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Foreign Students

Foreign academic or vocational students may be allowed to work in the United States under certain circumstances.  Depending on the type of student and type of employment, the student will be issued different documents that show employment authorization.

Foreign Vocational Students:  Students in M-1 Nonimmigrant Status

Vocational students in M-1 nonimmigrant status may only accept employment if it is part of a practical training program after completion of their course of study. 

The student must receive an EAD before working and can only work for a maximum of six months of practical training. The EAD establishes the student’s identity and employment authorization. If presented with an EAD, the employer should record the Alien Registration Number, card number and expiration date under List A in Section 2 of Form I-9.

Foreign Academic Students: Students in F-1 Nonimmigrant Status

F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. There are various programs available for F-1 students to seek off-campus employment, after the first academic year. The following table is a quick reference to the employment authorization documents that a foreign student in F-1 nonimmigrant status may be issued and present to an employer for Form I-9 purposes.

On-Campus Employment

Curricular Practical Training 

Optional Practical Training STEM CAP-GAP

Off Campus Employment Based on Severe Economic Hardship

Employment Sponsored by an International Organization
Foreign Passport Foreign Passport EAD EAD EAD EAD EAD
Form I-94 Form I-94 with Form I-20 123 EAD (expired on its face) with Form I-20 EAD (expired on its face) with Form I-20 123 123

Foreign Students in F-1 Nonimmigrant Status Working in On-Campus Employment

Foreign students in F-1 nonimmigrant status may work on campus without the approval of a Designated School Official or USCIS. To complete Form I-9, the combination of the F-1 student’s unexpired foreign passport and Form I-94/94A indicating F-1 nonimmigrant status is a List A document.

Foreign students in F-1 nonimmigrant status may work:

  • On the school’s premises, including on-location commercial firms that provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria
  • At an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school

Employment that does not provide direct services to students is not on-campus employment. For example, an on-campus commercial firm, such as a construction company that builds a school building, does not provide direct student services.

On-campus employment is limited to 20 hours a week when school is in session.  An exception to this limitation applies in cases of emergent circumstances announced by DHS in a notice published in the Federal Register.

Foreign Students in F-1 Nonimmigrant Status Participating in Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

An F-1 nonimmigrant student may begin CPT after the Designated School Official has completed the Form I-20 endorsement page.  CPT is alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.  A CPT must be a part of an established curriculum. 

F-1 nonimmigrant students participating in CPT are issued three documents that, when presented together, establish identity and employment authorization under List A for Form I-9 purposes:

  • The student’s unexpired foreign passport
  • Form I-20 with the Designated School Official’s endorsement for employment on page 3
  • A valid Form I-94 or I-94A indicating F-1 nonimmigrant status

Record the foreign passport and I-94 numbers in Section 2 under List A of Form I-9. Write the SEVIS number and the program expiration date from Form I-20 in the margin of Form I-9 near Section 2.

Foreign Students in F-1 Nonimmigrant Status Participating in Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT provides practical experience in an F-1 student’s major area of study and may not exceed one year.  A foreign student in F-1 nonimmigrant status participating in OPT must receive Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS before he or she is authorized to work.  He or she may not begin OPT until the date indicated on the EAD.  With OPT, a student may work while still in school:

  • For up to 20 hours per week while school is in session
  • Full-time during the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session

After finishing a course of study, a student must complete all practical training within a 14-month period.  Some foreign students may be eligible for a 17-month extension of their OPT. (See F-1 OPT STEM Extension.)  

The EAD establishes the student’s identity and employment authorization. The employer should record the Alien Registration Number, card number and expiration date under List A in Section 2 of Form I-9.

Once the EAD expires, employers must reverify the employee’s employment authorization in Section 3.  The employee may choose to present any document from List A or C of Form I-9 that shows he or she continues to be authorized to work in the United States.

F-1 OPT STEM Extension

A foreign student who received a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) may apply for a one-time, 17-month extension of his or her OPT while in a period of post-completion OPT.STEM students must work for an employer enrolled in E-Verify in good standing. A STEM student may change employers, but the new employer must be enrolled in E-Verify before the student begins work for pay. The following documents establish the student’s identity and employment authorization and should be recorded under List A in Section 2 of Form I-9:

  • EAD or
  • Expired EAD which is considered unexpired because the STEM extension application is still pending.  This EAD:
    • Must be presented with Form I-20 endorsed by the Designated School Official recommending the STEM extension
    • Acceptable for 180 days from the expiration date on the card
    • Must be reverified after 180 days 

If the student presents an expired EAD, described above, the employer should: 

  • Record the document title
  • Record the document number
  • Record the date the EAD expired in the expiration date space
  • Write “180-day Ext.” in the margin of Section 2 

When the 180-day extension expires, the employer should reverify the employment authorization. 

CAP-GAP Extension

F-1 nonimmigrant students who are changing their status to H-1B may be eligible for a cap-gap extension of status and employment authorization through September 30 of the calendar year for which the H-1B petition is being filed, but only if the H-1B employment will begin on October 1. The term cap-gap refers to the period between the time a nonimmigrant’s F-1 status would ordinarily end and his or her H-1B status begins.  Only students participating in post-completion OPT when an H-1B petition with an October 1 start date is filed receive both an extension of status and employment authorization during the cap-gap period.

The documents below establish identity and employment authorization for students who have had their status and employment authorization extended through a cap-gap extension.Employers should record these documents under List A in Section 2 of Form I-9: 

  • EAD or
  • Expired EADwhich is considered unexpired because the H-1B petition is still pending. This EAD:
    • Must be presented with Form I-20 endorsed by the Designated School Official recommending the cap-gap extension
    • Is acceptable through September 30 of the year in which the employer filed the H-1B petition or until the H-1B petition is rejected, denied or withdrawn
    • Must be reverified when the Form I-20 cap-gap endorsement expires but not later than October 1 

If the student presents an expired EAD, described above, the employer should:

  • Record the document title
  • Record the document number
  • Record the date the EAD expired in the expiration date space
  • Write “Cap-Gap” in the margin of Section 2
Last Reviewed/Updated: 05/13/2011