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Work in the U.S.

Working in the U.S. is an excellent way to apply your coursework to real-life situations, learn more about your career options after graduation, and even decide on a major. Whether you are considering employment during your time at MSU or afterward, it is important to partner with both the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS), as well as the Career Services Network (CSN) at MSU. OISS can explain your work authorization options and assist you with the proper documentation in many instances and the CSN offers programs and resources to help you build your resume writing and job interviewing skills.

F-1 Students

U.S. immigration law allows F-1 students to work on-campus and off-campus with work authorization. There are specific rules for each employment type that all students must know. Failure to follow these rules will result in the termination of your F-1 status and you will be required to leave the U.S. which may make it difficult or impossible for you to finish your degree at MSU.

On-Campus Employment


  • F-1 students, unless prohibited by their financial sponsor, are allowed to work on campus up to 20 hours per week during the semester.
  • During the semester break, registration week, final exam week, and the summer semester, F-1 students can work up to 40 hours per week.
  • Work that exceeds 20 hours per week on-campus during the semester must be authorized in advance by OISS. You must apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to cover the hours that exceed 20 hours before you can start. For example, if you need to work 25 hours during the school year, you need to apply for CPT to cover the 5 hours.

Find a Job on Campus

Learn more about how to apply for on-campus job opportunities on the Career Services Network website

Curricular Practical Training


  • Temporary employment authorization directly related to an F-1 student’s major listed on the I-20 and granted by a Designated School Official at the Office for International Students and Scholars.
  • Available only before completion of the program.
  • Must receive academic credit for the employment. This includes internships, cooperative education programs, performance and teaching experiences for music students, and work related to thesis or dissertation completion.
  • During the semester, CPT is typically approved for part-time employment. 
  • During semester breaks, CPT may be approved for either part-time or full-time employment.
  • CPT may also be approved for students to work for more than 20 hours a week on-campus for graduate students with assistantships or undergraduate students under certain circumstances.


For details on CPT requirements and eligibility, see the CPT packet.

Apply for CPT

Details and steps to apply:

Music students applying for short-term gigs:

Optional Practical Training


  • OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study

  • Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization after completing their academic studies

  • Students may be eligible for another 12 months of OPT if enrolled in a higher degree level 

  • OPT may be authorized to an F-1 student who has been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students.  The “one full academic year” requirement may be satisfied while in another nonimmigrant category. However, students must be in F-1 status when they apply for OPT. 

  • Graduate students may apply for OPT to work in the U.S. after completing all required courses and any required comprehensive exams 


You may work in the U.S. on OPT after enrolling full-time for two semesters. You must be maintaining F-1 status and be in the U.S. when you submit your application to OISS and USCIS. 

Application Timeline

You may submit your application to OISS between 90 days before the end of your final semester during which you will complete all course requirements for your degree.

Graduate students who will complete their dissertation defense during the semester may apply 90 days before the dissertation defense date. If you are approved for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), it is important to know that CPT will end on your dissertation defense date. Therefore, you must be approved for OPT before you may continue working. 

For details on the entire OPT process and timing, see the D2L course.

Employment Start Date

You may begin working on OPT after you receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Reporting Requirements

While you are on OPT, you must report the following through the SEVP Student Portal:

  • New Employment
  • Ending Employment
  • U.S. Address and Telephone Number

Learn how to use the SEVP Student Portal

SEVP Portal Student User Guide

You must also report changes in your U.S. Address and Telephone Number to MSU within 10 days of moving or getting a new phone number. update your address and phone number in StuInfo. Read our blog with step-by-step instructions on how to update your address and phone number.

Common Questions

Can I work anywhere in the U.S. while on OPT?

No. While on OPT, you may only work in jobs related to your major field of study at MSU. 

Can I work at MSU while on OPT?

Yes. You may work at MSU while on OPT. If your hiring department wants you to work beyond the end date of OPT, you will need to talk with them about applying for another employment-based immigration category like H-1B. Your hiring department will provide you with information about other employment-based immigration categories that you are eligible for. If you are eligible for another immigration category, your hiring department will work with OISS to make sure that you are in the proper employment-based immigration status to continue working at MSU after OPT ends. 

If I get another degree in the U.S. can I apply for OPT again?

You may apply for OPT based on a higher degree level at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. For instance, you can apply for OPT at the Bachelor's degree level and then apply again at the Master's degree level. 

Apply for OPT

  1. Complete the required and tuition-free OISS - Optional Practical Training Course available in D2L during your final semester.

