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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



Per the U.S. government regulations, international students with F-1 visa are eligible to work on-campus while maintaining their F-1 visa status at Michigan State University (MSU). On-campus employment must not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session.
A school is considered in-session during the fall/spring semesters AND during the student’s first or final semester.  MSU is considered in session starting the week in which classes begin as listed on the MSU academic calendar. MSU’s work week begins on Sunday and ends on Saturday of each week.

An F-1 student is eligible to work on-campus more than 20 hours when MSU is not in session and during an annual vacation. MSU is not in session starting the week after final exams as listed on the MSU academic calendar.
An annual vacation is taken during the summer semester and it is intended for students who completed full-time enrollment prior to summer and will continue full-time enrollment in their program of study after the end of summer.

Students and employers must review the MSU academic calendar and MSU Payroll Schedule to determine the periods in which F-1 students become eligible to work more than 20 hours per week.  

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.
  • 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.


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

Apply for CPT

Music students applying for short-term gigs:

Graduate Students in the College of Engineering:

All other students:

Optional Practical Training


Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary practical training authorization that is directly related to the F-1 student’s major of study as listed on the student’s I-20. OPT employment authorization is granted for 12 months typically after completion of degree requirements.

All F-1 Students applying for OPT must complete the D2L online course. Student must self-enroll in the OPT course. 


The student must meet all the below criteria to be eligible for OPT:

  • Maintain current F-1 visa status and continue maintaining F-1 visa status;
  • Be enrolled on a full-time basis for one academic year before OPT application;
  • Complete degree requirements within 90 days;
  • Did not accrue more than 12-months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT);
  • Maintain only one online course towards full-time studies, even if final semester is summer;
  • Be enrolled as a full-time student during the semester of completion, even if the semester of completion is a summer semester.
  • If only one course is remaining during final semester, that course MUST be an in-person course; and
  • If during final semester, student need less than full-time course load to complete studies, the student must apply and be approved for a Reduced Course Load for Final Semester by OISS prior to start of semester. This includes summer semester.

If you plan to spend one or more semesters outside the U.S. before applying for OPT, then you may not be eligible for OPT. Consult with an OISS advisor for OPT eligibility.

Application Timeline

Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days before the program completion date and up to 60 days after the program end date. Though it is possible to apply for after completion of studies, OISS do not recommend doing so as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing times vary and you may lose some of your 12-month employment authorization.

USCIS may take more than four months to decide on your OPT application. OISS encourages all students to apply as soon as they are able to apply. Even if you do not have a job offer, it is imperative that USCIS receives your application as early as possible

For details on the entire OPT process and timing, download the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Information Guide (PDF) and complete required D2L online course “OISS - Optional Practical Training". Visit Optional Practical Training OISS Self-enrollment Page to enroll.

View the OISS webinar on the USCIS Online OPT Application.


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:

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

3. Submit your Optional Practical Training (OPT) Application in MyOISS

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

Review the STEM OPT Page in MyOISS 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. 

Report New STEM OPT Employment

Ending STEM OPT Employment


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

STEM OPT 18 Month Employment Reporting Form

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 completing this e-form:

STEM OPT 12 Month Employment Reporting Form

STEM OPT 24 Month Employment Reporting Form

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.

Report a Material Change in STEM OPT Employment to OISS

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


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.

It will take OISS approximately two weeks to process J-1 Academic Training requests. 

Instructions and How to Apply

Academic Training Guide

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.

MSU Career Services

MSU Graduate Student Career Planning

Understand your legal work authorization options

F-1 and J-1 International Students Cannot 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 Authorization Status:

  • Read the tabs for F-1 students and J-1 students, above.
  • Always ask your OISS Advisor if you have 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. 

MSU Career Handbook

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


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: