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working while in the united states

Student employment

Students are not required or expected to work while they are attending a college or university in the United States. Because some students need to supplement their income, working on campus is permitted to non-citizens on student visas without special permission from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services (USCIS, formerly U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)).

On-campus jobs are available in a variety of academic and support service offices. These jobs are usually advertised on,, the university's online job database for students. Other jobs that are considered "on-campus" for DHS purposes are available through our on-campus food service provider, Chartwells Dining Services.      

Full-time international students can work on campus for up to 20 hours per week during the regular semester and 40 hours per week during spring, summer and fall breaks. International students on student visas are not authorized to work off campus unless authorized through the Office of International Education & Services OR the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services.

Working Off Campus

A non-citizen almost always must have some kind of permission or authorization in order to work in the United States. Students that begin work prior to receiving written authorization are in violation of their student visa status.

The consulate that issued your visa was convinced by your documentation that you have the financial resources to be able to complete your educational program in the U.S. If the documents you submitted were not accurate, then U.S. law can provide serious penalties for committing fraud.

There are various myths about working off-campus in the U.S. while on a student visa. Sometimes ill-informed or ill-intentioned advisors overseas will tell prospective students not to worry about money because they will be able to work off campus after nine months. This is only true under very specific circumstances and it is NEVER possible without the authorization of a DSO and/or the U.S.C.I.S. (DHS).  A foreign citizen student should never begin working off-campus without consulting with a DSO in the Office of International Education and Services.

There are special ways that international student may work in the U.S. and they are generally provided as benefits of maintaining lawful status. They are excellent ways to understand the world of work as it relates to a chosen profession, and we encourage international students to seek these opportunities where available. We stand ready to help students file the appropriate applications, and we are happy to be of service in supporting international student success at Southeast Missouri State University.  Please contact our office if you have further questions.


Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment available to F-1 degree-seeking students after completion of all course requirements for the degree listed on their I-20 (excluding thesis).  Upon approval from USCIS, a student can work for an initial period of up to 12 months. 


  • Maintained full-time F-1 status for at least one academic year
  • Completed all course requirements or all course requirements other than thesis
  • Completed faculty recommendation form to verify the student is on track for graduation prior to issuing an OPT I-20

Not Eligible for OPT

  • Students not in a degree-seeking program
  • Students who have used 12 months or more of full-time CPT
  • Students who have used OPT previously in the same academic level

Application Dates

  • Earliest – 90 days before program completion date (listed on the I-20)
  • Latest – 60 days after program completion date (must be accepted by USCIS on this date)
  • The application MUST reach the USCIS no later than 30 days after the new OPT I-20 is issued

Start Date

  • The OPT start date can be chosen between:
    • Earliest – The program completion date
    • Latest – 60 days after the program completion date
  • OPT Employment cannot begin until the EAD (Employment Authorization Document) Card is received OR the OPT Start Date (indicated on the EAD card), whichever occurs last.

Application Procedure

Step 1 Ensure you have applied for graduation and it has been approved. If you have not been approved for graduation by the Registrar’s Office, complete the International Student Program Verification Form with your academic advisor or a faculty member.

Step 2 Compile the following documents:

  • Completed I-765 Form – Typed and signed in BLACK ink.
  • OPTIONAL - Completed Form G-1145 to receive e-notifications about your application status.
  • Personal Check or Money Order of $410 made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  • 2 Passport style pictures (taken in the last 30 days).
    • Print name on the back of photos in pencil.
  • Photocopies of the following documents:            
    • All past I-20 forms
    • Passport biographical page
  • F-1 Visa page in passport
  • I-94

Step 3 Fill out the "Request for OPT I-20 and Appointment" form found at to schedule an appointment; bring all documents listed in Step 1 and Step 2. You will receive your OPT I-20 at this appointment.  You should add a copy of this I-20 to your previous I-20s in your application materials.

Step 4Mail documents to:

Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

  • Request mailing service that allows for tracking.
  • Applications will be processed in 60-90 days.

While on OPT

Status and Reporting Requirements
While on OPT, you remain on an F-1 student visa and are required to report changes in the following to the Office of International Education and Services within 10 days of the change:

  • Legal name
  • Residential or mailing address
  • Employer name
  • Employer address
  • Loss of employment

Reporting changes
Complete the OPT I-20 Update Request form. Report employment changes, including employment start/end dates, your employment designation (full-time or part-time), employer name, employer location, supervisor name, supervisor contact information.  You should also report personal contact information including address changes, change of email address, and change of telephone number.

