel internationally while you are still attending classes, but you must return to the U.S. before the program end date on your I-20.

However, once your studies are complete and you have graduated from SRJC, it is not recommended that you travel internationally with a pending OPT application. CBP officials are not required to allow your re-entry to the U.S. solely for the purpose of awaiting OPT approval. While many students in this situation still travel and do not face issues, there is some risk involved. If you choose to travel, be sure to bring your OPT application receipt

Most importantly, if you travel with a pending OPT application, you must make arrangements to have the EAD card shipped to your location if OPT is approved while you are abroad. CBP officials are more likely to deny your re-entry if your OPT was approved by USCIS but you do not possess the physical EAD card at the border.

Before Employment

Once you graduate and your OPT application is approved, and you have received your EAD card in the mail, there is moderate risk to international travel if you do not yet have a job offer. CBP officials are also not required to permit your re-entry solely for the purpose of seeking employment.

After Approval/Employment

Once you are actively engaged in qualified OPT employment, then international travel is recommended. You still must obtain a Travel Authorization Signature on your I-20, and you must also possess a valid passport and F-1 visa stamp to be eligible for re-entry to the U.S. Note that travel signatures are only valid for 6 months during OPT. 

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.

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.
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 $470 application fee.
  3. Wait until you receive the EAD card to begin working.
  4. If approved, you must re-apply to USCIS each year.

Employment Webinar

Please watch this 30-minute video to learn more about your options for F-1 student employment:

Other Considerations

As an F-1 student working in the U.S., your paycheck isn't the only thing to consider. Other important requirements for working in the United States include:

Social Security NumberS (SSN)

Anyone who will receive income in the U.S. must have a Social Security Number (SSN). The SSN is used for tax purposes, among other things.

Application Process
  1. Gather the required original documents for your application:  
    • Job offer letter from your prospective employer (for Student Employment, contact Jamie Longnecker)
    • Employment eligibility letter from your DSO (email Becky Petrow a copy of your job offer letter)
    • Passport 
    • Form I-20
    • Most recent I-94 record
  2. Complete the Online Social Security Number Application
    • After you submit your online request, you must visit our local SSA office with your documentation within 45 calendar days:
      • Acceptable documents MUST be original or copies certified by the issuing agency, unexpired and must show name, date of birth or age.

      • After SSA verifies your document(s) and completes your request, you will receive your social security card in the mail within 14 business days.

  3. Give your SSN application receipt to your employer so that you may begin working. When your SSN card arrives in the mail, give it to your employer and then you may be paid for your hours worked. More information is available on the SSA website

Every nonresident in the U.S. is required to file tax documents with the IRS before the tax deadline - even if they have not earned any income. 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 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. 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 you can research online.

Volunteering, Unpaid Internships, and Clinicals/Practicums

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
Unpaid Internships

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


If one or more of your classes requires that you receive training at an off-campus location, you may not need CPT authorization. These courses can be identified on the Schedule of Classes as having "Contact DHR" requirements. These are what the State considers to be To be arranged (TBA) lab hours. If the off-campus experience is a requirement for all students in the course, and there is no remuneration, then CPT may not be required. 

The issue in determining whether clinical rotation hours and other practicums require CPT authorization hinges on whether these rotations are considered employment or not. SRJC has concluded that clinical rotations are considered experiential learning, in which the primary beneficiary is the student, and therefore these experiences are not considered employment. As they are not employment, no CPT is required.

As always, clinicals and other practicums must not violate the US Department of Labor's Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) test.

Information for Employers

Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers

"Note that the employee may work while the Social Security number application is being processed."

USCIS Employer Handbook

International Students and Social Security Numbers

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.