Student Employment

Student Employment Header

ON-CAMPUS EMPLOYMENT RULES

F-1 and J-1 students who are under The University of Alabama’s sponsorship do not need authorization from International Student & Scholar Services in order to engage in on-campus employment. However, there are some conditions that must be met in order for the student to maintain his or her status, and in order for the University to legally employ an international student.

On-campus employment means that you are paid by The University of Alabama, and the work must occur on The University of Alabama campus.  You may be employed in a student hourly position or an assistantship, but employment on-campus is limited to no more than 20 hours per week during fall and spring semesters.

Students who wish to work off-campus must do so through special authorization and should make an appointment with an international student advisor to discuss this in advance of accepting any employment.

These are the conditions under which a student in F-1 or J-1 status may work on campus:

  • The student is enrolled full-time;
  • F-1 and J-1 students may not work more than 20 hours per week during the fall or spring semesters (This means you may work 20 hours per week total for all on-campus jobs combined. In other words, you may work one job at 10 hours per week plus another on-campus job at 10 hours per week, but you may not work one job at 15 hours a week plus one job at 10 hours per week as this would equal 25 hours per week total);
  • Students may work more than 20 hours per week only during official university breaks (Summer break, Winter break, and Spring break).

Students:

  • Make sure that you are enrolled full-time and do not work more than 20 hours per week during the semester;
  • You should not begin working until you have completed the I-9 process with your hiring department;
  • If you do not have a Social Security Number (SSN), you will have to apply for one since U.S. federal law requires all individuals employed in the U.S. to have a SSN. SSNs are used to identify employees and tax salaries, and are only issued for the purpose of employment. A SSN is not required to begin employment, but must be obtained immediately after being hired;
  • If you do not already have a SSN or you have lost your Social Security Card, have your employer complete the Employer Verification Form and bring it to International Student & Scholar Services for validation;
  • If you are completing your degree requirements, you may not work on campus past the end of your final semester. However, you may wish to apply for F-1 Optional Practical Training or J-1 Academic Training in order to work off-campus after graduation;
  • If you are transferring from The University of Alabama to another university and are not completing your degree requirements, it may be possible to continue your on-campus employment for a short time beyond the end of your last semester at UA.  Please schedule an appointment with an advisor at International Student & Scholar Services to discuss your options.

Finding an On-Campus Job:

  • To look for a job at UA, go to the UA student employment site (NOTE: This site includes both On-Campus and Off-Campus job opportunities; international students can only apply or work at On-Campus jobs).
  • Bama Dining also has on-campus job opportunities, which are posted to a separate Bama Dining job website.

UA STUDENT JOB POSTINGS     BAMA DINING JOBS APPLICATION

UA Employers & Departments:

  • Make sure that the international student is a full-time F-1/J-1 student (verify enrollment in Banner) and do not offer more than 20 hours per week;
  • Process the I-9 documentation using the student’s F-1 I-20 or J-1 DS-2019 document as the proof of their legal ability to accept work on-campus. The I-20 or DS-2019 must list The University of Alabama as the student’s institution, and the eligibility for employment expires the same date that is listed as the expected graduation date on the I-20/DS-2019 document (in Program of Study section on page 1 of the F-1 I-20 or in Section 3 of the J-1 DS-2019);
  • More information about I-9 Verification can be found in the M-274 Handbook for Employers;
  • The spouses and children of F-1 students (F-2 dependents) are not eligible to work;
  • The spouses and children of J-1 students (J-2 dependents) are eligible to work only with a valid Employment Authorization Card (EAD Card).

All questions regarding on-campus employment for international students may be directed to International Student & Scholar Services, international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402.

Economic Hardship

Economic Hardship is an immigration term that refers to a specific definition for the need to work. Under F-1 and J-1 student visa regulations, the meaning of this term includes such criteria as “a severe and unforeseen circumstance” which results in a demonstrated need for employment.

For example, such circumstance could be a devaluation of your home country’s currency (usually more than 25%) against the U.S. dollar. To prove the economic impact, you would have to show that your family or government was sponsoring you, and that because of the devaluation of your currency, an insufficient amount of funding is now available to you to pay for your studies and living expenses. If you are on an assistantship or scholarship from UA which is sufficient to cover your tuition and cost of living expenses, the fact that there has been a significant change in your home country’s financial structure or family’s personal finances will not be sufficient proof of Economic Hardship. You must show a loss of your personal source of financial support for your studies and living expenses.

In addition, there are certain time related issues for eligibility.  For instance, F-1 students are generally not eligible to apply for Economic Hardship in their first year of study.

Setting Appointment:
Since the process for F-1 and J-1 obtaining employment under Economic Hardship is treated differently, you will need to make an appointment with a International Student & Scholar Services Advisor. This personal advising session will enable the advisor to fully discuss your needs and eligibility for this type of employment.

To make an appointment to discuss Economic Hardship you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.

F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT PROCESSING APPOINTMENTS: Applications are processed by appointment only.  Processing appointments can be done in person at International Student & Scholar Services in 105 B.B. Comer or virtually.  To make an appointment for CPT Processing you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.

For an in-person or virtual appointment, please submit a complete CPT Application Packet with scans of all supporting documents and forms to international@ua.edu 1 day prior to the appointment.  For applicants who will apply in-person, please come at least 5 minutes prior to your intended appointment time; those who are late will have to reschedule an appointment.

NOTE – F-1 students are required to attend a CPT Seminar through Blackboard prior to applying for CPT the first time.  Students will be registered for the Blackboard Seminar in their first semester at UA.  If you have not received access or would like to access the training again, please contact international@ua.edu.  You can also review the CPT Seminar Slides here.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is used by F-1 students to seek off-campus work/internships related to their current degree. CPT must be conducted during the degree program; for information on work authorization after completion of a degree, please see our Optional Practical Training (OPT) section.  CPT cannot be authorized for work in a field related to the student’s minor emphasis or previous major.