Steps for registering for the OISS - Optional Practical Training Course:

    • Log into D2L
    • Click on "Select Self Registration"
    • Click on the course named "OISS - Optional Practical Training (OPT)"
    • Register for the course

2. After you finish the OISS - Optional Practical Training Course:

    • Print the OPT Certificate of Completion. The certificate must be dated during your final semester.
    • Complete the application and gather required documents as directed in the course.

3. Submit your application to OISS by appointment or during walk-in advising hours

4. Mail your application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

5. USCIS will mail you a receipt notice within a month.

6. USCIS will approve or deny your OPT application. Depending on processing times, it may take 90 days or more.

7. USCIS will mail an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to you after approving your OPT application. 

STEM OPT Extension


  • Available to F-1 students who studied in a STEM Designated Degree and who are currently on OPT.
  • Provides an additional 24 months of OPT.
  • Students must work in STEM jobs for employers who use E-Verify.
  • Students must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for STEM OPT Extension. 

Requirements and Eligibility

Learn about requirements and eligibility to apply for STEM OPT Extension on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Study in the States website. 

When to Apply

  • USCIS must receive and receipt your STEM OPT application before your current post-completion OPT ends.
  • You may apply for STEM OPT no earlier than 90 days before the end of your post-completion OPT.
  • Once the STEM OPT application is received by USCIS, you can continue employment for up to 180 days after the expiration of post-completion OPT. 

Apply for OPT STEM Extension

Read the OISS STEM OPT Extension Application (PDF) for information on:

  • Eligibility
  • Application Procecss
  • Application Form
  • Reporting Requirements

Reporting Requirements


Study in the States STEM OPT Reporting Requirements Chart

SEVP Student Portal

You will be able to make some updates yourself in the SEVP Student Portal. For instructions and a list of what you can report in the SEVP Student Portal: 

SEVP Student Portal - OPT and STEM OPT (PDF)

SEVP Portal Student User Guide

New Employment and Change in Current Employment

Follow instructions on this form to report new employment and changes in current employment. You must also submit a new I-983 to OISS with this form. 

STEM OPT Employment Update Form (PDF)

I-983 Form (PDF)

STEM OPT 6 Month Employment Reporting

Complete and submit this form to OISS every 6 months while working on STEM OPT. Submit this form even if nothing has changed since your last report to OISS. 

STEM OPT 6 Month Employment Reporting Form (PDF)

12 Month and 24 Month Evaluations on Form I-983

Follow reporting instructions on Study in the States. Submit page 5 of the I-983 to OISS by email oiss(at)  or by mail. 

U.S. Address and Telephone Number Reporting

You must report changes in your U.S. Address and Telephone Number to MSU within 10 days of moving or getting a new phone number. update your address and phone number in StuInfo. Read our blog with step-by-step instructions on how to update your address and phone number.


Material Changes to the Form I-983

Both STEM OPT students and employers are obligated to report material changes to, or material deviations from, the student’s formal training plan. 

Material changes or deviations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer’s Employer Identification Number, (i.e., the company’s Federal Tax ID number) resulting from a change in the employer’s ownership or structure.
  • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
  • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.

Submit your updated Form I-983 to OISS by mail or email

Cap-Gap OPT Extension While H-1B is Pending

Immigration Alert

On September 28, 2018 USCIS confirmed that F-1 OPT “Cap-Gap” Work Authorization Extension is Only Valid Through Sept. 30, 2018. F-1 students who have an H-1B petition that remains pending on Oct. 1, 2018, risk accruing unlawful presence if they continue to work on or after Oct. 1, 2018, as their “cap-gap” work authorization is only valid through Sept. 30, 2018. If a cap-gap H-1B petition remains pending on or after Oct. 1, 2018 the F-1 student is no longer authorized to work under the cap-gap regulations. However, the F-1 student generally may remain in the United States while the change of status petition is pending without accruing unlawful presence, provided they do not work without authorization.


Current regulations allow certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in F-1 status during the Cap-Gap period. This is referred to as filling the "Cap-Gap", meaning the regulations provide a way of filling the "gap" between the end of F-1 status and the beginning of H-1B status that might otherwise occur, if F-1 status is not extended for qualifying students.


You are eligible for the cap-gap extension, if both:

  • Your employer files an H-1B petition for you on or after April 1 and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin on October 1. 
  • Your are still within your OPT authorization period or 60-day grace period following the expiration date of OPT when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf. 

Eligibility for Extension of F-1 Status and Employment Authorization

If your OPT authorization is unexpired when your employer submits your H-1B petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), then your OPT authorization is extended. You can continue working in F-1 status through the extension date.

Eligibility for Extension of F-1 Status but without Employment Authorization 

If your OPT authorization is expired, but you are in your 60-day grace period when your employer submits your H-1B petition to USCIS, your F-1 status is extended, but not your work authorization. You cannot work, but you can remain in the U.S. through the extension date.

Get an Updated I-20 Showing Cap-Gap Extension

To request a Cap-Gap Extension I-20, you must submit the Cap-Gap Extension I-20 Request Form and required documents to OISS after May 9. See the Cap-Gap Extension I-20 Request Form for required documents. 

J-1 Students

J-1 students have some work authorization options that must be pre-approved by OISS or your J-1 visa sponsor. 

The possibility of employment for J-1 students is primarily governed by the J-1 visa sponsor. Most J-1 students at MSU also have J-1 visa sponsorship from MSU, but some have other J-1 visa sponsors.
Your J-1 visa sponsor is in Box #2 on your DS-2019. If your DS-2019 lists MSU as your visa sponsor, refer to the section below titled "J-1 Student Employment: Under MSU Visa Sponsorship."
If your DS-2019 lists another organization as your visa sponsor, refer to the section below titled "J-1 Student Employment: Under Outside Visa Sponsorship".

J-1 Student Employment: Under MSU Visa Sponsorship

On-Campus Employment

J-1 students are eligible to work on-campus for 20 hours a week during the school year and full-time during vacation periods. Work that exceeds 20 hours per week on campus or any work off campus must be authorized by OISS in advance.

Off-Campus Employment

  • J-1 students wishing to work off-campus (or more than 20 hours per week on campus) may apply for temporary work authorization called Academic Training (AT).
  • Failure to get employment authorization prior to employment will return in termination of your visa status.
  • AT can be authorized either before or after completion of studies to conduct hands-on training within the field of study.
  • J-1 Academic Training takes approximately one week to authorize.
  • Review the Academic Training Application (PDF) for instructions on how to apply. 

Note: If you are seeking additional employment due to serious, urgent, and unforeseen financial problems, you may be eligible for off-campus work authorization based on economic hardship. Please see an OISS advisor for further details.

J-1 Student Employment: Under Non-MSU Visa Sponsorship

J-1 visa sponsors have the authority to set their own rules regarding employment for the students under their sponsorship. Students with DS-2019 issued by another visa sponsor must contact their sponsor directly for information about employment authorization possibilities.

J-2 Dependents

J-2 spouses and J-2 children age 14 and above are eligible to apply for work authorization through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The application takes approximately three months to process. See J-2 Request for Employment (PDF) for more information.

Social Security Number and Taxes

Social Security Number

If you accept a paid position in the United States, you must apply for a Social Security Number. 

How to apply for a Social Security Number >


If you earn money in the United States, you must file tax paperwork each year regarding your income. MSU College of Law Clinic provides assistance through seminars and scheduled appointments. More tax information can be found at our Tax information webpage.

MSU Career Services Network

Career Preparation for International Students

Connect with MSU Career Services Network

MSU Career Services can help you:

  • Understand the job search process and key elements to finding a job in the U.S.
  • Learn how to prepare yourself for the job search in the U.S.
  • Have a better understanding of your major and career options.

Contacting MSU Career Services

Understand your legal work authorization options

You Can't Work in the U.S. Without Authorization

Working in the U.S. without authorization from OISS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will result in serious consequences and the termination of your I-20 or DS-2019 and the loss of immigration status. This will impact you now and in the future.  It is not worth the risk.

How to Check Your Work Status

  • Read the tabs for F-1 students and J-1 students.
  • Always check with OISS Advisors for immigration or work authorization questions.
  • Do not seek immigration advice from your friends.
  • Stay connected with OISS by checking OISS Weekly email, OISS website and OISS social media for updates.

MSU Career Services Network Guides

MSU’s Career Services Network has developed award-winning career guides to help students—from freshmen to seniors—prepare for life after college. 

Career Services Network Career Guides

OISS and MSU Career Services Network developed a special guide to help international students, U.S. employers, and university advisors navigate work authorization options, job searching in the U.S., transitioning to the U.S. workplace, and more. 

MSU International Student Employment Guide (PDF)


Other Employment-Based Immigration Categories

If you will not work for MSU, OISS cannot advise you on immigration categories such as H-1B, L-1, or Permanent Residency.

To get more information about other employment-based immigration categories: