F-1 Employment

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
Visit Finding a Job for information on where to look for a job and information on SDSU Career Services.

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.

Practical Training

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:

  • Paid employment
    • Persons in paid jobs are typically paid in wages or salaries, but may be paid by commission from sales, for instance.

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.

International students on F-1 status are allowed to work in an off-campus internship or job during their course of study when the internship or job is integral to their degree program and if they have employment authorization from the ISC. This type of employment authorization is called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and is required for both paid and unpaid opportunities. Students may qualify for CPT through one of four ways: 

  1. It is required for the degree (special course enrollment is not required).
  2. It is required for the degree via enrollment in a specific course.
  3. It is optional and will be taken for unit credit via enrollment in an internship class.
  4. It is taken as part of enrollment in a thesis, dissertation or research course.

For more info about CPT and how to apply click here!

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, however, most students choose to wait until after they have completed their program of study before they engage in OPT. A job offer is not required when apply for OPT.

For more information about OPT and how to apply click here!

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.

For more information about OPT STEM Extension and how to apply click here

Cap Gap OPT Extension

The Cap Gap extension is an automatic extension of F-1 status and OPT work authorization (Post-Completion or STEM OPT) past the EAD end date, for students transitioning to an H-1B work visa. If your employer files an H-1B petition as a change of status (not consular processing) and it is approved, the new H-1B status will automatically go into effect on October 1. The Cap Gap bridges the "gap" between the EAD end date and September 30, the day before the new H-1B status goes into effect. For detailed 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:

  1. Your employer submitted an electronic registration for you for the H-1B lottery at the beginning of the year, your name was selected, and your employer then filed the actual H-1B petition for you as a change of status, to begin October 1.
  2. 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.

Extension Dates

Your OPT work authorization will be automatically extended to September 30 upon proper filing of the H-1B petition for Change of Status. 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.

Economic Hardship

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.

Alternatives to paid employment include: