F1 - Students
While studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your F-1 student status. Your visa says that you are coming to the United States to study. You should not consider any action that detracts from that purpose.
- Enter the United States no more than 30 days before your program of study begins.
- Immediately contact your designated school official (DSO) when you enter the United States. If you arrive without the necessary documents and are issued Form I-515A for temporary admittance to the U.S. your DSO will help you send the required forms to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The forms must be sent within 30 days or your F-1 status will be terminated.
- When you arrive at school, you need to contact your DSO again, no later than the program start date listed on your Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status”.
You must set up an appointment with your DSO if you have questions regarding the following matters:
- Change your major, program, or degree level
- Change your education level
- Transfer between Northwood campuses
- Transfer to a new school or take a leave of absence
- Take a break from school
- Travel outside the United States
- Move to a new address
- Request a program extension
- Reinstatement applications
- Application to change non-immigrant status
Many of the changes listed above must be reported to your DSO within 10 days of the change so that your SEVIS record is updated.
- Attend and pass all your classes. If school is too difficult, speak with your International Student Adviser or DSO immediately.
- If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.
- You must take a full course of study each term; if you cannot study full-time, contact your International Student Adviser or DSO immediately.
- Do not drop a class without speaking first with your International Student Adviser or DSO.
Do not work without authorization. An F-1 student may work only when authorized.
If you want to work in the United States, talk with your DSO about your options. Your DSO may authorize certain work; other employment may require your DSO’s recommendation and authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
For more information, see Working in the United States.
If you choose to work without authorization, you will be forced to leave the United States immediately. You may not be able to re-enter the United States at a later date.
As an F-1 student in Active status, you immediately have an option for one kind of work: on-campus employment. However, there are some things to keep in mind.
Although you may work shortly after you arrive, you must be in Active status and your DSO must approve your request. After your DSO approves your request, you’ll be given a letter of approval. This letter, along with a letter from your employer, will help you get a Social Security number. When school is in session, you may only work 20 hours per week.
After a full year at school, you could be eligible for off-campus employment. Approval for this requires special authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In order to apply for this kind of employment authorization, you must receive a recommendation from your DSO and file a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” with USCIS. After USCIS approves your employment, they will send you a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD).
You may not begin work until you have received your EAD. Just as with on-campus work, while school is in session you are restricted to a 20 hour work week.
As an F-1 student, you can receive work authorization for training related to your studies: optional practical training (OPT) and curricular practical training (CPT). Most of the time, you must have been enrolled in an SEVP-certified school as an F-1 student for one full academic year to be eligible for either type of practical training.
Tax season happens each spring in the United States. Anyone who works in the United States must report income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This requirement includes F-1 students. An F-1 student must report income received during a program of study in the United States, which may include the following:
- Income from wages
- Income from nonwage compensation
- Grants, fellowships, or scholarships that exceed the cost of tuition and required fees
In the United States, all workers (including F-1 students) must file a tax return each year to the U.S. government. There are special rules for F-1 students who are nonresident aliens for tax purposes. After filling out your tax return, you will know how much, if any, tax you must pay. The IRS tax filing deadline is generally April 15th of each year.
If you are not eligible for a Social Security number but need to report income to the IRS, you can apply for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). You can learn more at this ITIN page. If you have any questions, talk to your designated school official. The IRS also has helpful information in the section for Foreign Students and Scholars under International Taxpayers at their website.
Filing Tax Forms
F-1 students who are nonresident aliens for tax purposes must file forms with the IRS even if they earn no income. Northwood University obtains the license for an international tax software program available via the web, GLACIER Tax Prep, and provides it for F-1 students to use. The program will generate the necessary forms that must be printed and mailed to the IRS.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular practical training (CPT) at either the undergraduate or the graduate level is only available if this employment is an integral part of an established curriculum and if the position directly relates to your major area of study. See your International Student Adviser or DSO for information and to learn what majors have externships or practicums.
CPT must relate to your major and the experience must be part of your program of study, however, unlike OPT and other work, CPT can be full time and is not restricted by a weekly 20-hour work limit. However, if you have 12 months of full-time CPT you will not be authorized for OPT. You must also be enrolled full-time during CPT.
In order to qualify for CPT your DSO needs to provide you with a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status” indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT must relate to your major or course of study, and although you can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, you must have your EAD card before you begin working.
In order to obtain your EAD, your DSO needs to provide you with a new Form I-20 indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment, and you must submit a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” to USCIS. Your EAD card will come from USCIS. You may seek pre-completion or post-completion OPT. If you are approved for post-completion OPT, you are limited to no more than 90 days of unemployment. See OPT Policy Guidance.
There are different guidelines for F-1 students depending on their situation:
- Students participating in pre-completion OPT may not work more than 20 hours a week while school is in session.
- Students participating in post-completion OPT may work full-time.
- F-1 students are generally authorized up to 12 months of OPT (part-time pre-completion OPT, on a 2:1 prorated basis, and post-completion OPT combined).
- After your OPT has ended, you may not continue to work either for your business or for other employers unless you qualify for and receive a nonimmigrant or immigrant status that authorizes you to continue working in the United States.
- OPT is available for each degree level that is completed.
International Students and Entrepreneurship
Because starting your own business constitutes work, you must qualify and apply for OPT to start a business while in F-1 status. OPT, and thus the business, must relate to your program of study and can occur either before (pre-completion OPT) or after the completion of a program of study (post-completion OPT). Information for starting a business is available at BusinessUSA.