Many F-1 international students wish to find employment on-campus or employment/internships off-campus. To ensure that your employment or internship does not violate the F-1 immigration laws, read the information below and follow the correct procedures to work legally in the U.S.
Students who are legally allowed to work in the U.S. must apply for a Social Security Number in order to be paid.
Read the sections below for information and steps to obtain work authorization. The ISC offers several F-1 Employment Authorization Info Sessions each semester, where we discuss the rules for on-campus and off-campus employment/internships. Check the ISC Calendar for more information.
F-1 On Campus Employment
This section contains information about working on campus for international F-1 students. The ISC encourages you to wait to seek on-campus employment until after you have adjusted to life at SDSU.
- Up to 20 hours per week (part-time) when class is in session
- Up to 40 hours per week (full-time) during SDSU vacation periods
- View the SDSU Academic Calendar for important dates
Working on campus may affect your eligibility to work off campus at the same time.
- Undergraduate students: When class is in session, a maximum of 20 hours total is allowed between on-campus and off-campus employment (CPT). During the summer and official school breaks the maximum does not apply.
- Graduate students: When class is in session, you may work a maximum of 20 hours per week on-campus and also work part-time or full-time off-campus (CPT), as authorized by your academic department and the ISC. During the summer, and official school breaks, the maximum does not apply.
- Campus Work Verification Form: Some on-campus departments will require proof from the ISC that you are eligible to work on campus before they will offer you a job.
- F-1 students: If a campus employer requires verification of on-campus employment, contact ISC Reception at [email protected].
- Social Security Number: Most campus employers will allow you to apply for a job and be hired before you have a Social Security Number (SSN), but you must have a Social Security Card with your SSN to show your employer in order to be paid. If you do not have an SSN, you will need to apply for one after the campus employer hires you by following our SSN process.
F-1 Off-Campus Employment
As an F-1 international student, you have the opportunity to obtain off-campus work experience in your field of study with the proper work authorization.
Working or doing an internship off-campus requires authorization from the SDSU International Student Center or U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services. Working without proper authorization is illegal and has serious consequences that could result in the loss of your student visa. Working in or running your own business is not allowed under any circumstances without proper work authorization.
Illegal work may subject you to deportation from the U.S. Discuss your employment options with an ISC advisor before beginning any off-campus work or internship during your time in the U.S.
Many international students are interested in obtaining work experience in their field of study before returning to their home country. As an F-1 international student, you have the opportunity to obtain this work experience through an employment authorization called “practical training.” Practical training authorization allows you to work off-campus in an internship (paid or unpaid) or job that is directly related to your field of study.
Students must receive authorization for the practical training opportunity before beginning the internship or job. The authorization can take 7 business days to 4 months, depending on the type you are applying for. If you begin the internship or job before receiving authorization, you are in violation of your F-1 immigration status, which is grounds for termination of your SEVIS immigration record (I-20), the inability to continue your studies at SDSU, and a bar to re-enter to the U.S. due to unlawful presence.
Practical training activities include:
- Persons in paid jobs are typically paid in wages or salaries, but may be paid by commission from sales, for instance.
Paid and unpaid internships
- An internship consists of a temporary exchange of services for experience between the student and an organization.
- A course of study that involves the supervised practical application of previously studied theory.
- A volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
Explore these websites with volunteer opportunities:
If you're looking at an unpaid internship or volunteer opportunity and do not know if you'll need practical training authorization, contact an International Student Advisor.
Students must meet strict eligibility requirements to be authorized for one of the practical training options.
To be eligible to apply for practical training experience (either CPT or OPT), you must:
- Have a valid passport
- Be in valid F-1 status
- Complete 1 full academic year in full time F-1 status before the practical training can begin.
- Graduate students (CPT only) whose degree program requires immediate participation in an internship may waive this requirement.
- Under certain circumstances, time spent in another immigration status may count toward the academic year requirement.
- CPT authorization: Before a student can begin working or interning, the practical training must be authorized by the ISC. Processing takes 7 business days after the ISC receives all completed documents required for CPT and upon enrollment in a CPT course, if necessary.
- OPT authorization: Before OPT can begin, it must be authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The average processing time is 1-3 months.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular practical training gives you the opportunity to gain experience in your academic program of study while pursuing your degree program. The training must be an integral part of your degree program of study.
Curricular practical training (CPT) is defined as any required or optional practical training (work/study, internship, practicum, cooperative education, or other employment) that is an integral part of the established curriculum for a program of study. Most CPT occurs off-campus.
- Both paid and unpaid practical training require CPT authorization from the ISC before a student can begin the opportunity with the employer.
- CPT is authorized by the ISC for one term at a time.
- Certain majors will not have an option for students to do CPT.
- The practical training must be an integral part of your program.
- If a job or internship employment is not required for your program: Practical training that is optional must be taken for units (academic credit) in a specific internship or special study course.
- Not all SDSU majors offer internship/special study courses that meet the CPT eligibility. Check with your department for information.
- If the employment is required for your program or part of your thesis / dissertation: If practical training is required as part of your program, you do not need to take it for units (academic credit).
