Jun 05, 2023  
2022-2023 International Student Handbook 
2022-2023 International Student Handbook

Employment & Internships

Can International Students Work in the US?

It is illegal for international students to work in the United States (US) without the required authorization.

  • F students must speak to their designated school official (DSO) before accepting or beginning any form of employment. The training and employment opportunities available to them will depend upon the type of work authorization they have or are applying for.
  • J students must speak to their responsibility officer (RO) at their sponsoring organization, to ensure they are following the rules to maintain their status and to determine their eligibility for work authorization (Academic Training).

  • All other nonimmigrant visa (NIV) student types are responsible for being aware of their employment guidelines and restrictions

How to Find an Internship or employment

  • The best way to locate an internship is to work with Career Services at Florida Poly, which can provide guidance and resources to help students identify internship opportunities on and off campus.

  • Students may find on-campus employment opportunities on the Florida Poly Human Resources website and select Student Positions.

  • Students that are eligible for off-campus employment or seeking employment after graduation are responsible for their employment search, but may still contact Career Development for help with post-graduation employment opportunities.

 Employment vs. Internships

  • Employment may be permanent, contractual, or seasonal, and is an agreement between an employer and an employee that the employee will provide certain services; in return, the employee is paid a salary or hourly wage. Although employees can negotiate certain items in an employment agreement, the terms and conditions are primarily determined by the employer; both parties may also terminate the agreement.

  • ​An internship is a learning opportunity that takes place in the workplace; it is an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills through experiential learning as a complement to the knowledge gained in an academic setting. Internships may be paid or unpaid.​

Unpaid Internship vs. Volunteering

There is a difference between volunteering and an unpaid internship. It is important to understand that just because a position is unpaid or for a non-profit organization, it does not constitute volunteering. 

Unpaid Internship

  • If the activity relates to the student’s studies or intended profession, it is considered training, and requires advance authorization from a DSO and/or USCIS (i.e., CPT or OPT). 

  • If you are uncertain if an internship is considered unpaid or a form of volunteering, please contact your DSO (RO for J students), to ensure you do not violate the terms of your visa.

  • Unpaid internships do not typically qualify as “volunteer” work; both paid and unpaid internships, are primarily offered by the private sector and related to the intern’s field of study

  • Please view the US Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines for unpaid internships.


Volunteering refers to donating time to an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature without remuneration or any other type of compensation, and the activity is unrelated to the student’s field of study or intended profession (e.g., donating time with the American Red Cross, working in a homeless shelter).

  • F students are authorized to engage in volunteer work as long as it meets the criterion for performing civically charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise expectation or receipt of compensation.

  • F students must submit the F-1 Volunteer Verification Form  to ISS along with a statement from the organization verifying the volunteer position and expectations; if the position meets the volunteerism criterion, the student will be approved to volunteer and not require CPT authorization (volunteer positions are not eligible for CPT).  
  • You may view the US Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines for volunteering (see page 2).
  • Students can search for volunteer activities at serv.gov.​

 F-1 Employment Options

F students are permitted to work in the United States (US), but only under certain conditions, and in accordance with complex guidelines and restrictions issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). J students should contact their RO, and all other NIV types are responsible for being aware of their employment guidelines and restrictions for their visa classification.

  • Generally, all employment is contingent on remaining within the terms and restrictions of the F-1 visa.

  • Employment options consist of on and off-campus employment/internships. 

Please view the F-1 Employment Options  guide for a quick reference of the criteria and process steps required for the most common F-1 employment benefits while studying in the US.

IMPORTANT: While immigration regulations provide a variety of opportunities for students to be employed during their time in F-1 status, working without authorization is a serious violation; F-1 students must always consult with DSO before accepting any employment.

 On-Campus Employment 

F-1 students are eligible to work on-campus during their first semester, as long as they are maintaining F-1 status, and do not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session (on-campus employment includes, Graduate Assistantships “GA”). J students should contact their RO, and all other NIV types are responsible for being aware of their employment guidelines and restrictions for their visa classification.

On-campus employment is the only work benefit that new F students are eligible for during their first semester; all other work benefits cannot be applied for until after one academic year (fall and spring semesters) of full-time enrollment has been completed or after completion of the program of study (graduation).

  • F students may only work full-time (21 hours or more) during holidays and vacation periods, provided they intend and are eligible to register for the next school term.

  • Work performed on university grounds is considered “on-campus employment” as long as the position provides direct services to students (e.g. Dining Facility). 

How to Apply

  • Students seeking to apply for on-campus employment must complete the F-1 On-Campus Employment learning module via CANVAS.

    • This course will explain in detail the guidelines for working on campus; students must complete and pass the required quiz with 100% (unlimited attempts).

    • Students that do not complete the course first, will not have their request processed.

  • Next, students must submit a copy of their employment offer letter once they have secured employment and have their employer complete the:

    • SSA F-1 On-Campus Employment Letter   - this document must be physically signed (“wet signature”) by both the hiring supervisor (or other designated authority) and DSO. SSA does not accept digital signatures or photocopies of them.

  • The DSO will assist you with the next steps in your process, which include applying for a Social Security Number (SSN)  - please view the F-1 Students SSN Guide  for additional guidance.​

When Can I Start Working?

After being cleared by the university’s Human Resources (HR) department; all students offered on-campus employment must complete HR onboarding tasks to be cleared to begin working.  

Remember: You are not authorized to begin working until you have been cleared by HR; a DSO or supervisor cannot clear you to work. 


 Off-Campus Employment 

Off-campus employment is a benefit available only for F students who are:

  • Experiencing an economic hardship.

  • Seeking special student relief due to emergent circumstances.

