F-1 Employment and Social Security
As an F-1 international student, your primary purpose in the U.S. must be to study and complete your academic program. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allows F-1 students certain types of work authorization that can be used during or after their studies.
All F-1 employment has a specific start and end date. Students MAY NOT work before or after the authorized dates.
Work authorization is not automatic. Students must apply in advance and wait for approval before starting work. In some cases, students may need to collaborate with their prospective employer and delay a planned start date to ensure they are not working without authorization.
Your employment should never interfere with your studies. If you find it difficult to keep up with your class and work responsibilities, you should stop your employment or lessen your hours.
Remember: As an F-1 student, your studies come first. Work authorization is an optional, added benefit for students who are complying with all immigration regulations.
On-campus employment allows F-1 international students to work on campus, and is most often used for students working at a UTEP department or office. The employment does not need to relate to the student’s degree.
On-campus employment is approved directly through OIP as long as it complies with DHS regulations.
HOURS PER WEEK
Students may work on campus up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session, but UTEP limits most student employment to 19 hours per week.
Students may work full time during vacation periods and over the summer, if it is permitted by their employing department. Students are not required to enroll in classes during the summer in order to work on campus during summer, unless required by the employing department and/or Human Resources.
Students may work in multiple positions on campus concurrently as long as their employing departments/supervisors do not object, and the student does not exceed the maximum weekly hours.
NEW, TRANSFER, AND CHANGE OF LEVEL STUDENTS
New (Initial) students may begin to work on campus up to 30 days before their I-20 program start date (first day of classes). However, students are only permitted to enter the U.S. in F-1 status 30 days before their I-20 program start date, and then must complete hiring and Social Security Number (SSN) paperwork. Therefore, new students typically do not begin work until after classes begin. Initial students with a job offer (typically a TA or RA position) are encouraged to enter the U.S. as early as possible, but no more than 30 days, before classes begin in order to start the hiring and SSN process.
Transfer students may only work on campus at the school that has their SEVIS record.
Change of Education Level students may work on campus during the gap between academic programs once they receive their I-20 for the new program.
PART-TIME BORDER COMMUTER RESTRICTIONS
Part-Time Border Commuters are not permitted to work through on-campus employment. They may accept part-time positions directly related to their academic major through Curricular Practical Training (CPT) only.
If you are not sure if this applies to you, please contact email@example.com.
HOW TO APPLY
Students must have a job offer in order to apply for on-campus work authorization. First, find a job through Job Mine. The UTEP Career Center can help you create/revise your resume and look for job openings. Please note that international students are not eligible for Work Study positons.
Once you have a job offer letter, submit the “On Campus Work Authorization” request through Sunapsis. If you do not yet have a Social Security Number, also submit the “Social Security Letter” request (see Social Security Number tab for more information).
You do not need to obtain a new On Campus Work Authorization letter from OIP if you start a new job on campus. If Human Resources asks you for an updated letter to complete or extend your hiring paperwork, you can submit the “On Campus Work Authorization” request through Sunapsis.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is most often used for students to gain practical training in their field of study by working off campus during their degree. The position must be an integral part of your academic program, and directly related to your major.
CPT is also required for unpaid positions that are a part of your degree, such as a practicum, internship, or co-op. Even though you may not be paid for the experience, if you are conducting any activities with an off-campus organization as a part of your degree program, you must receive approval for CPT in advance.
CPT is approved directly through OIP as long as it complies with DHS regulations.
You can learn more at our CPT website.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is most often used for students to gain practical training in their field of study by working in the U.S. after completing their degree. Students who qualify are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT initially, and students with a designated STEM degree are eligible for an additional 24-month extension.
OPT and STEM OPT are recommended by OIP, and approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS requires a filing fee to process the application. Because they require government approval, applications take several months for processing. Students who want to work soon after graduation should start applying at the beginning of their last semester.
You can learn more at our OPT website.
In extremely rare cases, F-1 students may apply for off-campus work authorization based on Severe Economic Hardship. Students should contact an OIP advisor for further discussion if they think they may qualify. NOTE: Part-Time Border Commuters are not eligible to apply.
Severe Economic Hardship is recommended by OIP, and approved by USCIS. USCIS requires a filing fee to process the application. Because they require government approval, applications take several months for processing, and students may not begin working before approval. Therefore, this is not a good option for students who need immediate relief.
Even if the student appears to meet all conditions, USCIS may still deny the request, and the student will not receive a refund of the filing fee.
Students must meet the following conditions to apply:
- You have been in F-1 status for one full academic year (two full semesters);
- You are in good academic standing; and
- You are enrolled in a full course of study;
Students must be able to provide evidence that:
- The employment will not interfere with your studies;
- On-campus employment is unavailable or insufficient to meet your needs; and
- The employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, such as:
- You lost financial aid or on-campus employment through no fault of your own;
- There were substantial changes in the exchange rate or value of your home country’s currency;
- Extraordinary increases in tuition or living costs;
- Unexpected changes to your financial support; or
- Unexpected medical bills.
