Employment for F-1 Students

On-Campus Employment:  As an F-1 student, you may work on-campus during the academic year up to 20 hours per week, and full-time at an on-campus job during the summer without prior approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), provided that you intend to be enrolled as a student during the fall semester immediately following the vacation period.  Consult the International Student Office about the possibility of working at one of the other Five Colleges.  See more about Volunteer Work/supported by College funds below.

Optional Practical Training (OPT):  This provision allows F-1 students to apply to USCIS for permission to engage in off-campus employment for the purpose of acquiring "on-the-job" experience.  Permission to engage in OPT employment is not automatic, however; certain conditions must be satisfied and certain restrictions apply.  In particular:

  • OPT employment must be directly related to your major field of study and must be commensurate with your educational level.  (You may discuss with me the interpretation of those restrictions.)
  • OPT is limited to a total of twelve months for each degree level.  Any OPT time used prior to graduation (“pre-completion OPT”) is subtracted from the time available after graduation (“post-completion OPT”).

Note:  Under a supplementary OPT provision known as the “STEM Extension,” students in certain specified majors may be eligible for an additional 17 months of post-completion OPT after the expiration of the initial 12-month period.  The only Amherst majors covered by the STEM extension are: Astronomy; Biology; Chemistry; Neuroscience, Computer Science; Geology; Mathematics; Statistics; and Physics.  Eligibility for the STEM Extension is not automatic for these majors, however; there are additional, significant eligibility restrictions related to employers.

  • It is not necessary for you to have an actual job offer when you submit your application.  You may submit an application in anticipation of finding appropriate employment.  Indeed, because of OPT processing delays, it may be advisable to submit your OPT application before you have a confirmed job offer.  Once you have submitted an application, however, it may be difficult to rescind the application or cancel an already approved OPT period, even if you do not find appropriate employment, resulting in a forfeiture of some OPT time.  In general, it’s a “use-it-or-lose-it” system.
  • You may not begin any off-campus employment before receiving your “Employment Authorization Document” (the “EAD card”: a photo identification card issued by USCIS and showing the specific beginning and ending dates of your OPT employment permission).  You may be employed only during the approved OPT period on your EAD card. 
  • In general, pre-completion OPT applications may be submitted to USCIS up to 120 days prior to the requested OPT employment start date, but special submission rules govern students in the first year of F-1 study.  In particular, for students in the first year of F-1 study an application for OPT may be submitted up to 90 days before the end of the first academic year. 
  • The processing times at USCIS for the approval of an OPT application and the issuance of the required EAD vary considerably, from 1-3 months, so it is recommended that students thinking of off-campus summer employment under the OPT provisions speak with me soon, to minimize the chance of problems caused by processing delays.
  • As of October 2011, the USCIS fee for OPT processing is $380.

 International Organizations:  A special provision allows off-campus employment of F-1 students by a “recognized international organization,” such as the World Bank, the United Nations, and UNICEF,  located in the U.S.  A complete listing of "recognized international organization" is available at www.state.gov/documents/organization/87183.pdf.   While a similar application (and fee) to USCIS and an EAD card are required, this kind of authorization does not require that the employment be directly related to your major field of study, nor does it subtract from your available twelve months of OPT.

 “Volunteer” Work:  Off-campus internships that are completely voluntary and unpaid are not considered “employment” and do not require USCIS authorization.  In order for work to be considered “voluntary,” it must be unpaid (or supported only by Amherst College funds) and it must be work that would not otherwise be a paid position if taken by a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.  Please see Dean Clarke in the International Students Office about specifics for positions other than those facilitated by the Center for Community Engagement or the ASIP program.

Questions???   The Career Center and the Center for Community Engagement are excellent resources for information on summer opportunities. If you require additional information about employment authorization and the necessary application process, please email internationalstudents@amherst.edu.