- If you are adding the CPT course through a schedule adjustment late, it can take 7-10 business days for Graduate Affairs and the Registrar's Office to approve the petition. Please do not contact Graduate Affairs and the Registrar's Office repeatedly during this process.
- If a job or internship employment is not required for your program: Practical training that is optional must be taken for units (academic credit) in a specific internship or special study course.
- The practical training is only authorized during the course of your study (not after it is completed).
- The training must be authorized for a specific job at a specific company for a specified time period.
- OPT Eligibility: If your full-time CPT authorizations total or more 12 months, then you are not eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
1-year, F-1 requirement
- To be eligible for CPT, you must have been a student in F-1 status for a minimum of one academic year (2 semesters).
- Graduate students whose program requires immediate participation in an internship may waive the one-year F-1 requirement, as long as their graduate advisor verifies that the internship must begin within the student's first year at SDSU.
CPT and graduate study
- Thesis/Dissertation: Students wanting to participate in an off-campus internship or job as part of their thesis or dissertation research must be enrolled in thesis/dissertation/research/special studies course and demonstrate to their graduate advisor the relationship between the proposed internship/job and the theis/dissertation.
Limit on CPT for students on thesis, project, or comprehensive exams
- When students have completed all substantive coursework, they can do CPT in the semester immediately after the semester of the final substantive course if they enroll in a Thesis/Project/Comprehensive Exam course plus the CPT course (when CPT eligibility is through CPT course) for that semester.
- Substantive coursework means regular coursework excluding Thesis, Project, and Comprehensive Exams.
- Students waiting for results of Comprehensive Exams may need to apply for Pre-Completion OPT instead.
There is no specific application period for CPT. However, CPT documents must be sumbitted to the ISC early enough so that you will have the new I-20 with CPT authorization before you begin your CPT (or before the extension of your CPT). You must also be enrolled in the course (if required) before CPT can be authorized by the ISC.
How to apply
Follow these application steps:
- Receive the job or internship offer letter. The letter needs to be on company letterhead and include: your name, company name, complete address of company, the anticipated start and end dates of employment, the number of hours per week, if the position is paid or unpaid, your job title, and a brief description of the duties. It also needs to be signed and dated by your employer.
- Fill out the top part of the CPT Application Form (also available on ISC's Forms webpage), then submit it with the job offer letter to your department or graduate advisor. If they approve your job/internship, they will complete and sign the "Academic Department Recommendation" section of the form.
- Enroll in the CPT course (if necessary).
- Complete the online CPT Request Form (also on ISC's Forms webpage) and upload the fully signed and completed CPT Application Form and job offer letter.
- CPT is only authorized for one term at a time, so if you need a CPT extension, it is important to follow these steps early enough to avoid a break in your CPT authorization.
When can I start employment?
You can only begin the training opportunity after you receive CPT authorization from the ISC through your new CPT I-20. If you work before receiving CPT authorization, you are in violation of your F-1 visa which is grounds for termination of your SEVIS immigration record. This could result in the immediate departure from the U.S, an inability to finish your program at SDSU, and/or problems when applying for a new U.S. visa or trying to re-enter the U.S. in the future. CPT cannot be backdated to include illegal work that was performed before it was authorized by the ISC.
After uploading the required and submitting CPT documents to our CPT Request Form, CPT processing takes 7 business days, provided all documents are correct and you are enrolled in the CPT course (if required).
After the Schedule Adjustment Deadline, students who qualify for CPT through an internship or special study course will also need to submit a Petition for Late Schedule Adjustment to the Registrar's Office. Allow additional time for the Registrar's Office to approve the petition and add the CPT course to your schedule. You can complete our CPT Request Form at the same time your submit the Petition to reduce the wait time for your CPT approval, but CPT may be denied if enrollment cannot be verified during processing.
Students who do not have a Social Security Number (SSN), should allow additional time to receive the CPT I-20 via email after it is processed.
Dates of authorization
CPT is authorized according to term dates, except in cases where a job or internship is required for the degree program or for the thesis. For CPT authorization through unit credit, CPT can be authorized for the following terms and dates:
If this is not your final semester/term...
- Fall 2023: August 21 - January 16
- Spring 2024: December 30 - May 21
- Summer 2024: May 17 - August 25
If this is your final semester/term*...
- Fall 2023: August 21 - December 29
- Spring 2024: December 30 - May 16
- Summer 2024: May 17 - August 14
*Also applies to graduate students who have completed all substantive coursework and will continue working on their thesis/project/comprehensive exam
Each SDSU academic department has their own policy for part-time or full-time CPT, within U.S. immigration policy for CPT.
When class is in session during the fall and spring semesters, an undergraduate student may work up to 20 hours per week on CPT. If working a campus job, a maximum of 20 hours per week is allowed between on-campus and off-campus employment. During the summer and official school breaks, full-time CPT is allowed with authorization, and on-campus employment does not impact this.
When class is in session during the fall and spring semesters, a graduate student may work a maximum of 20 hours per week on-campus and also work part-time or full-time CPT, as authorized by your academic department and the ISC. During the summer and official school breaks, the maximum does not apply.