CPT can be authorized for part-time work (fewer than 20 hours a week) or full-time (20+ hours a week). Despite the full-time CPT work option, the standard 20 hour work limit during fall and spring semesters applies while a student is pursuing coursework (an exception to the 20-hour limit is made for graduate students in their thesis/dissertation research phase, Co-Op Program placement, and students whose field placement is a required part of the academic program as noted in the catalog). On-campus employment and CPT together cannot amount to over 20 hours of work a week during fall and spring semesters (this includes Assistantships) with limited exceptions.

CPT is designed to provide work experience directly related to and integral to a student’s degree of study. It is not intended for general, ongoing work authorization. Traditional volunteer work (e.g. at a soup-kitchen, homeless shelter) does not require CPT authorization. However any work or internship, even unpaid, requires CPT authorization PRIOR to a student’s participation in the work experience.

CPT Eligibility

• A student must be in valid F-1-status and have been a full-time student for one full academic year (At least one fall and spring semester) before participating in CPT.

NOTE: An exception to the one academic year requirement may be made for graduate programs that require an internship in the first year of study. This first year internship requirement must be documented in the advisor recommendation letter. Graduate programs that allow for the internship to be completed after the first year of study are not eligible for CPT authorization under this exception.

• English Language Institute (ELI) and Non-Degree Students are not eligible for Curricular Practical Training.

• A student must have a written job offer on company letterhead before applying for CPT. The job offer must indicate the position, the exact dates of employment, the number of hours to be worked per week and the company’s address.

• A student must continue to maintain full-time student status for the duration of the CPT. This means 12 credit hours per semester for undergraduate students.  Graduate students must maintain full-time status per Graduate School guidelines.

• A student must continue to make normal degree progress, as defined by their department, while participating in CPT. This could require course-work during the CPT period. Students should verify that participation in CPT will not interfere with their ability to take courses required for degree completion that may not be taught in subsequent semesters prior to the program end date indicated on their I-20. CPT should not delay degree completion beyond the program end date listed on the Form I-20.

• Approval from the student’s academic department/advisor is required for CPT. Individual departments may set their own academic requirements for, or limitations on, participation in CPT. It is allowable for academic departments to require a minimum GPA, a pre-requisite course and/or a number of credits taken in the department’s curriculum before authorizing participation in CPT.

3 Types of CPT

Required for the Degree – Required internships are those that are a required part of a structured degree program as noted in the university catalogue.  To be considered a requirement, everyone in the program must do an internship or they will not be able to complete their program. Required internships do necessitate CPT authorization if the internship takes place off-campus, and the student needs to register for course credit (as determined by the academic program) in order for International Student and Scholar Services to authorize the CPT experience.

Integral to the Curriculum – Most internships will fall under this category.  Integral to the Curriculum means that the internship is not a required part of the program’s curriculum, but the internship is considered integral to the academic experience (e.g. highly recommended but not required for graduation). In this case, a student must register for at least one credit hour per semester of internship experience in order for International Student & Scholar Services to authorize the CPT experience.

Dissertation Research – For doctoral students in their dissertation phase, CPT may be authorized for them to be able to conduct off-campus research/work associated with their dissertation.  In this case, the student must register for dissertation hours or department-specific dissertation credit. The academic department’s recommendation letter must specifically indicate that this CPT experience is for dissertation research.

Duration of CPT

  • CPT is authorized by semester (Fall, Spring, Summer). Therefore, students must submit a new CPT request, including all the necessary documents, for each semester, including summer session(s).
  • For CPT that will take place during the summer, students will be limited by the session in which they register their experience (e.g. registration for full summer will allow for CPT authorization for full summer; registration for first summer will only cover dates from the day after spring semester through the last day of the first summer session; registration for second summer session will cover CPT authorization from the first day of second summer session through the day prior to the start of fall semester classes).
  • Participation in CPT may begin on or after the first day of the semester. CPT must end before the first day of the following semester. For example, CPT can be extended through the winter break, but must be complete before the first day of spring semester. Spring semester CPT must end before the first day of summer session, and so on.
  • A student may participate in CPT as much as their program will allow and their academic department will authorize. However, a student will be ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) if he/she participates in more than 364 days of full-time CPT.

Limitations on Part-time/Full-time CPT and On-Campus Work

  • CPT in the fall or spring semester is limited to Part-time CPT (20 hours per week or less) while a student is still engaged in coursework.  On-campus and off-campus work combined cannot exceed 20 hours per week in the fall or spring semesters. CPT done in the summer may be done either full-time or part-time.
  • Full-time CPT (more than 20 hours per week) during the fall or spring semester is allowed in the following scenarios:
    • when a graduate student has completed all coursework and is in his/her dissertation or thesis phase as a graduate student and is conducting training related to the thesis/dissertation; or
    • when a student is in a full-time Co-Op Placement; or
    • when a student is in a program of study which requires field placement as part of the academic program requirement and stated in the catalog (e.g. Social Work).
  • CPT allowing a combination of on-campus and off-campus work exceeding 20 hours per week while the student is engaged in coursework can be granted in the following scenario:
    • when a student is in a program of study which requires field placement as part of the academic program requirement and stated in the catalog (e.g. Social Work); or
    • when a graduate music student holding a .5 FTE Graduate Assistantship engages in music performances as part of the academics of their program.

Special Notes on CPT and Enrollment Requirements

  • You may not use incomplete courses or deferred grades from a previous semester for CPT authorization.  For CPT which requires course credit, the credit must be earned in the semester in which CPT will be authorized.
  • International Student & Scholar Services’ enrollment policy for CPT requires employment to correlate directly to academics. Enrollment in each semester (pursuant to the CPT option chosen) is mandatory.
  • Please note: Withdrawing from or dropping credits that are tied to CPT work authorization immediately cancels the CPT authorization. Work done without this authorization is illegal and a violation of status that will result in termination of your F-1 SEVIS record.

