It is essential that you understand and comply with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) restrictive employment regulations. Ignorance of the regulations does not excuse a student from the serious ramifications of unauthorized employment, which may result in deportation. You must obtain appropriate employment authorization before you engage in any type of employment.

Definition of Employment

Employment refers to any work performed or services provided (including self-employment) in exchange for money or other benefits or compensation (such as free room and board in exchange for babysitting).

Social Security Number

Individuals authorized for employment in the U.S. must have a social security number (SSN) to be paid. Prior to applying for a SSN, you must have the following documents:

  • Letter verifying an offer of employment
  • Letter from your international student advisor verifying your employment eligibility
  • I-20
  • Valid passport
  • Visa
  • I-94 arrival/departure record

Social Security Administration

Since F-2 dependents are not authorized for employment in the U.S., they are ineligible for a SSN.

On-Campus Employment

If WSU issued your I-20, you may work part-time (20 hours per week or less) during the fall and spring semesters on the WSU campus that issued your I-20. On-campus employment is “incident to status.” If you do not have lawful F-1 status, you are ineligible for on-campus employment.

On-campus employment includes teaching and research assistantships. Graduate students on half-time teaching or research assistantships may not be employed elsewhere on campus for additional hours. During annual vacation periods (i.e., summer break), students may work full-time on campus.

Washington State limits the total number of hours in a calendar year for temporary employees. If you wish to work more than 20 hours per week during summer, winter, or spring vacation, check with Human Resource Services (Academic Center 420) to determine your eligibility.

On-Campus Employment Guidelines »

Practical Training

Practical training authorization permits an F-1 student to be employed temporarily (on or off campus) at a job related to the student's major field of study. There are two types of practical training: curricular and optional.

To be eligible for either curricular or optional practical training, you must have had lawful F-1 status for one academic year.

Severe Economic Hardship

The DHS may grant off-campus employment authorization to an F-1 student as a result of “severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control.”

It is difficult to obtain this type of work authorization unless you can document that the unforeseen circumstances occurred after you arrived in the U.S. and were beyond your control.

In order to apply for this type of employment authorization, you must first meet with your international student advisor to discuss your situation and obtain the necessary recommendation.

Employment Regulations

The DHS does not permit individuals with F-2 status to be employed under any conditions. Employment is defined as the rendering of services, part- or full-time, for financial or other compensation; this includes self-employment.


Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows eligible F-1 students the opportunity for paid internships and employment integral to their major fields of study. Your international student advisor—not Immigration Services—authorizes CPT.

  • CPT employment must be a supervised, temporary position.
  • CPT can be part-time (less than 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week).


You must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Have lawful F-1 status; be lawfully enrolled, on a full-time basis, for at least one full academic year prior to the proposed CPT start date. Graduate students enrolled in a program that requires immediate participation in CPT are exempted from this requirement.
  • Major in a field of study that requires the proposed internship or employment.
  • Have a job offer.
  • Meet CPT eligibility (pdf) »

When to apply

You must apply and be authorized for CPT in advance. Allow one to two weeks for CPT processing.


Step 1

  • Discuss CPT eligibility with your academic advisor and international student advisor.
  • If CPT is appropriate to your program, obtain a CPT packet from the international student advisor.

Step 2

  • Secure a CPT job.

Step 3

  • Have your academic advisor complete the academic advisor recommendation form.
  • Have your employer complete the employment confirmation form or write a letter verifying your CPT job.
  • Drop these forms off at the Student Academic Support office (SAC 145).

Step 4

  • After you are authorized for CPT in SEVIS, we will contact you about picking up a new I-20.

Step 5

  • You are authorized to be employed only at the employer and for the period specified on page three of your new I-20.


After twelve or more months of full-time CPT, you become ineligible for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) at the same educational level.

Part-time CPT does not affect your eligibility for post-completion OPT; however, you must continue full-time enrollment unless you are doing CPT during the summer vacation.

You must obtain a new authorization in advance if you wish to change employers or extend your CPT.


OPT allows eligible F-1 students employment (both on and off campus) within their major area of study for up to twelve months per educational level. Most students use this authorization upon degree completion. OPT is granted by U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services. Processing can take three to four months and costs $340 (as of July 30, 2007).

Students who intend to engage in post-completion OPT are encouraged to start the paperwork four months prior to finishing their degree requirements.

The application process and related information are available during the OPT workshop presented by the international student advisor. Contact her at kkclark@wsu.edu or 509.358.7963 for more information.

OPT workshop alternatives

The OPT slideshow is available for students who cannot attend an OPT workshop. After viewing the slides, please meet with Kristie Brink to obtain the application materials. Bring any questions you may have. You may View the OPT slideshow online.


Income tax

Each individual employed within in the United States is responsible for compliance with income tax regulations. Based on discussions with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), this office understands that salaries and wages in payment for work performed by non-citizens, as well as some scholarships and grants awarded to F-1 students, come under U.S. tax laws.

Teaching and research assistantships are considered employment and income tax will be withheld. Between January 1 and April 15 each year, everyone who has earned U.S. income and F-1 students who received a scholarship or grant from U.S. sources during the previous calendar year are required to prepare an income tax report and file it with the IRS.

Tax forms are available online, at the post office, and at most libraries. Detailed IRS instructions accompany these forms. If too much tax has been withheld, a refund will be granted. Because of the complexity of income tax laws, it is advisable to have questions answered by the IRS or by a reliable tax consultant.

Additionally, all F-1 students must file IRS form 8843 regardless of whether they have earned income in the U.S.

The IRS offers international students assistance in completing both form 8843 and tax forms at a Saturday workshop on our campus in late February or early March.

Social security tax

You are subject to FICA (Social Security) tax withholdings if you are a “resident for tax purposes.” Generally, F-1 students become “residents” for tax purposes after they have been in the U.S. for five years. Full-time students may retain “non-resident” status beyond five years in some circumstances.

Immigration status and tax withholding

For taxation purposes, an employer must know an employee's immigration status (such as F-1, J-1, H-1B, or permanent resident). If the employer does not have the correct immigration status, he will not be able to withhold the correct amount of income and social security tax. If the proper amount of taxes is not withheld, the employee will eventually be subject to a retroactive bill for back taxes. This could be a sizable amount of money.

Students employed by WSU are responsible for informing Payroll Services of their immigration status when employment begins.

While employed by WSU, a student must also notify Payroll Services, the international student advisor, and the hiring department if immigration status changes to another status (such as from F-1 to H-1B; or from permanent resident or immigrant).

Students are responsible for this notification, which is necessary to keep WSU's records current and consistent.

Obtaining a social security card

Individuals authorized for employment in the U.S. must have a social security number (SSN) to be paid. Prior to applying for a SSN, you must have the following documents:

  • Letter verifying an offer of employment
  • Letter from your international student advisor verifying your employment eligibility
  • I-20
  • Valid passport
  • Visa 
  • I-94 arrival/departure record

Social Security Administration


Kristie Brink
Academic Center, 145
Telephone: 509.358.7963
E-mail: kkclark@wsu.edu