Ending CPT Early
If you will end your CPT before the CPT end date that we authorized, please send an email to [email protected] informing us that you will end your CPT early and include the new ending date.
Changes in CPT employer, dates of employment, or hours
Other changes to your CPT authorization will require you to complete a new CPT Request Form and upload new documents with changes. The most common changes are: the employer, employer address, and hours per week (full-time vs. part-time).
Extension of CPT authorization
If you qualify for an extension of your CPT work authorization, to extend your CPT you will need complete a new CPT Request Form and upload the new documents.
You must receive the new I-20 with extended CPT dates before the CPT extension begins. The processing time for an extension of CPT authorization is 7 business days if all documents are complete and correct. Please don't wait too long, as certain times of the year are very busy for the ISC.
Students engaged in CPT must be enrolled every term. For some students in the middle of their degree program, Summer enrollment is not required.
Optional vs. Required CPT
- Optional: CPT regulations require that off-campus practical training which are an optional part of the course curriculum must be taken for unit credit.
- Required: Off-campus practical training opportunities which are a required part of the course curriculum do not have to be taken for unit credit.
- Graduate students may be authorized for CPT that is part of their thesis/dissertation research. (Advisors: Please write an official letter confirming the relationship between the proposed practical training and the thesis/dissertation to include with the CPT Application Form.)
- Graduate students in Computer Science must enroll in the CS 792 Practical Training course.
- Even if the student will not be graduating, he or she may no longer be eligible for CPT. Please read the information above under "CPT Eligibility".
To verify that students meet the requirements for practical training through CPT, the ISC requires approval from the department chair, graduate advisor, or thesis/dissertation advisor. This approval must certify that:
- The training opportunity is an integral part of the established curriculum
- The training, if optional, will be taken for unit credit
Please discuss the training opportunity with your student before completing and signing the CPT Application Form. Although students may be very insistent that their practical training proposal meets the necessary requirements, not all majors have this component as a part of the curriculum. If you find the student eligible for this type of training, please complete the advisor’s section of the CPT Application Form. If the student’s request does not meet the requirements described above, then the student is not eligible for this type of training, and no approval is required. If you have any questions, please contact an International Student Advisor at the ISC.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional practical training allows more flexibility. The training must still be directly related to your major, but it does not need to be part of your academic program of study. You can take the training either during or after your course of study.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows more flexibility than CPT. You can take the training either during or after your course of study. Most students choose to wait until after they have completed their program of study before they engage in OPT. Students do not need to have a job offer before they apply for OPT.
- Pre-completion OPT
- Performed during the annual summer vacation and at other times when school is not in session
- Performed while school is in session, provided that the training does not exceed 20 hours per week
- Note: You may wish to wait until you have a job offer before applying for pre-completion OPT because your limited amount of OPT will begin to be counted from the start date specified on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), whether you have a job or not
- If you are interested in Pre-completion OPT, please meet with an ISC advisor before attending an OPT Application Review Session
- Post-completion OPT
- Performed after completing your program of study or performed after completing all coursework with only thesis, comprehensive exams, or equivalent remaining (for certain graduate students only)
- You must complete practical training within a 14-month period following the completion of your program of study.
- Your approval for OPT comes from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You must have the EAD before you can begin working on OPT, and you can only work within the dates specified on the EAD.
12-Month Training Period
OPT is limited to a 12-month training period for each degree level. You become eligible for another 12-month period when you begin a new degree program at a higher educational level.
Your 12 months of OPT can use a combination of the Pre-completion and Post-completion options. Each period of authorized Pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the total 12 months of your authorization. Part-time Pre-completion OPT counts as half the rate of full-time Pre-completion OPT.
- If you use 3 months of full-time Pre-completion OPT (at separate times or all at once), you will have 9 months left of Post-completion OPT.
- If you use 4 part-time months of Pre-completion OPT (at separate times or all at once), you will have 10 months left of Post-completion OPT. Part-time Pre-completion OPT counts as half the rate of full-time OPT.
You must have been in F-1 status for a minimum of 1 academic year.
If you want to do a study abroad program outside of the U.S. (for less than 5 months), you are allowed to count the time spent abroad toward the academic year requirement. (Consult with an ISC advisor before studying abroad outside the U.S.)
- You must have completed all substantive coursework, which does not include thesis or comprehensive exams. Students are not allowed to take courses while on Post-OPT, unless if they only have the thesis dissertation or comprehensive exams to complete and are required by their academic department to enroll in 799-A, 799-B, or 799-C.
During Your Academic Program and Pre-Completion OPT
F-1 students are required to be registered in courses at SDSU during their program of study (within program dates on the I-20). Courses through the SDSU Global Campus do not qualify as courses at SDSU (except for select courses in the graduate Computer Science programs), so F-1 students cannot maintain their immigration status by taking courses through Global Campus alone.
The only exception is for graduate students who have comprehensive exams or thesis remaining. These students might be able to maintain their F-1 status and program by registering through CES in 799B (thesis extension) or 799C (comprehensive exams). Please consult an ISC advisor to determine if this is an option for you.