Job requirements during OPT

  • No more than 90 days of unemployment
  • During OPT, you MUST be employed in a position directly related to the program of study listed on your I-20
  • Acceptable forms of employment:
    • Regular paid employment
    • Payment from multiple short-term employers
    • Work for hire
    • Self-employed business owner
    • Employment through agency
    • Volunteers or unpaid interns
  • Opt into the university health insurance plan – OPTIONAL

You must complete the online OPT Insurance Renewal Enrollment Request Form no later than December 1 for the following spring semester or July 1 for the following fall semester 

Travel and Reentry

  • While on OPT, you must carry the following when traveling abroad:
    • I-20 endorsed in the last 6 months
    • Valid F-1 stamp in passport
    • Passport valid at least 6 months after date of entry
    • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card
    • Employment letter showing you will return to resume employment

F-1 students approved for standard post-completion optional practical training based on a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field that appears on the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Program List can apply to USCIS for a one-time 24-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 36 months).

To be eligible for the extension, the student's employer must be registered in E-Verify and must agree to report to the DSO when the student is terminated or leaves employment. The student must apply for the STEM OPT extension before their standard period of post-completion OPT expires, and must also agree to make periodic reports to the DSO.  A student who has applied for a STEM extension can continue working for up to 180 days beyond the expiration of the prior post-completion OPT EAD while the STEM extension application is pending.

Application Requirements

  1. Completed I-765 Form
  2. $410.00 check or money order made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  3. Copy of  I-20 with OPT Extension Requested signed by a DSO – Request this by completing the OPT I-20 Extension Request form.
  4. Photocopies of all other previous I-20’s issued to you
  5. Photocopy of your I-94
  6. Photocopy of your passport identification page
  7. Photocopy of your USA visa page in your passport
  8. Copy of your current EAD card (both sides) and any previous EAD cards (if applicable)
  9. Proof of your degree – If you have research/thesis pending, please contact us for further instruction.
  10. 2 passport-style photos with a white background taken within 30 days
  11. Letter from your employer describing your employment and how it relates to your course of study - Optional, but recommended

Mail documents to the lockbox address appropriate for the state you live in at the time of your application. Addresses.

STEM OPT 6 Month Validation Reports

A student on STEM OPT must report to the Office of International Education and Services by completing the STEM OPT 6 Month Validation form every six months starting from the date the extension begins and ending when either the student's F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels at the same school, the student transfers to another school, or the OPT extension ends, whichever is first. This information must be reported within 10 business days of each report due date and a DSO will update the information in SEVIS.  This is required by SEVIS even if the student's employment has not changed.  The information required includes:

  • Full legal name
  • SEVIS identification number
  • Current address
  • Name and address of the current employer
  • Date the student began working for the current employer


Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is work training that is an integral part of an established curriculum, this includes: “alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.”  CPT is available only prior to the completion of a degree program and the student must have a job offer for CPT at the time of application. CPT employment may not delay completion of the academic program.


To be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), a student must:

  • Be a degree-seeking F-1 Student. English Language Program students are not eligible for CPT.
  • Have completed at least one academic year (a fall and a spring semester). The summer session does not count toward one academic year. If your degree program requires employment authorization before you have met the academic year requirement, please see an Immigration Advisor.
  • Be in good academic standing
  • Be enrolled in internship credit or its equivalent

Part time vs. Full time CPT

Part-time CPT:
  • Employment for 20 hours or less per week
  • No limitation on the length of time you can participate in part-time CPT
  • Eligible for Fall, Spring and Summer terms
  • You must be simultaneously enrolled in classes full-time in order to maintain lawful F-1 status (spring and fall only).
Full-time CPT:
  • Employment for 20-37.5 hours per week
  • Warning - 12 months or more of full-time CPT will invalidate your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  • Only eligible during the summer term.

Reasons to enroll in CPT

According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are multiple reasons for participating in CPT:

  • CPT authorization by the university serves to demonstrate that this practical experience is part of the curriculum.
  • 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.