Applying for Curricular Practical Training – CPT Processing by appointment only.
Applications are processed by appointment only.  Processing appointments can be done in person at International Student & Scholar Services in 105 B.B. Comer or virtually.  To make an appointment for CPT Processing you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.

For an in-person appointment, you must bring a complete CPT Application Packet with all supporting documents and forms (please come at least 5 minutes prior to your intended appointment time; those who are late will have to reschedule an appointment).

For a virtual appointment, please submit a complete CPT Application Packet with scans of all supporting documents and forms to international@ua.edu 1 day prior to the appointment.

NOTE – F-1 students are required to attend an CPT Seminar through Blackboard prior to applying for CPT the first time.  Students will be registered for the Blackboard Seminar in their first semester at UA.  If you have not received access or would like to access the training again, please contact international@ua.edu.

CPT Application Packet and Supporting Documents:

1. Complete the Curricular Practical Training Blackboard Seminar (if you need access, contact international@ua.edu).
2. Receive a job offer related to your major area of study. Make a copy of the official offer letter and submit it with CPT application materials. A sample job offer letter that would meet CPT requirements is on page 8 of the F-1 Curricular Practical Training Application Packet.
3. Obtain a Recommendation from your department which indicates that this CPT internship experience is either: an integral part of your degree program, requirement of your degree program, or related to your dissertation research (doctoral students only). Recommendation form is on page 7 of the F-1 Curricular Practical Training Application Packet.
4. Complete the F-1 Curricular Practical Training Application Packet. This form is fillable; please type responses directly into it. This will reduce the likelihood that your handwriting will be misunderstood. Read, check, and sign the Student Responsibilities Checklist in the appropriate section.
5. Bring proof that you have registered your CPT experience for credit in the semester(s) it will occur. (e.g., registration form or printout of your course registration screen).
6. Bring your original passport, visa, I-94 record, current I-20 and ALL of your previous I-20s from every school attended (No photocopies necessary). If you are submitting CPT application materials via email include scans/copies–do not send originals.
7. Bring a copy of your unofficial transcripts.

Tax Issues:
Social Security (FICA) should not be withheld from the wages of an F-1 student on CPT if the student is classified as a non-resident for tax purposes. Earnings are, however, still subject to federal, state, and local taxes. Look at IRS publication 519 (http://www.irs.gov/) for more information.

Impact on I-20 Extensions
Participation in CPT is not a valid reason for an extension of program.

• A student must have an extenuating academic or medical reason for an extension of program end date on his/her I-20 Form.
• Failure to complete required course-work or sufficient credit hours to graduate because of CPT is not a compelling academic or medical reason for an extension.
• Immigration regulations do not allow I-20 extensions due to delay caused by participation in CPT.

EAD Card sample

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

PROCESSING APPOINTMENTS : Applications are processed by appointment only.  Processing appointments can be done in person at International Student & Scholar Services in 105 B.B. Comer or virtually.  To make an appointment for OPT Processing you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.

For an in-person or virtual appointment, please submit a complete OPT Application Packet with scans of all supporting documents and forms to international@ua.edu 1 day prior to the appointment.  For applicants who will apply in-person, please come at least 5 minutes prior to your intended appointment time; those who are late will have to reschedule an appointment.

NOTE – F-1 students are required to attend an OPT Seminar through Blackboard prior to applying for OPT the first time.  Students will be registered for the Blackboard Seminar in their first semester at UA.  If you have not received access or would like to access the training again, please contact international@ua.edu.  You can also review the OPT Seminar Slides here.

WHAT IS OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12 month temporary employment authorization that provides an opportunity for F-1 students to apply knowledge acquired from their academic program to a work experience in their major field of study. It is a benefit of maintaining status that is available during an F-1 student’s course of study (pre-degree completion), after each degree level completed (post-degree completion), or may be used a combination of both pre- and post-degree completion as long as one does not exceed the equivalent of 12 months of OPT authorization.

A one-time 24-month post-completion OPT extension may be available to certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) graduates.

OPT must be recommended by International Services and approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS work authorization is issued in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) commonly referred to as an EAD Card. The EAD Card is a photo identity card similar to a university ID or driver’s license. It indicates the date an authorized F-1 student may begin employment and the date the student must end employment.

OPT ELIGIBILITY
In order to be eligible to apply for OPT, you must meet all of the following requirements:

• Be an F-1 student visa holder who has been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year prior to submitting an OPT application;
• Be maintaining lawful F-1 status;
• Intend to obtain employment in a position directly related to your major field of study;
• Have not completed more than 364 days of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT);
• Have not utilized an equivalent of 12 months of OPT work authorization at the current or higher degree level;
• Are not in an English language training or non-degree program (English Language Institute (ELI) and Non-Degree Students are not eligible for Optional Practical Training).


WHEN CAN OPT OCCUR? – Before Graduation (Pre-Completion OPT) vs. After Graduation (Post-Completion OPT)

COMPARISONS Pre-Completion OPT  Post-Completion OPT
 Full-time vs. Part-time
  • Part-time employment (up to 20 hours per week) while school is in session (Fall or Spring Semesters).
  • Full-time employment (20+ hours per week) during approved school breaks (Summer Break, Winter Break, or Spring Break).
  • Full-time employment (20+ hours per week)  after completion of all master’s or doctoral course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis, dissertation or equivalent. (Can be either pre-completion or post-completion OPT. Please talk with an International Student & Scholar Services advisor about which might be most appropriate for your case).
 Full-time employment (20+ hours per week).

Note: Many graduate students will pursue post-completion OPT after completion of all master’s or doctoral course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis, dissertation or equivalent. (Can be either pre-completion or post-completion OPT. Please talk with an International Student & Scholar Services advisor about which might be most appropriate for your case).

 Unemployment  Unemployment is not counted.  Maximum unemployment 90 days cumulative, counted from OPT start date.

After maximum 90 days of cumulative unemployment is reached, record is auto-terminated by SEVP.

 I-20 Program Extension  May extend program end date if eligibility requirements are met.  Cannot extend program end date; must complete dissertation/thesis by end of OPT authorization.
 STEM OPT Extension  Cannot apply for STEM extension.  Eligible to apply for STEM extension if you meet all requirements
 Cap-Gap OPT Extension  Not eligible for Cap-Gap Extension.  Eligible for Cap-Gap Extension.


PLEASE NOTE: Any OPT utilized prior to degree completion (Pre-completion OPT) will be deducted from the initial 12 month allowable OPT benefit.  Part-time training (20 hours per week or less) counts at half of the full-time rate (more than 20 hours per week).  This means that 6 months of Part-time OPT is subtracted from the 12-month initial OPT period at half the rate, for a total of 3 months, leaving 9 months of Full-time OPT eligibility.

Duration of Initial OPT
Initial OPT applications have a maximum duration eligibility of 12 months for each degree level (Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral Degree).  F-1 students become eligible for a new 12-month period of Initial OPT authorization upon completion of a higher degree level.

If you have used part of your OPT employment benefit during your degree program, you are only entitled to the remaining benefit, not a new 12 months. You will not receive additional OPT time if you complete another degree at the same level (e.g., two master’s degrees) or a lower level (e.g., complete a master’s degree and then go back to school to complete a second bachelor’s degree).

Also, please note that if you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) after the work authorization start date you requested, you are not eligible to recover the time that passed while you were waiting to receive your EAD card in the mail. You must still stop working on the end date indicated on the EAD card unless you are eligible for a 24-month STEM extension and apply in a timely manner or unless you are eligible for a Cap-Gap OPT Extension.

 

When to Apply for OPT

Work authorization for OPT must be obtained from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and I-765 processing times are lengthy.  So please plan ahead to ensure a timely receipt of your application.

Pre-Completion OPT: DHS USCIS accepts applications for pre-completion OPT no more than 90 days prior to a student being enrolled for a full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not start prior to the completion of the full academic year. If you have completed one full year of study, you may submit your pre-completion OPT application as early as 90 days prior to the work authorization start date you requested.

Post-Completion OPT: OPT applications for standard post-completion OPT can be filed up to 90 days before the program end date (i.e. graduation date) and up to 60 days after the program end date.

OPT Submission Timeline

A Note About Completion/Graduation Dates: DHS USCIS regulations define the “completion date” as the date when the student completes all requirements for the program of study, not necessarily the date when the student graduates or receives a diploma.  For most undergraduate students, the completion date and graduation date are the same.  However, for many graduate students, the date of the completion of your program of study is not necessarily the same as the date you participate in graduation ceremonies.

  • Undergraduate students – completion dates are fixed to the official graduation dates of the university.
  • Graduate students – completion dates depend on whether the student is in a thesis/dissertation track or non-thesis/project based program:
    • Non-Thesis/Project Programs – Graduate students in non-thesis or project-based programs have completion dates which are fixed to the official graduation dates of the university.
    • Thesis/Dissertation Programs – Graduate who must submit a thesis or dissertation as part of their degree requirements are considered as completing their degree during the semester in which the complete thesis/dissertation is accepted by The Graduate School.  You have some flexibility as to which date you can choose as your date of completion.  If you would like to list your completion date as the date of acceptance of the thesis or dissertation (e.g. in the middle of the final semester) so that you may apply for OPT to begin prior to the end of the semester, you may do so.  The latest date you may list as your completion date is the final day of the semester in which you have submitted your complete thesis/dissertation to The Graduate School.  Please see our Minimum Enrollment and Completion Date charts for Doctoral Students and for Master’s Students to better understand the timing.   Your completion date should be specified by your academic department on the Recommendation Letter that they will provide to you as part of the OPT application process, but during OPT Processing, ISSS will verify the completion date with The Graduate School.
    • PLEASE NOTE: International students on F-1 student visa status cannot use the 0-credit hour exception listed in the Graduate School’s minimum enrollment policy as the basis of maintaining minimum enrollment requirements as an active student.  Please see: http://international.ua.edu/isss/currentstudents/full-time-enrollment-requirement/#graduation.


OPT Application Process 

OPT must be recommended by International Student & Scholar Services before you can submit an application for OPT to the USCIS.

Step 1: Read Materials and Complete Online Training
Read all of the OPT information included on this page of the International Student & Scholar Services website, and complete the Optional Practical Training Blackboard Seminar.  If you need access to the Blackboard Seminar, contact international@ua.edu.  If you have previously completed the OPT Blackboard Seminar but would like to review the materials, you can find the PPT Slides here or you can contact international@ua.edu to be granted OPT Blackboard Seminar Access again.