Students registered in 799C through Global Campus might also be able to take other courses through Global Campus (ex. replacement courses for comp exams) at the same time. This maintains their F-1 status and academic program. It is not possible to do this while on Post-completion OPT, only during Pre-completion OPT. Please consult an ISC advisor to determine if this is an option for you.
During their program, while registered in coursework at SDSU, students can apply for Pre-completion OPT. They can choose when this Pre-completion OPT starts and ends (at the time of application) but it must total less than 12 full-time months and it cannot extend beyond their program completion date. It can be full-time during vacation periods but it cannot exceed part-time (20 hours/week) during the academic year.
If a student has completed all coursework except for thesis or comprehensive exams and does not plan to replace comprehensive exams with a course, it is recommended to apply for Post-completion OPT.
During Post-Completion OPT
Students may work on Post-completion OPT after they have finished all regular coursework for their degree. Students can finish their thesis or comprehensive exams while on OPT. For assistance in determining when to apply for Post-completion OPT, please consult an ISC advisor.
Currently, graduate students on Post-completion OPT can be registered in 799B or 799C at Global Campus but do not have to be registered in any courses (either at SDSU or Global Campus) for immigration purposes. A student in this situation must register in 799B or 799C for academic purposes so that, by SDSU policies, they can graduate at the end of the semester.
Students on Post-completion OPT are not allowed to take courses at SDSU or Global Campus other than 799A, 799B, or 799C.
Courses Replacing Comprehensive Exams
Graduate students that wish to take courses instead of comprehensive exams (ex. Computer Science) cannot be on Post-completion OPT since they are not allowed to take substantive courses during Post-completion OPT.
In addition, taking the comprehensive exam replacement course through Global Campus alone does not maintain their F-1 status and academic program. They would have to either take the course through SDSU or take the course through Global Campus and be registered in 799C at the same time.
Students in this position can maintain their program (on I-20) and are eligible to apply for Pre-completion OPT if they wish.
Having a job offer is not required when applying for OPT; most students apply for OPT before applying for and/or procuring a job.
OPT Application Filing Period
Summer S2/S4/T1 (program end-date of August 16, 2023):
May 18, 2023 – October 15, 2023
Fall 2023 (program end-date of December 29, 2023):
September 30, 2023 – February 27, 2024
Spring 2024 (program end-date of May 16, 2024):
February 16, 2024 – July 15, 2024
It is recommended to begin the OPT application process a minimum of 3 weeks before July 17 so there is sufficient time to file by the deadline.
USCIS adjudicates OPT applications, and processing times for 80% of applications over the past year has been 1 -2 months. For the current processing time of Form I-765 for F-1 students, visit the USCIS Case Processing Times webpage.
Following the steps in the order below will ensure the highest chance for approval of your OPT application. Following the steps out of order or omitting a step may result in a denial of your OPT application, with the possibility of not being able to re-apply.
Step 1: Read the ISC information
Step 2: Pay the International Student Optional Practical Training Administrative Processing Fee
Pay the SDSU $100 International Student Optional Practical Training Administrative Processing Fee. You will need to save a screenshot of the payment information or the PDF of your email receipt at completion of the payment process to upload to when requesting your new OPT I-20. You may use this link to access the payment site.
Step 3: Request your new OPT I-20 from the ISC
Request your OPT I-20 by completing the ISC's OPT I-20 Request Form.
The requested OPT start date ranges are as follows:
Fall 2023 (program end-date of December 29, 2023):
December 30, 2023 – February 27, 2024
Spring 2024 (program end-date of May 16, 2024):
May 17, 2024 – July 15, 2024
Step 4: Complete and Gather Required Documents
Please follow the Post-Completion OPT Online I-765 Application Guide to gather your documents and prepare your I-765 application.
Note: Students who received the new OPT I-20 may have an advisor review a draft of your completed Form I-765 before filing the OPT application by attending an optional OPT Application Review Session via Zoom. Please check the OPT Calendar on this page for upcoming sessions.
Step 5: File your Application with USCIS
Employment must be in a job or internship that is directly related to your major field of study on page 1 of your I-20. If the relationship between a job and your field of study is later questioned by USCIS or another U.S. agency, the burden of proof will be on you to explain the relationship.
Types of employment allowed during Post-completion OPT include:
- Paid employment: You may work part-time or full-time.
- Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer at a time and also change employers during OPT.
- Short-term, multiple employers: Students in a performing arts major and certain other majors may work for multiple short-term employers. Keep a list of all employment with the dates, employer name, address, the job you did, how it related to your field of study, and hours or average number of hours doing the job. This list is important in case you need to provide documentation of your OPT employment or to prove eligibility for future U.S. immigration benefits. Employment must average a minimum of 20 hours per week over the period of one month in order to not count towards your unemployment.
- Contract employment (1099 employment): This is where you perform a service based on a contractual relationship. Keep records showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employment: You may start a business and be self-employed if you obtain and keep records of all required business licenses for San Diego/California/U.S. Your business must be directly related to your field of study.
- Employment through an agency: You may work for an employment agency.
- Paid internship: You may do a part-time or full-time internship.