If approved, students may work off campus at any employer up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session, and full time during school breaks and summer.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), F-1 students are eligible to participate in an internship with a designated international organization if the internship is, “With a recognized international organization within the meaning of the 59 Stat. 669, International Organization Immunities Act, (see 22 USC 288)” and, “Within the scope of the organization's sponsorship.”
International Organization work authorization is recommended by OIP, and approved by USCIS. USCIS requires a filing fee to process the application. Because they require government approval, applications take several months for processing, and students may not begin working before approval.
Students should contact an OIP advisor for further discussion if they think they may qualify. NOTE: Part-Time Border Commuters are not eligible to apply.
Working without authorization is a severe immigration violation that will follow your record forever. DHS considers all unauthorized employment a “willful violation.” This means that whether you did so intentionally or unintentionally, you are held accountable for any unauthorized work and are subject to consequences.
Unauthorized work can be:
- Working without the required approval;
- Working before your authorized approval began;
- Working after your authorized approval ended;
- Working more or fewer hours than you have been authorized to work, if your work authorization has a minimum or maximum number of hours; and/or
- Working outside the terms of approval (i.e. you are approved to work in a certain position but you are actually working in a different position)
If an OIP advisor learns that you have worked without authorization, we are required by law to terminate your SEVIS record, and you will immediately lose your F-1 status and be required to exit the U.S.
Working without authorization can follow your immigration record forever, even if you are not penalized for it immediately. For example, if you work without authorization as a student, DHS may find out if you apply for another visa or a green card in the future. This can lead to denial of your application, and a potential bar from entering the U.S.
If you have questions about how unauthorized work could impact your current or future immigration record, we recommend speaking to a qualified immigration attorney as soon as possible. You can find a list of immigration attorneys through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
A Social Security Number (SSN) allows you to legally work and be paid in the U.S. Your SSN is printed on a small Social Security Card that is issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
- F-1 international student must receive work authorization from the Office of International Programs (OIP) before they apply for an SSN.
- New (Initial) students who have an on-campus job offer (such as a TA or RA position) should plan to enter the U.S. before classes being, but no more than 30 days before classes begin, to start the hiring and SSN process.
- SSN applications are made in-person at an SSA office. International students cannot complete the process before arriving in the U.S. (in F-1 status). Learn more at the SSA's International Students and Social Security Numbers page.
Immediately, upon arrival, new international students must report to OIP. Follow instructions provided with their Initial I-20. OIP will then register their SEVIS record. It may take 10-30 days for SEVIS to then update the Social Seciurity Administration Office and other government systems to updated immigration records required before they may approve a SSN # request.
Please note that UTEP DOES NOT allow international workers (e.g., students, professors, researchers, interns, etc.) to begin working until (1) New Hire documents, (2) Criminal Background Check (CBC) and a (3) Social Secruity number are available. Please review the Hiring Process Student link provided below.
- UTEP Hiring Process Student: Hiring Process Student (utep.edu)
- SSA Hiring Foreign Workers: Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers (ssa.gov)
Sunapsis Process to to request a Social Security Letter:
- On-Campus Employment: Submit the “Social Security Letter” request concurrently with your “On Campus Work Authorization” request in Sunapsis
- Visit to SSA office is required
- Visit to SSA office is required
- CPT: Submit the “Social Security Letter” request concurrently with your “CPT Application” in Sunapsis
- Visit to SSA office is required
- Visit to SSA office is required
- All other F-1 employment: Apply for your SSN when you submit Form I-765 to USCIS
- Visit to SSA office is NOT required
Once you have a SSN, it is yours for life. You do not need to apply for a new number or card when starting a new job or changing to another immigration status.
Your card will have the notation "Valid for Work Only with DHS Authorization" written on it. This means that the card does not give you work authorization, but, it is to be used in conjunction with a work authorization document. If you become a Permanent Resident (green card holder), you may request a new card SS card without the notation.
IMPORTANT: Keep your SSN and card safe. If you lose your card, it will be difficult to obtain a new one from SSA.
AVOID SCAMS: Inform yourself on how to keep your personal information safe. You can review the SSA’s Fraud Prevention and Reporting page for more information on avoiding scams.
The U.S. offers several immigration statuses that are primarily for individuals to work in the U.S. You can find a list at USCIS’s Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Workers page.
Since OIP advisors primarily advise on student and exchange visitor immigration issues, we encourage you to speak to your employer and/or an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions about work visas. You can find a list of immigration attorneys through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
In many cases, individuals on a work visa can continue their studies or start a new program, as long as their work remains their primary purpose for residing in the U.S. You can learn more at our Who Can Study? page.
If your immigration status changes while you are still in F-1 status at UTEP, please immediately submit the “Report Change in Immigration Status” e-form in Sunapsis so that OIP can close your F-1 record with UTEP and DHS.