Employment Authorization for Students with F-1 Visa
This information is intended for prospective work authorization applicants. It is not comprehensive and students are encouraged to speak with the international student adviser in the fall of their first year to learn more about the process so that they can plan ahead appropriately.
What is employment authorization?
Students with an F-1 visa are not eligible to work off campus without authorization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is intended to provide F-1 visa holders with up to 12 months of practical (typically paid) work experience in the U.S. Most students generally tend to save it for a year after graduation but students who apply for paid internships over winter or summer break, have to apply for work authorization as well. Note, when you apply for work authorization for summer or winter work, the duration of time is subtracted from the 12 months for which you are eligible. A recent ruling from USCIS has increased the amount in some special cases.
Who is eligible?
You must be enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year. That is, first-year students will be eligible to apply for work authorization only in the summer after their first year. Students who get grants from Swarthmore to work off campus during breaks may or may not need to apply for OPT. Students should check with their prospective employers and the international student adviser to confirm.
What is required for the process?
The following documents are needed for you to apply for work authorization. The requirement for these documents (for example, the attributes of the picture) change quite often. Please consult the international student adviser before you apply to get the latest updates.
- A copy of the front page of your passport (the page with your picture, the expiration data of the passport, and your personal information, including your date of birth, country of birth, nationality, etc.) You should also include a copy of page(s) where changes have been made. For example, if your name was wrongly spelt on the main page and a correction was made on the following page, you should include a copy of the second page as well.
- A copy of your visa.
- A copy of the 1-94 Form. This is the form that immigration officials attached to your passport at the port when you came to the United States.
- I-20 Form (including all previous I-20s).
- Photographs. The requirements change quite often. Please talk to the international student adviser for details.
- A new copy of your I-20 showing your application for OPT.
Only the international student adviser can apply for work authorization on your behalf. You cannot apply for it yourself. Thus, the first step is to approach the adviser to apply.
A) Application Information:
- Register the application on your I-20 form at the International Student Adviser's office and copy any other I-20 forms you may have.
- Fill out form I-765 [PDF]
- Copy the Form I-94 (white form clipped to your passport)
- Copy F-1 visa stamp in your passport
- Copy your passport information page
- Prepare personal check for $380 made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Include 2 identical color photographs (requirements may change)
- Copy any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD)
- Submit your documents and application to via mail. The address varies depends on your addresss. Please see your International Student Advisor.
Some things to note while filling in the applicationBe sure to use an address in the U.S. where you can receive the receipt and EAD. Note that the U.S. postal system will not forward the EAD.
Do I need to specify a job when I apply for work authorization?
Currently, information about an employer is not initially required, but applications for OPT -STEM extension will require employer information. However, you do need to know the exact dates you want to work. It is very difficult to change the dates for OPT after the application is submitted or to have time restored if you decide not to use it, so be sure of your plans before you apply.
When should we start applying for work authorization?
You can apply for work authorization starting 90 days (3 months) before graduation or up to 60 days after. Most students apply around spring break for work beginning in the summer. If you are a senior contemplating working in the United States after Swarthmore, plan ahead!
What happens after I submit the application? When will I be notified?
- You will receive a receipt notice. You should hold on to this receipt.
- Keep a copy of your application, the receipt and the EAD.
I have my work authorization card with me, what should I do now?
Do not assume the process has ended after you receive your EAD. Here's a list of things we recommend you do:
- Let the international student adviser know that you have received your EAD.
- Check the dates to make sure that the dates you plan to work match those on the EAD.
- Make extra copies of the EAD and save them. This is particularly important if you receive your EAD for summer or winter work before graduation and would like to apply again for work after graduation. You will need copies( front and back) of all your previous EADs when you apply for a new one.