- Unpaid employment/internships/volunteer work: You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern as long as it does not violate U.S. labor laws. At the end of your unpaid internship or volunteer work, ask the company for a letter that includes your name, the dates of your work, the job you did, and hours or average number of hours per week. This letter is important in case you need to provide documentation of your OPT employment or to prove eligibility for future U.S. immigration benefits. Normally, work must average a minimum of 20 hours per week over the period of one month in order to not count towards your unemployment.
- See below to learn about unpaid employment/internships/volunteer work on Post-OPT.
- These do not apply to the OPT STEM 24-Month Extension.
For students with authorized Pre-completion OPT, you are limited to a maximum of 20 hours per week of OPT employment when school is in session. You may work more than 20 hours per week during official school breaks and over the Summer.
For students with authorized Post-completion OPT, it is the OPT employment that maintains your legal F-1 immigration status. It is important for you to remember the following:
- Students cannot have more than 90 days of unemployment beginning on the OPT start date on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The unemployment count is cumulative.
- If a student works less than 20 hours per week, it will count as unemployment.
- For students who work/intern/volunteer in multiple jobs and the total hours between all jobs are 20 or more per week, this will meet the minimum hour requirement and not count as unemployment.
- Students who exceed 90 days of unemployment will be in violation of their F-1 immigration status and must depart the U.S. immediately to avoid accruing unlawful presence, which could negatively affect any future U.S. visa or other other U.S. benefit application. There is no 60-day grace period.
- Approved vacation and time off by your employer does not count as "unemployment" if you are still considered an employee of the company.
- There is no limit to the number of hours a student may work per week.
Students are required to report all changes in employment and personal information within 10 days of the change in order to maintain their F-1 immigration record in SEVIS.
Creating your SEVP Portal Account
After your OPT is approved and the OPT begins according to the start date on your EAD card, you will receive an email from [email protected] asking you to create your SEVP Portal Account. If you receive the EAD card before your OPT begins, the email will be sent after the start date on the EAD card.
Reporting Information to your SEVP Portal
- Starting employment with a new employer
- Employer name change
- Work location change
- Job description change
- Change in full-time vs. part-time hours
- Ending employment
- Changing employers
- Changing U.S. address after moving
- Changing U.S. personal phone number
Problems with SEVP Portal
How to Report a Change in Email Address or Name
The ISC advises all OPT students to plan carefully before leaving the U.S.
Pending OPT Application
If you depart the U.S. while your OPT application is pending, you will need to confirm there is someone at the U.S. mailing address you entered in Form I-765 who will be available and willing to receive your mail from USCIS and mail it to you wherever you are in the world. If your OPT is approved while you are outside the U.S., you will be required to have the original EAD card at the time of re-entry. A scan or photo of the EAD card will not be acceptable. Please refer to the Traveling Outside the U.S page for a complete list of documents required when re-entering the U.S.
While health insurance is not required for students on Post-Completion OPT, the ISC highly recommends that students have health insurance coverage due to the high costs of medical care in the U.S.
Students who have the JCB insurance plan can buy the OPT insurance package via the JCB website if they do so before their current insurance ends.
Ending your OPT
If you plan to return home permanently before your Post-completion OPT ends (you won't return to the U.S. and finish your OPT), you will need to complete the Completion/Termination of Immigration Status Form with your date of departure.
If you changed or will change your immigration status from F-1 to another status (whether it is inside the U.S. through a Change of Status application to USCIS or outside the U.S. by obtaining a new visa and entering with that visa), you will need to complete the Completion/Termination of Immigration Status Form and upload the required documents.
Transferring to Another Institution
If you wish to transfer to another institution during your Post-completion OPT or during the 60-day grace period after finishing your Post-completion OPT, you will need to complete the ISC's SEVIS Transfer Request Form, which can be found on the ISC's Forms webpage, and upload the acceptance letter to the new school. This needs to be done at least 10 business days before the date you want your SEVIS record (I-20) to be transferred. Or if you are transferring during your grace period, this needs to be done at least 10 business days before your grace period ends. The date you request us to transfer your SEVIS record (I-20) to the new school will be the last day you can work on OPT.
During Post-completion OPT, you may satisfy employment requirements by doing an unpaid internship or volunteering at least 20 hours per week.
- In your field of study: If you do participate in an unpaid internship or other type of volunteering, remember that it must be directly related to your major field of study.
- Fair Labor Standards Act: In addition, make sure the position is within Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act, which contains regulations regarding unpaid or volunteer work.
- For more information on these regulations, see the FLSA Fact Sheet (PDF).
OPT STEM 24-Month Extension
If you are currently an F-1 student on Post-Completion OPT and have earned a Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctoral degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) field, you may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of your OPT.
General information for you and your employer can be found on the U.S. government's website Study in the States and also on the USCIS website.
OPT STEM 24-MONTH EXTENSION - ELIGIBILITYYou and your OPT STEM employer(s) must meet all requirements listed below in order for you to apply for the 24-month extension:
You must be an F-1 student on an authorized period of Post-Completion OPT.
You must have earned a Bachelor's, Master's or Doctoral degree in a STEM degree program or completing your thesis or dissertation for the program. This degree program can be the basis of your current Post-OPT or it can be a STEM degree (Bachelor's and higher) that you earned in the past, as long as you have not already done an OPT STEM Extension based on that degree.