  • Participating in an internship with an international organization.

A DSO must verify that the student qualifies for off-campus employment by entering the employment information in SEVIS. 

  • The student must then file a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

 International Organization (IO) Internship

An IO employment authorization is a benefit for F students who have been offered an internship with a recognized international organization.

IO Criteria

In order to qualify for International Organization employment authorization, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must have a written offer for an internship position offered by and within the scope of a recognized international organization as per 59 Stat. 669, International Organization Immunities Act.

  • You must be a full-time student in a degree program.

  • The position does not have to be related to your field of study, but the authorization cannot extend beyond the end of the student’s academic program. 

This type of employment authorization does not impact your eligibility for participation in other types of employment-related to F visa status. However, during the period of employment, you must otherwise continue to maintain your F-1 status, including continuing to pursue a full course of study. 

How to Apply

Applying for IO employment authorization is a two-step process. Please view the International Organization (IO) Internship Guide  on how to apply.

  • First, you must obtain a DSO recommendation and be issued a new I-20.

  • Next, you must apply with USCIS by filing Form I-765 for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

  • Students must present a letter of certification from the international organization on official letterhead that indicates employment is within the scope of the organization’s sponsorship.

 Severe Economic Hardship

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) defines “severe economic hardship” as a financial condition caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control that make it difficult for a student to continue education in the United States.

These financial conditions may include:

  • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment through no fault of the student.

  • Substantial changes in the exchange rate or value of the currency upon which the student depends.

  • Inordinate increases in tuition or living costs.

  • Unexpected changes in the financial state of the student’s source of support.

  • Medical bills.

  • Other substantial and unexpected expenses.

If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request employment authorization based on severe economic hardship by completing the F-1 Economic Hardship Guide   for DSO recommendation then file the online Form I-765 and paying the required fee to USCIS for approval.

 Special Student Relief (SSR)

Special Student Relief (SSR) is the suspension of certain regulatory requirements by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for F‑1 students from parts of the world that are experiencing emergent circumstances. Regulatory requirements that may be suspended include duration of status, a full course of study, and off-campus employment eligibility.

What Circumstances Constitute SSR?

SSR applies when emergent circumstances occur. Emergent circumstances are world events that affect F-1 students from a particular region and create significant financial hardships, such as but not limited to:

  • Natural disasters.

  • Wars and military conflicts.

  • National or international financial crises.

What are the Criteria for SSR?

DHS issues a Federal Register (FR) notice when the secretary declares that an event constitutes emergent circumstances. You may be eligible for SSR if you (view the current list of countries eligible):

  • Are a citizen of a country specified in the FR notice.

  • Have lawfully resided in the US for the dates indicated in the FR notice.

  • Have reported on time to your DSO and been enrolled in a SEVP-certified school since the event.

  • Are currently maintaining F-1 status.

  • Are experiencing severe economic hardship.

Your DSO must certify in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) that you meet all the above requirements to qualify for SSR. You must first file Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” with USCIS and receive authorization before you can begin off-campus employment.

Please note that SSR and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are different. TPS may be offered to various visa classifications, when applicable, including F-1 students. However, SSR, when applicable, is offered only to eligible F-1 students.

 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or another type of required practicum that a sponsoring employer offers through cooperative agreements with a college or university; it must be integral to the degree program of study and an established curriculum within a school, F student must be in good academic standing, maintaining status, and meet all criteria to be considered for approval. 

  • F students are eligible to apply for CPT after one academic year (fall and spring) and must meet pre/co-requisites for the required internship course. 
    • Undergraduates: Must use CPT to be eligible to secure an off-campus internship to satisfy their program requirement for IDS 4941 and complete the Undergraduate CPT learning module via CANVAS.

    • Graduates: Must use CPT to be eligible to participate in an off-campus internship and enroll in EGN 5950 (Engineering majors) or IDS 5950 (Computer Science majors), and complete the Graduate CPT learning module via CANVAS.

 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a work authorization that allows F students to gain work experience directly related to their major field of study, and can be used either before (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) degree completion. To apply for OPT students must complete the OPT learning module via CANVAS.

Students must request a DSO recommendation, then file the I-765 online application and pay the required fee to USCIS for approval.

  • No specific job offer is required to apply for OPT, however, students MUST find employment within 90 days of being approved for OPT to maintain legal F-1 status

  • Employment must be directly related to the earned degree program of study

  • Students cannot begin their employment until they have received their approved EAD card

  • Students who use 12 months of OPT (pre or post) do not become eligible for another 12 months of OPT unless they move to a higher degree level (e.g. Bachelor’s to Master’s, Master’s to Ph.D.)

  • Students who use full-time CPT for one year or more, are ineligible to use OPT (pre or post) - use of part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT

  • There are two forms of OPT, pre-completion OPT (pre-OPT) and the most commonly utilized, post-complete OPT (post-OPT):​​
    • ​Pre-completion OPT: Work authorization prior to degree completion 

      • Students that utilize pre-OPT will be ineligible for post-OPT.

    • Post-completion OPT: Work authorization after degree completion

  • See OPT FAQs  for more employment information

 STEM OPT Extension 

A 24-month work authorization extension that must be directly related to their STEM degree; eligible F students with STEM degrees who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (often for 12 months) have the option to apply for this STEM OPT extension by completing the STEM OPT learning module.

  • Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT.

  • STEM OPT requires a student to have a USCIS E-Verify employer that can provide the student with formal training and learning objectives.

  • Students may work a minimum of 20 hours or more.

  • Students may not be self-employed; they must be a bonafide employee.

  • STEM OPT has reporting requirements that include an annual self-evaluation.