Application Procedure

Step 1 - Complete the following documents:

  1. Academic/Faculty Advisor Recommendation letter for CPT
  2. A copy of the job offer letter from the employer. The letter must:
    1. Be written on the company's letterhead
    2. Be addressed to you
    3. Include job title
    4. Provide job description
    5. Specify the employment address (street, city, state, and zip code)
    6. Specify if the employment is full- or part-time (if part-time, the number of hours per week you will work)
    7. Specify the exact dates of CPT employment

Step 2 – Schedule a meeting with a Designated School Official (DSO) at the Office of International Education and Services by emailing to request an appointment.

Step 3 – Once your application has been approved by a DSO, your new CPT I-20 will be created.

One condition of approval for F-1 nonimmigrant status is that a student shows the ability to pay for his or her education and support while in the United States. The severe economic hardship employment authorization benefit is intended to address situations where a financial need beyond the student's control arises, which was unforeseen at the time the student applied to the school he or she is currently attending and after all other potential employment opportunities have proven to be insufficient.

Examples of unforeseen economic hardship include "loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses."

Important things to remember:

  • Off-campus employment authorization for economic necessity is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and can be full-time during official school breaks.
  • Off-campus employment authorization is terminated when the student transfers from one school to another, or if the student fails to maintain status.
  • Designed for off-campus employment but no specific prohibition on it being used on-campus
  • Granted by USCIS in increments of one year at a time, or until the program end-date, whichever is shorter
  • Field/level of work can be in any job; does not have to be related to course of study.
  • Offer of employment is not required as a condition of eligibility
  • Must apply for EAD from USCIS, and receive EAD before employment begins
  • Authorization is granted in one-year intervals, up to the expected date of completion of studies.
    • Students must reapply to USCIS each year to renew this work authorization.
    • If a student needs uninterrupted work authorization he or she must apply early enough so that the EAD is received before the expiration date of the prior one since continued employment past the prior expiration date during the pendency of an EAD extension request is not authorized.
    • Students should apply at least 90 days prior to the employment end date, but not more than 6 months prior.


  • Must have been in F-1 status for at least one full academic year
  • Must prove to USCIS that employment is necessary due to severe economic hardship caused by circumstances beyond his or her control that arose after obtaining F-1 status

Student prepares and submits the following to OIES:

  • Document the circumstances causing his or her economic need;
    • The student can write a statement describing the unforeseen hardship situation and, if possible, should attach supporting documentation; for example, a letter from home telling of a change in family circumstances or proof of a currency devaluation in the student's country.
    • Explain why other employment options are unavailable or insufficient (a simple statement might suffice)
  • Complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, using the code: (c)(3)(iii) at item 16
  • Obtain 2 passport style photos taken within 30 days of filing the application
  • Provide a check or money order for the I-765 fee.
    • The correct filing fee for Form I-765 must be included, unless the student wishes to request a fee waiver, in which case the student should also include a properly completed and documented Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. The student should review USCIS guidance on fee waivers before completing Form I-912.
  • Email to make an appointment.

What the DSO does at your appointment:

  • Verify eligibility for the benefit, including maintenance of F-1 status for at least one academic year and currently in good standing as a student.
  • Update SEVIS with a recommendation for employment.

What to send where:

Checklist: Application for severe economic hardship work authorization
  • Form I-765 completed by the student, marked with the code "(c)(3)(iii)" at item 16
  • Filing Fee of $370 made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  • Copy of Form I-20 issued with DSO recommendation for economic hardship employment
  • 2 passport style photos taken within 30 days of filing the application
  • Copy of the student's Form I-94 (card or I-94 system printout)
  • A letter from the student explaining the circumstances of the hardship
  • Any supporting materials documenting the unforeseen nature of the economic hardship and, to the extent possible, the unavailability of on-campus employment to meet the need
  • Copy of the ID pages from the student's passport, or, for applications for renewal of work authorization, a photocopy of the previously issued EAD
Mail to the USCIS Lockbox Facility, using shipping that allows for tracking.

Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

If employment is authorized, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). If the application is denied, USCIS will indicate the reason for the denial in writing. A denial may not be appealed, although if the circumstances warrant, a motion to reopen or reconsider could be filed.


International Village Admin Building 101 – Located at:
1025 N. Sprigg St.
Cape Girardeau, MO

International Education and Services
One University Plaza, MS2000
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701

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