- You can find if your major qualifies for the OPT STEM Extension by looking at the CIP code on Page 1 of your I-20, which is the 6-digit code to the right of the major name under "MAJOR 1". If that code is on the "STEM Designated Degree Program list" on the Study in the States website, then your major is eligible for the OPT STEM Extension.
- You must be in a bonafide employer-employee relationship with your employer. Staffing and employment agencies may not be eligible for the OPT STEM Extension. Contract work and self employment are not eligible for the OPT STEM Extension. For more information, you can visit the USCIS website.
- Your employer must be registered in the E-Verify program with an E-Verify number at the time you apply for your 24-month extension. All employment during the OPT STEM Extension must be for E-Verify companies.
- The job cannot be voluntary; you must be a paid employee.
You must work a minimum of 20 hours per week for your employer. The hours must be indicated on the I-983 Training Plan, which you are required to submit for each employer. If you wish to work for multiple employers, you must work a minimum of 20 hours per week for each employer.
You must complete an I-983 Training Plan with your employer (or employers, if you have more than one). Since this Training Plan requires that your employer agree to certain monitoring and reporting requirements, self-employment is not an option for the OPT STEM Extension.
You cannot do more than two OPT STEM Extensions, and you cannot do more than one at the same degree level.
- USCIS must receive your application for the OPT STEM Extension before your current Post-Completion OPT expires on your EAD card (within 90 days of the end of your Post-OPT, but not before).
Before we can issue your new I-20 for the OPT STEM Extension, you must submit a fully completed and signed I-983 Training Plan. Signatures must be in ink only, as digital or electronic signatures are not accepted. While you will not need to include a copy of the I-983 when filing your OPT STEM Extension application with USCIS, a copy of the new OPT STEM I-20 is required.
- Download Form I-983 and complete it with your employer.
- Information for completing Page 1:
- Name of School Reporting STEM OPT: San Diego State University (do not abbreviate)
- Name of School Where STEM Degree Degree Was Earned: San Diego State University (For most students. If you are uncertain, please contact an ISC advisor).
- SEVIS School Code of School Recommending STEM OPT: SND214F00142000
- Designated School Official (DSO) Name and Contact Information: Enter "Laura Ribitzky" or "Lisa Lyons" for the Name. Enter [email protected] and (619) 594-1982 for the email address and phone number.
- STEM OPT Requested Period: Begins the day after the Post-OPT end date on your EAD. Ends 2 years from that date. (Example: if the end date on your Post-OPT EAD is 5/25/2022, then your dates will be From 5/26/2022 To 5/25/2024)
- Qualifying Major and Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Code: Found on page 1 of your I-20. Include both the Major name and the 6-digit number found underneath "MAJOR 1"
- Level/Type of Qualifying Degree: Enter your degree level
- Date Awarded: The date you earned your STEM degree. If you have not graduated, enter the anticipated date that you will earn your degree.
- Based on Prior Degree?: Check "No" (unless this is based on a degree you earned before your most recent degree program at SDSU)
- Employment Authorization Number: "USCIS Number" found on your EAD (9 digits)
- Leave Page 5 blank. You will complete the evaluations 12 months and 24 months after your STEM Extension begins, and also at the end of any employment.
- More information on how to complete Form I-983 for you and your employer may be found on the Study in the States STEM OPT Hub.
You must have the new I-20 before filing the application to avoid denial. Request the new I-20 from the ISC at least three weeks before your Post-OPT ends...but the earlier, the better!
HOW TO REQUEST THE OPT STEM I-20
When your Form I-983 is completed and signed, you may request the OPT STEM I-20 by following these steps:
- Determine your required 6-month participation reporting and annual self-evaluation dates. (Refer to Immigration Reporting Requirements below for more information.)
- Pay the SDSU $200 International Student STEM Optional Practical Training Administrative Processing Fee. You will need to save a screenshot of the payment information or the PDF of your email receipt at completion of the payment process to upload to the I-20 request form. You may use this link to access the payment site.
- Upload the payment receipt and the fully completed and signed I-983 to the ISC's OPT STEM 24-Month Extension I-20 Request Form to request your new I-20.
While waiting to receive the new OPT STEM I-20 from the ISC, you may prepare your I-765 application. After receiving the new OPT STEM I-20 from the ISC, you can then pay the filing fee to file the application.
Important Filing Reminders:
- Do not pay the $410 fee to USCIS--which will officially file your application--until after you receive the new OPT STEM I-20 from the ISC.
- Your application must be filed within the designated filing period, or it will automatically be denied by USCIS without a refund.
- Begins 90 days before the Post-Completion end date on your EAD
- Ends on the Post-Completion end date on your EAD
- Within 60 days of the date your OPT STEM I-20 was issued
Visit the USCIS website to prepare/file your I-765 application online and for filing instructions.
The ISC has created an OPT STEM Extension Online I-765 Application Guide to assist you in preparing your application and documents. Please note that it is ultimately the student's responsibility to ensure that the I-765 application is completed and filed correctly.