Step 2: Prepare the Following Documents for Your OPT Application Appointment with ISSS

  • Complete pages 4 & 5 of the F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) Application Packet (read, check, and sign). This form is fillable; please type responses directly into it.
  • Obtain an Adviser’s Recommendation from your academic department. The recommendation form is on page 6 of the F-1 OPT Optional Practical Training Application Packet.  This recommendation form should be singed by an academic advisor for undergraduate students and by both an academic advisor and the departmental chairperson for graduate students.
  • Prepare a draft of either the Paper Form I-765 or Online I-765 Application.
  • Prepare clear scans or photocopies of the following documents:
    • Current and all previous I-20s from every school attended (first and third pages only – please do not staple copies);
    • Main passport page;
    • Most recent visa stamp, and
    • Your current I-94 record.
  • If you were issued an EAD card previously (e.g. for previous OPT for your undergraduate degree, economic hardship employment), include a clear copy of your previous EAD card(s) (front and back).
  • Passport photos:
    • For those filing the Paper Form I-765, prepare two identical, color passport photos (2×2 inches or 5×5 centimeters) with your name and I-94 number written lightly in pencil on the backs.
    • For those filing the Online I-765 Application, prepare a digital, color passport photo for upload.
    • Photos must meet frontal passport specifications and should be on a white background taken no earlier than 30 days prior to submitting your OPT application.
  • Payment:
    • For those filing the Paper Form I-765, prepare a check or money order for $410.00 made payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” (NOTE: Always verify the current filing fee at www.uscis.gov/i-765/)
    • For those filing the Online I-765 Application, prepare to pay by credit card or direct bank draft online (ACH)

Step 3: Make an Appointment with ISSS to Obtain your I-20 Recommending OPT

OPT applications are processed by appointment only.  Processing appointments can be done in person at International Student & Scholar Services in 105 B.B. Comer or virtually.  To make an appointment for OPT Processing you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.

For an in-person or virtual appointment, please submit a complete OPT Application Packet with scans of all supporting documents and forms to international@ua.edu 1 day prior to the appointment.

For applicants who will apply in-person, please come at least 5 minutes prior to your intended appointment time; those who are late will have to reschedule an appointment.

Step 4: File Your I-765 OPT Application with USCIS – By Mail or Online 

Once you have completed all of the above steps, you may submit your completed OPT application packet to USCIS. You must submit the application within 30 days of the date the I-20 recommending OPT was issued (in Step 3).

Additionally, the I-765 petition must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the program completion date indicated on your I-20 requesting OPT.

If submitting the Paper Form I-765, the petition must be sent to the USCIS Center which has jurisdiction over the address listed on the I-765.  This can be found on the USCIS site: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses. ISSS recommends that you always mail your application with a tracking number.  ISSS also recommends that you keep a digital scan of all your application materials in your personal files.

 

After Submitting Your OPT Application to USCIS  – While Your Case is Pending

Application Processing Times
I-765 OPT application processing times at USCIS vary. It is estimated that a typical application will take 3-4 months to process once received by USCIS.  You can check current case status processing times on the USCIS Site – be sure to check the form type “I-765” and the location as “Potomac Service Center.”

Checking the Status of your Application
If you have your I-765 case receipt number, you are able to check the status of your OPT application processing case online.

In the Case Status Page, enter your Application Receipt Number from the I-797 Notice of Action (for I-765 cases for OPT, this is typically a Case Number that begins with “YSC”) in the “Enter case number here” prompt, and USCIS will inform you if your application is in process, if they have requested further information, or if it has been approved or mailed.

Expediting OPT
USCIS is no longer under any regulatory obligation to process I-765 Cases and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) within 90 days.  Case processing times for OPT Applications vary throughout the year, but it is not unusual for cases to exceed 90 days. You can check current case status processing times on the USCIS Site – be sure to check the form type “I-765” and the location as “Potomac Service Center.”

Additionally, USCIS Expedite Processes changed in June 2019.  USCIS now considers Expedite requests under much greater scrutiny.  Please see USCIS Expedite Criteria (1 USCIS PM A.5).

The student/applicant may request expedite service by calling the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 to request a referral to the Service Center and a request for an expedite. When you make the request, you should provide a recognized USCIS Expedite Criteria (1 USCIS PM A.5). You should also take notes of the day and time of the call, the Officer’s name and the referral ID number. Typically, the expedite is reviewed within 24 hours and if the expedite is approved the application is processed within five business days.

If after following either of these processes, no response is given within five business days after you contacted USCIS, please email us at international@ua.edu, providing your full name as you listed it on your OPT application, date of birth, citizenship, USCIS receipt number (starting with YSC), USCIS receipt notice date, date and time you contacted USCIS to request expeditious handling, and the name and referral ID number of the officer with whom you spoke (if you called).

If, after applying for Post-Completion OPT, you learn you have to take another course…
Post-Completion OPT is based on your having completed your degree (undergrads) or at least your coursework (grads). If you learn that you must take an additional course in order to graduate, then you must do the following:

• Make an appointment to talk with an Advisor in International Student & Scholar Services to discuss the consequences to your OPT application and any actions that you need to take.
• If USCIS has not yet processed your OPT application, you can ask them to withdraw it so that you can reapply with later OPT dates. It is at USCIS’s discretion as to whether they will approve your request.
• If USCIS has already approved your OPT, then you cannot withdraw your application, and you may only work 20 hours or less on your OPT until you have completed your required course.
• Students in STEM fields cannot apply for a STEM extension unless they have earned their degree.

Your Employment & Reporting Requirements While on OPT

While on OPT, you remain in F-1 status, and employment is required to maintain status.  It is important to stress that this employment must be reported.  Failing to report employment can lead to an automatic termination of your status.

Employment Requirements – What Counts as Employment for OPT?

  • You have 90 days of allowable unemployment (150 days for STEM Extension OPT).
  • You need to work at least 20 hours per week.
  • The following activities are considered employment:
    • Paid employment
    • Unpaid/volunteer employment
    • Contract Hire (keep a list of the 1099’s and the duration of your employment)
    • Self-employment (if you have the proper business licenses)
    • Multiple jobs (as long as all jobs are in your field of study)

Reporting Employment and Updates

As part of your maintenance of F-1 status while on OPT, you are responsible for reporting any changes in personal and employment information to USCIS and to International Student & Scholar Services within 10 days of the change.

