Most students will obtain their first paid job in the US on-campus working for an office, tutoring, or doing research. Once you have obtained your first paying job, you will need to work with Jessica Haile in the International Student Services office to obtain your Social Security Number (more on the SSN below). Also, please see the Campus Employment Steps document below for more information on the SSN process.
You are permitted to work on campus up to 15 hours per week. While F-1 regulations allow you to work up to 20 hours of work per week on campus while classes are in session, the College is only able to provide students with up to 15 hours of campus employment per week.
You may, however, work on campus full-time during Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer Break at 40 hours per week.
Please note that you may not work off-campus without special authorization (even if positions are offered through F&M). Examples include the College Hill Children's Center as well as the Ware Institute's Public Service Summer Internships (PSSIs) and F&M Works program. (Please read the next section if you are interested in doing one of the Ware Institute's programs as an Internship for Credit via Curricular Practical Training. Note, you must have declared a major to do an internship.)
You may NOT work for Sodexo's Catering department, since some of their events are held at off-campus locations.
Your Social Security Number (SSN)
Our office assists all F-1 students in applying for a SSN. A student in F-1 status must possess one of the following to apply for a Social Security number:
- Evidence of an offer for on-campus employment (campus job or paid research); OR
- Authorization to engage in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) on page 2 of the I-20 form; OR
- An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).
Be aware that having a Social Security number does not authorize employment. In fact, the card issued to you will read “valid for work only with the DHS authorization” because only USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security may grant employment authorization. Once this number is issued, it will serve the purpose of tracking your income for tax purposes. Please safeguard this very important document and keep it with your passport, as replacing it is a complicated process. Please come to office hours, or make an appointment with Jessica Haile to discuss the process for obtaining your SSN.
The Social Security Administration web site is also a useful resource: www.ssa.gov
If you qualify to apply for a SSN, you will need to take the following items to a Social Security Administration office to apply for a number:
On Campus Employment:
- Valid passport
- Valid I-94 card print out retreived here.
- Current I-20
- Employment Verification Form (completed by your supervisor and Jessica Haile)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT):
- Valid I-94 card print out retreived here.
- All previously held I-20 forms
- Current I-20 showing authorization for CPT employment (on page 3)
- Offer letter from your internship
Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Severe Economic Hardship (SEH):
- Valid I-94 card print out retreived here.
All previously held I-20 forms
Valid EAD issued by the DHS (Employment Authorization card received once OPT is approved)
The SSA must confirm your status with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and it may take a few weeks before a Social Security number is issued to you. If the SSA is unable to confirm your Status with DHS, they will still issue you a receipt showing that you applied for the card. But, it will also address the delay stating that it could take up to four weeks to verify your documents.
In most cases, we ask that you have the card sent to the International Programs Office for photocopying/safekeeping, and we will let you know when it can be picked up.
Internships for Credit through Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
How to Intern or Research off-Campus Legally in the US:
Once you declare your major, you may complete an Internship for Credit (IFC). Your work experience MUST be related to your declared major. While you are on CPT (employment authorization), you are permitted to work up to 20 hours per week total while classes are in session including campus employment. You may work full-time (40 hours) during the summer, which means that you may complete a paid full-time work experience for credit during the summer. (You could also work on campus for 20 hours per week and intern 10-20 hours per week during the summer.) Please visit the OSPGD IFC site to learn more.
The Office of International Programs works with OSGPD (The Office of Student & Postgraduate Development -Harwood Commons) to administer this process together. If you are unsure of where to start looking for work experience, we encourage students to make an appointment with an OSPGD Advisor and check out the links below. OSPGD can also assist with any questions regarding the IFC application itself.
F-1 students are prohibited from doing an unpaid internship (or off-campus research) not for credit within the United States. There is risk associated with such unauthorized employment, which may impact your F-1 status or a request for a future immigration benefit. An example of such a future benefit would be a change of status to H-1B.
Please note that you will need CPT in order to do a Ware Institute Public Service Summer Internship (PSSI) or an an internship through F&M Works. You would also need CPT if you use Marshall Scholar funding to intern in the US. This means that the internship/program would have to be credit-bearing AND directly related to your major.
In the case of F&M Works, the Office of International Programs in collaboration with the Ware Institute will determine which majors would be appropriate for specific internship sites. Since this is a year-long program, you'd be required to arrange two Internships for Credit for .5 credit for the fall and spring semester. (You'd register for these courses with all of your other courses.) This would entail securing a faculty advisor for the year-long experience. You will be contacted by email if you qualify to apply for this opportunity.
- Complete the IFC application through OSPGD - finding a faculty sponsor and drafting a educational plan.
- Please write the specific dates you would like to be authorized to work at your site at the top of page 1.
- OSPGD will email us a copy of your IFC materials (as well sending a copy to the Registrar's Office) facilitating registration and CPT authorization.
- You must be authorized for CPT by Dean Haile well before the start of your internship for credit. To acquire CPT, your complete IFC application must be turned into OSPGD (Office of Student & Postgraduate Development - Harwood Commons).
- This process will produce a new I-20 in SEVIS that you will need to show proof of your legal ability to work. Please note that you can complete 364 days of full-time CPT before it affects your OPT eligibility. (Part-time CPT does not count.)
- **WILL YOUR INTERNSHIP BE YOUR FIRST PAID JOB IN THE US? If you will be paid by your internship site and do NOT have a Social Security Number (SSN), please work with Jessica Haile to complete the SSN Application Process ASAP. You can expect the process to take a few weeks. Email Jessica Haile at email@example.com to initate the application process.
- Please note that for all paid jobs, you will be expected to file taxes the following tax season for that calendar year. If you are paid in a state other than PA, you will need to find out how to file state taxes in that state, specifically. We are not familiar with every state's tax processes.
- Additionally, if you have been in the US for less than 5 years, you are exempt from paying Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes. Please address this with your employer before getting your first paycheck. You can refer them to IRS Publication 519 for the exact policy. Getting this money refunded later on is a very difficult process and not guaranteed.
- A presentation and handout from OSPGD and International Programs explaining the IFC-CPT process in a step-by-step outline.
- The Internship for Credit (IFC) application and other guides/Educational Plans can be found here.
- How to login & use Handshake - the database listing on and off-campus opportunities for students.
In recent years USCIS and the Department of Labor have been scrutinizing volunteerism that should actually be paid employment (authorized). This has a trickle down effect for unauthorized unpaid internships.
By definition volunteerism is done for charitable and/or humanitarian purposes usually for a non-profit organization. If you are looking to gain work experience you may most likely NOT do it through volunteerism. Email Dean Haile (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions before starting a volunteer opportunity.
Filing US Federal & State Taxes - Every Spring!
Professional Off-Campus Work through Optional Practical Training (OPT)
For each higher level of study you complete (i.e, Bachelor’s, Master’s), you are entitled to one year of full-time work authorization in your major field of study. Nearly all students choose to use their OPT following graduation. You may fill out the OPT application and submit it up to three months in advance of your graduation date. You do not have to have a job before applying for this benefit. Please note that these applications must be sent to USCIS via the Texas Lockbox.
The "Just for Seniors" website has more information about the application process for OPT to be used after graduation.