Documents Required for I-765:
- Copies of pages 1 and 2 of new OPT STEM I-20, signed/dated with pen
- 2x2 passport photo (taken within the past 6 months and not previously used)
- Copy of most recent I-94
- Copies of both sides of EAD for Post-Completion OPT
- Copy of passport used for most recent entry to U.S.
- If applicable: Copy of passport issued in the U.S. (applies only if you renewed your passport in the U.S. and have not departed the U.S. since renewal)
- Copy of most recent Post-Completion OPT I-20
- If you graduated, a copy of your diploma (copy of SDSU official or unofficial transcript is acceptable if you have not yet received the diploma); or if you have not yet graduated, a copy of your SDSU official or unofficial transcript
- For students in the MBA in Information Systems program, include a copy of your diploma and the transcript (unofficial transcript is acceptable)
- Institute Accreditation is not required for most students. This is only required if your STEM degree was earned at another school
Processing time and Extension of work authorization
Your approval for the OPT STEM Extension comes from USCIS in the form of a new EAD card. As with your application for Post-OPT, the average processing time by USCIS is 2-3 months.
The OPT STEM Extension begins on the day after the end date on your EAD card for Post-Completion OPT and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date your OPT STEM Extension is officially approved by USCIS.
While your OPT STEM Extension application is pending, you are allowed to continue working for up to 180 days after your Post-OPT end date on the EAD card. If your employer requires proof of this automatic extension, you can refer them to the USCIS STEM OPT webpage under the section "Applying for a STEM OPT Extension".
Check the status of your application
After your filing fee is accepted by USCIS, you can click on "Go to my cases" to get your I-797 receipt notice. In the "Tracking Your Case" screen, click on the "Documents" tab to download a copy of your receipt notice.
Check your receipt notice immediately to confirm that your name and address are correct. If there is an error made by USCIS, contact them immediately through your online account with the correct information. It is important that your information is accurate to avoid an error on your EAD card and/or approval notice, or in receiving hard copies of your documents.
USCIS will post all notices about your application in the "Documents" tab, such as: Receipt Notice, Request for Evidence (RFE), PDF of completed application, and the Decision Letter. USCIS will also mail a hard copy of all documents to your U.S. Mailing Address.
To view the current status of your application, click on the "Case Status" tab in your online USCIS account.
To track your application, click on the "Case History" tab in your online USCIS account.
Students on the 24-month STEM OPT Extension are limited to a cumulative total of 150 days of unemployment for the 3 years of OPT (from the start of Post-Completion OPT through the end of the STEM OPT Extension). You must report any period of unemployment using the ISC's OPT Update Form.
You are required to report all changes to your employment information and your personal address/phone number/email address within 10 days of the change. You can update your personal U.S. address and phone number in your SEVP Portal; all other changes must be reported to the ISC's OPT Update Form. Failure to report this information and the required participation and evaluations within the deadlines are a violation of your F-1 status and could have a negative impact to any future applications for U.S. benefits and/or U.S. visas.
Problems with your SEVP Portal Account
If you have problems with your SEVP Portal Account, please visit the DHS Portal Help.
If your SEVP Portal Account is locked, please complete the ISC's OPT Update Form to request it to be reset.
6-Month Participation Reporting
You must report your participation every 6 months from the start of your OPT STEM Extension. Although SEVP will send you a reminder email to "contact the DSO" at your school to report your participation, the ISC requires our students to report participation to our OPT Update Form, where you will confirm your employment and personal information (personal U.S. address, phone number, and email address).
Annual Self Evaluations
You must submit an evaluation every 12 months from the start of your OPT STEM Extension. The evaluations are on Page 5 of the I-983 training plan and must be signed by you and your employer. Use the top part for the first evaluation and the bottom part for the final evaluation. You will upload the completed and signed evaluation (Page 5 only) to our OPT Update Form when you report your 12-month participation and 24-month participation.
If you end employment, please submit the final evaluation to the OPT Update Form. If you have a new employer, you can also submit the new I-983 for the new employer at the same time or separately.
In addition, you are required to submit a new I-983 Training Plan if there are any material changes to, or material deviations from, your previously submitted I-983 trainng plan. This should also be submitted to the OPT Update Form.
Ending your OPT STEM Extension
If you plan to return home permanently before your OPT STEM Extension ends, (you won't return to the U.S. to finish your OPT STEM Extension), you will need to complete the Completion/Termination Immigration Status Form with your date of departure and upload the final evaluation within 10 days of your last day of employment.
If you changed or will change your immigration status from F-1 to another status (whether it is inside the U.S. through a Change of Status application to USCIS or outside the U.S. by obtaining a new visa and entering with that visa), you will need to complete the Completion/Termination Immigration Status Form and upload the final evaluation and other requirement documents within 10 days of the date your status changed.
Transferring to Another Institution
If you wish to transfer to another institution during the 60-day grace period after completing your OPT STEM Extension, in addition to your participation and evaluation requirement stated above, you will need to complete the ISC's Transfer Out Request Form. This online form can be found on the the ISC's Forms webpage, where you will also need to upload the acceptance letter to the new school. This needs to be done at least 10 business days before the date you want your SEVIS record (I-20) to be transferred or before your grace period ends, whichever comes first.
Students on the OPT STEM Extension are not eligible to purchase the JCB Insurance Solutions policy that is offered through the ISC. You may instead utilize the health insurance plan available from your employer or find and purchase an individual health insurance plan.
Cap Gap OPT Extension
The filing period for the H-1B applications begins every year on April 1, but approved applications do not go into effect until October 1 of that year.
The cap gap extension allows F-1 students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status until the start date of their approved H-1B employment period. It goes into effect when a student files for the H-1B status and their F-1 status or OPT expire before their approved H-1B begins October 1. For more information, visit the USCIS website.
You should consult with your company or immigration attorney before traveling internationally during the Cap Gap extension.
You are eligible for the cap gap extension if both of these are true:
- Your employer submitted an electronic registration for you for the H-1B petition at the beginning of the year, which was selected, and your employer will then filed the actual H-1B petition for you requesting a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1.
- You are within your OPT authorization period, or 60-day grace period following the OPT expiration, when your employer files the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1).
If your OPT authorization is still valid when your employer files your H-1B petition but will end before October 1, your OPT authorization will be automatically extended. This is called the Cap Gap. You can continue working in F-1 status through the extension date.
If your OPT authorization is expired but you are in your 60-day grace period when your employer submits your H-1B petition to USCIS, your F-1 status is extended. You may not work, but you can remain in the U.S. through the Cap Gap extension date.
Your OPT work authorization will be automatically extended to September 30 upon proper filing of the H-1B petition. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status will be automatically extended to September 30.
If your H-1B petition is withdrawn or denied while you are on the Cap Gap Extension, your OPT will expire 10 days after the date of the withdrawn/denial notification and your F-1 status will expire 60 days after the notification.
The Cap Gap Extension of F-1 status is automatic. It begins when your employer files the H-1B petition with USCIS and you are not required to obtain a new I-20 showing the Cap Gap Extension.
If your employer requests an I-20 showing the Cap Gap Extension, please complete the online I-20 Replacement/Update Request Form which is found on the ISC's Forms webpage.
If your H-1B Petition is Approved
If your H-1B petition is approved for change of status or for consular processing, follow the instructions under the OPT STEM Extension section "Ending Your OPT STEM Extension or F-1 Status".
Note: You should consult with your company or immigration attorney before traveling internationally during the Cap Gap extension.
Off-campus employment is available for F-1 students who are faced with extreme economic hardship due to an unforeseen change in their financial circumstances.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Bureau (USCIS) will only authorize this type of employment in cases where students have clearly documented severe need.
Note: You should try to find on-campus employment before you are eligible to apply for this type of employment. Work through this program is limited to 20 hours per week during school session, but may be full time when school is not in session.
- You must have been in F-1 status for 1 full academic year.
- Students who have been in F-1 status more than 1 year, but are in their first or second semester at SDSU, are generally not eligible unless the changes in their financial circumstances are extreme.
- You must be a full-time student in good academic standing.
- Students on probation are not eligible.
- You must try to find on-campus employment before applying.
- You must be able to demonstrate that off-campus employment is necessary due to unforeseen financial circumstances. The possible circumstances could include:
- Loss of a scholarship or assistantship
- Death or severe illness of the sponsor
- Bankruptcy or other financial disaster of the sponsor
- Retirement or illness of the sponsor Student’s excessive medical bills
- Substantial devaluation of the currency of the student’s home country
- Political or economic upheaval in the student’s home country
It is important to provide substantial documentation to the USCIS as proof of the change in your economic circumstances.
Note: Students are not always sure if their circumstances meet the eligibility requirements for this type of employment. If you are unsure, you are welcome to make an appointment with one of the International Student Advisors to discuss your particular situation and see if you do qualify.
Translation of documents
You may provide documentation in your home language, but you must include an attached translation. You may translate documents yourself, and you must write on the translation that you are fluent in both languages, and that this is a true and accurate translation.
Types of documents
Types of documents may vary depending upon whether it is from your home country or from the U.S. Here are some examples (you may have other examples):
- A letter from a sponsoring agency or a professor documenting the loss of a scholarship or assistantship
- Personal letters from your sponsor describing the situation
- A document from your sponsor’s attorney or accountant
- A letter from your sponsor’s company
- Copies of your sponsor’s medical bills or a death certificate
- A document from your medical doctor / copies of your excessive medical bills
- Copies of magazine or newspaper articles which show changing circumstances in your home country, including currency fluctuations
You must submit your employment application to the International Student Advisor before it can be sent to the USCIS.
Step 1: Make an appointment
You should make an appointment with the the International Student Advisor, who will determine if your financial need has been adequately verified with substantial documentation (see "Documentation" section above).
Step 2: Complete paperwork
If you are determined to be eligible, your advisor will help you to complete the required paperwork, including Form I-765. When this paperwork is complete, the ISC will send it to the USCIS with a request for you to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Step 3: Processing time
After your Advisor sends your paperwork to the USCIS, it will take approximately 3-4 months for the application to be processed and, if approved, for you to receive your EAD.
F-2 Dependents: Employment
No dependent (spouse or child) of a student in F-1 status is eligible for employment under any circumstances.