Reporting can be done through either/both of the following methods:

  1. Submitting the F-1 OPT Information Update Form to UA ISSS – Upon receipt of such information, we will update your SEVIS record in order for you to maintain compliance to U.S. immigration regulations.
  2. Updating your SEVP Portal Account directly with USCIS and SEVP – You will receive an email from Department of Homeland Security with information about logging into your SEVP Portal once your OPT has been approved.

You must report the following information within 10 days:

  • any change of address (either your U.S. address or your foreign, permanent address)
  • any change of name
  • any periods of unemployment while authorized for OPT
  • employer information (name and address) upon obtaining a job and changing jobs

Furthermore, current immigration regulations require you to re-verify employer and residential address information with International Student & Scholar Services every 6 months using the F-1 OPT Information Update Form, even if there is no change.

 

Travel on OPT

Travel after filing for OPT or while on OPT can be a challenge.  The following chart will help you to know what documents to carry with you.

Documents Before Completing Academic Program & Before OPT Approval After Completing Academic Program but Before OPT or STEM OPT Approval After Completing Program & After OPT or STEM OPT Approval
 Valid Passport Yes Yes Yes
 Valid F-1 Visa Yes Yes Yes
OPT I-20 with a valid travel endorsement on page 2, signed within 6 months by an ISSS Advisor Yes Yes Yes
Evidence of continued enrollment (e.g. Transcripts or Enrollment Verification from Registrar) Yes
Evidence of financial support – either through personal funds or salary listed on OPT employment letter. Strongly Recommended Strongly Recommended Strongly Recommended
I-797 Notice of Action (i.e. I-765 Receipt Notice) Yes
Job offer letter from employer OR current employment verification letter Yes Yes
EAD (Employment Authorization Document) STEM OPT students whose original 12-Month EAD has expired should check with ISSS about travel. Yes


WHEN OPT ENDS

Termination of OPT upon Start of New Degree or Transfer of SEVIS Record
OPT authorization is automatically terminated when an F-1 student transfers to another school or begins coursework in a new academic program with an updated I-20.

60-Day Grace Period at End of OPT
At the end of your OPT, you have a 60-day Grace Period, during which time you must stop employment, unless you filed for a 24-month STEM extension in a timely manner or unless you are eligible for a Cap-Gap OPT Extension.

During your 60-day Grace Period, you have the following options:

  1. Depart the U.S. – Once you leave the U.S. (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies you are not eligible to re-enter the United States with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within the states and preparation to depart the U.S.
  2. Request a new I-20 (I-20/DS-2019 Request Form) if you will continue at UA in a new degree program.
  3. If you are moving from a Bachelor’s to a Master’s or a Master’s to a PhD program, you must request a Change of Level I-20 from International Student and Scholar Services.
  4. Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school (I-20/DS-2019 Transfer-Out Request Form) to begin a new degree program.
  5. Apply with USCIS to change status to another visa category.

 

OPT STEM Extension

STEM CHANGES: On May 10, 2016, new regulations for STEM OPT Employment went into effect. For your reference, you can also see updates and history on the topic of STEM OPT hereThe STEM OPT Packet reflects these changes. 

NOTE – You are encouraged to review the OPT STEM Extension Information on the OPT Seminar Slides prior to applying. 

If you are not working outside of the Tuscaloosa-area, you may submit the STEM OPT Packet and all application materials via email to international@ua.edu with “Attn: STEM Extension Application” as the subject of your email.

If you would like to process your STEM Extension in-person at International Student & Scholar Services in 105 B.B. Comer, in-person applications are processed by appointment only.  To make an appointment for in-person STEM OPT Processing, you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.  For in-person appointment, please submit a complete STEM OPT Packet with scans of all supporting documents and forms to international@ua.edu 1 day prior to the appointment. 

STEM OPT ELIGIBILITY

Some F-1 students who are engaged in Post-completion OPT may be eligible for a 24-month OPT extension if all filing criteria are met:

• The 24-month extension is possible twice per lifetime. Students are eligible for a second STEM extension after completing a subsequent higher STEM degree.
• The 24-month extension may be based on a previously obtained degree. Previous degree must be from an accredited, U.S.-based institution, and the degree must have been earned within the past 10 years.
• The extension can only be granted in one 24-month period; the period cannot be “split” into 2 periods.
• The employment start date on the new EAD card will be the day immediately following the expiration of your initial OPT employment authorization period.
• If you are eligible for a STEM Extension, you can apply for a STEM extension of OPT anytime up to 90 days prior to your current OPT expiration.  (Note: Students filing for STEM OPT Extensions can begin the process with ISSS up to 60 days prior to filing with USCIS, meaning that it is possible to begin the process of extension with ISSS up to 150 days prior to the OPT end-date – 60 days prior to filing + submission 90 days prior to OPT expiration = 150 days)

Student Requirements:

1. Currently engaging in post-completion OPT and working with an employer who is currently registered and in good standing with the USCIS E-Verify program – http://www.dhs.gov/e-verify.

2. Completed a degree in qualifying STEM program. Please view the ICE STEM list.

• The STEM Designated Degree Program List consists of select fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as identified by the field’s CIP Code.  The degree and CIP code listed on page 1 of the I-20 must match the CIP Code on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List.  (Note: Current I-20’s indicate the CIP code next to the Major in the Program of Study section on Page 1 of the I-20.)

• UA degree programs’ CIP Codes are determined and authorized by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.  The University of Alabama is unable to re-classify a the CIP Code associated with a student’s degree program without ACHE approval.  Additionally, The University of Alabama is unable to re-classify students who have already completed their degree program and are currently on OPT.  If there is a regulation change that would extend eligibility to CIP codes that are currently ineligible, we will include that information on our website.

• STEM Extension may be based on a previously obtained degree. Previous degree must be from an accredited, U.S.-based institution, and the degree must have been earned within the past 10 years.

• Students are eligible for a second STEM extension after completing a subsequent higher STEM degree.

3. Student must be working for or have accepted employment with a U.S. employer that is enrolled in E-Verify – http://www.dhs.gov/e-verify , and the job must be directly related to the STEM Field.

4. Student must complete an I-983 Training Plan with their Employer

5. Student must have maintained valid F-1 status during the initial 12-month period of Post-completion OPT

• Report all employers (name and address), any changes of personal name, address (US, residential, mailing, foreign), and interruptions of employment within 10 days of change to International Services, using the F-1 OPT Information Update Form
• Have not accrued more than 90 days of unemployment

6. Submit a timely STEM extension application (i.e. prior to current EAD expiration- preferably, 90 days before OPT end date)

Employer Requirements

1. Employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify program (http://www.dhs.gov/e-verify) and must provide E-Verify Company/Client ID Number to applicant as it must be entered onto the I-765 application form (this is a 5- or 6-digit number issued by DHS; it is separate from the employer’s FEIN or Tax ID)

2. Employer must complete an I-983 Training Plan with the student

• Explain how training is related to the field of study
• State training goals and means of supervision/evaluation
• State duties, hours, compensation, and verify that the compensation is commensurate with similarly employed U.S. workers
• Sign off on a self-evaluation by the student at two times (12th month and 24th month/end of program)
• Any substantial change in employment duties will require and updated I-983

3. Employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student who is working on STEM Extension OPT to International Services at UA. The employer should provide the student’s name, SEVIS ID number (if available), and the date that the student’s employment ended.

STEM OPT APPLICATION PROCESS

STEP 1: Preparing STEM Extension Materials

Prepare the following documents for STEM Extension Processing:

  1. F-1 STEM OPT Application Packet (pages 3 & 4 only), including your current mailing address on the form.
  2. Prepare a draft of either the Paper Form I-765 or Online I-765 Application.
  3. Completed Form I-983 with employer
  4. Copy/Scan of the following documents
    • Diploma (including for previous STEM degree if STEM extension is based on previous degree),
    • Degree bearing transcript (including for previous STEM degree if STEM extension is based on previous degree),
    • UA’s Accreditation Statement (if STEM degree was from another institution, you must obtain that institution’s Accreditation Statement),
    • Job offer/appointment letter from E-Verify Employer,
    • Current EAD card (front & back),
    • Current and previous I-20s (including those for previous STEM degree if STEM extension is based on previous degree),
    • Passport,
    • Most recent visa stamp,
    • I-94 record
  5. Passport photos:
    • For those filing the Paper Form I-765, prepare two identical, color passport photos (2×2 inches or 5×5 centimeters) with your name and I-94 number written lightly in pencil on the backs.
    • For those filing the Online I-765 Application, prepare a digital, color passport photo for upload.
    • Photos must meet frontal passport specifications and should be on a white background taken no earlier than 30 days prior to submitting your OPT application.
  6. Payment:
    • For those filing the Paper Form I-765, prepare a check or money order for $410.00 made payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” (NOTE: Always verify the current filing fee at www.uscis.gov/i-765/)
    • For those filing the Online I-765 Application, prepare to pay by credit card or direct bank draft online (ACH)

STEP 2: Requesting STEM Extension I-20 from ISSS
If you are not working in the Tuscaloosa-area and available to process the STEM Extension paperwork in-person, you may submit the STEM OPT Packet and all application materials via email to international@ua.edu with “Attn: STEM Extension Application” as the subject of your email.

If you are in Tuscaloosa and would like to process your STEM Extension in-person at International Student & Scholar Services in 105 B.B. Comer, applications are processed by appointment only.  To make an appointment for in-person STEM OPT Processing, you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.

For in-person appointment, please submit a complete STEM OPT Packet with scans of all supporting documents and forms to international@ua.edu 1 day prior to the appointment.  For applicants who will apply in-person, please come at least 5 minutes prior to your intended appointment time; those who are late will have to reschedule an appointment.

If you meet all of the eligibility criteria and submit all materials indicated above in Step 1, International Student & Scholar Services will issue a new I-20 recommending an OPT extension and you will be able to submit your application to USCIS. This OPT STEM Extension I-20 is required to submit the STEM Extension I-765 Application to USCIS.

NOTE: Currently, SEVP and USCIS allows us to send the I-20 recommending STEM OPT electronically, but in the future USCIS and SEVP may resume requiring ISSS to ship the physical I-20 document.  If you will require us to ship the documents to you, please review document shipping options on our Document Shipping Options page.

STEP 3: Submitting your STEM Extension I-765 Application to USCIS
International Services will prepare the new I-20 recommending your STEM Extension, but it will be your responsibility to submit the STEM Extension petition directly to US Citizenship and Immigration Services

If submitting the Paper Form I-765, the petition must be sent to the USCIS Center which has jurisdiction over the address listed on the I-765.  This can be found on the USCIS site: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses. ISSS recommends that you always mail your application with a tracking number.  ISSS also recommends that you keep a digital scan of all your application materials in your personal files.

If submitting the Form I-765 Online, you should proceed with the online application process very carefully. The system allows you to submit your application without all required evidence, which can lead to requests for evidence or denials. This means you must be very careful to ensure that everything that must be uploaded has been prepared before submitting the online application.  Make sure you have all documents listed in Step 1 scanned and ready to upload.  Instructions and samples of the Online I-765 Application can be found on pages 13 – 24 of the F-1 STEM OPT Application Packet.

Responsibilities While on STEM Extension

  • If you use your personal mailing address in the I-765 Petition, once you receive your new EAD Card, please submit a copy/scan of new EAD card to international@ua.edu; please use the email subject “STEM EAD Card” and be sure to include your name and CWID in the email body.
  • F-1 students on STEM Extension cannot accrue more than an aggregate of 150 days of unemployment over the 36 month OPT period.  Any days of unemployment during the initial 12 months of OPT must be counted against the longer 150 day unemployment allowance.  Once 150 days of unemployment have been used, F-1 status ends and the F-1 student must depart the U.S. immediately.  In instances when students run out of time due to days of unemployment, there is no 60-day grace period.
  • You can change employers and positions during the STEM Period, but any new employment during STEM Extension authorization must be with an E-verify employer and any change in employment or change of employer will require submission of a new Form I-983.
  • USCIS and SEVP advise against changing employers while the I-765 is pending, since the I-765 petition names a specific employer as your sponsor.
  • Students may NOT be concurrently employed with a non-E-verify employer while on a 24-month STEM extension.  Employment is allowed only with E-Verify employers.
  • For the 24-month STEM extension, employment must be traditional paid employment.  Unpaid employment (e.g. unpaid internships) cannot be the basis of your employment.

Mandatory Reporting Requirements – Confirmations Every 6 Months & Annual I-983 Evaluations

Submit an F-1 OPT Information Update Form for all changes, updates, and for verifications:

  • For the duration of the 24-month STEM Extension period (through Cap-Gap Relief period if applicable), F-1 students must use the F-1 OPT Information Update Form to report any changes to the following information to International Student & Scholar Services within 10 days of the change:
    • Change of legal name
    • Change of residential address
    • Change of mailing address or e-mail address
    • Change of employer name or employer address
    • Loss, addition, or change of employment
  • 6-Month Confirmation Reports: The student must re-verify employer and residential address information with International Services every 6 months, even if there is no change using the F-1 OPT Information Update Form.
  • 12-Month and 24-Month Evaluations: The student must also complete and submit a self-evaluation using the I-983, signed by the employer and submitted to International Services at months 12 and 24 of the STEM Employment Period.

Employment While Extension Is Pending with USCIS & Cap-Gap

  • Students who timely file an application for the 24-month OPT STEM extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending for up to 180 days or until a final decision on the I-765, whichever comes first.
    • For legal reference, 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C) and 8 CFR 247a.12(c)(6)(iv) automatically extend the student’s work authorization for up to 180 days while the student’s 24-month extension application is pending.
    • For I-9 guidance, employers can refer to Section 6.4.2 F-1 and M-1 Nonimmigrant Students in the M-274 I-9 Manual.
  • F-1 students who have obtained a STEM Extension can still benefit from the cap-gap provision at the end of the STEM Period (please see the Cap-Gap section for details).

OPT Cap-Gap Extension

NOTE – You are encouraged to review the OPT Cap-Gap Extension Information on the OPT Seminar Slides prior to requesting a Cap-Gap I-20. 

A Cap-Gap extension automatically extends an eligible F-1 student’s status to bridge the gap between the end of OPT (F-1 status) and start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the US and continue working during the “gap.”

The Cap-Gap extension is available to students who, as of April 1, were either on approved OPT or in their 60-day grace period and have a pending or approved change-of-status H-1B petition with USCIS with an October 1 start date.

This cap-gap extension will produce one of two outcomes, depending on your individual situation:

  • Scenario 1: Extension of your OPT work authorization to September 30. This happens if your approved OPT end date (on your EAD card) is April 1 or later.OR
  • Scenario 2: Extension of your F-1 “duration of status.” If your OPT employment authorization expires before April 1 but your 60-day grace period ends after April 1, you are allowed to stay in the U.S. if you otherwise maintain your F-1 status. Be warned: this is just an extension of your status, but you are not authorized to work until the H-1B petition is approved and goes into effect October 1.


Who is eligible for the extension?

Students in all fields of study are eligible for the Cap-Gap extension as long as the student has not violated the terms or conditions of his or her F-1 status.

To qualify for the extension, the student must be the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that:

  1. Has been timely filed by a registered cap subject employer for a registered and selected beneficiary (within the acceptance period – after April 1, but before either the OPT period or 60-day grace period expires)
  2. Requests an employment start date of October 1
  3. Requests a change-of-status (rather than consular processing)

How do I apply for the Cap-Gap Extension?
There is no application process for the Cap-Gap extension. If your employer completes the initial registration for the company and for you, and if you are selected as a beneficiary of the H-1B registration, the employer can file an H-1B petition with USCIS. At the time of filing of the H-1B petition, your SEVIS record will automatically be updated to reflect the Cap-Gap extension and your work authorization will be extended to September 30.

To obtain a Cap Gap I-20 from International Student & Scholar Services, please send an email to international@ua.edu with “Cap-Gap Extension” in the subject line. Include the following in the email:

  • Name
  • SEVIS number
  • CWID number
  • Employment start and end date as indicated on your current EAD Card
  • Proof of H-1B filing such as a scanned copy of I-797 H-1B approval and/or receipt notice
  • Indicate whether you would like to pick up your document or have it mailed to you. If we will ship this to you, please see our Document Shipping Options page for instructions on completing the shipping request.

What happens if my H-1B is denied, rejected, revoked, or withdrawn after receiving the cap-gap extension?
If the student’s H-1B sponsorship is denied, rejected, revoked or withdrawn, the student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date of the notification of denial, rejection, revocation, or withdrawal. During this 60-day grace period, the student must prepare to depart the U.S.

However, if a denial is based on a discovered status violation, no such grace period exists, and the student must leave the U.S. immediately.

What if my OPT expires before April 1st? Will the cap-gap extension extend my OPT?
If your OPT employment authorization expires before April 1 but your 60-day grace period extends beyond April 1, your F-1 status will be extended.

Although your F-1 status would be extended, your OPT employment period is expired, and the cap-gap does not serve to reinstate or retroactively grant employment authorization.

You would be required to stop working until October 1. Also, keep in mind that the 90-day unemployment rule remains in full effect during your automatically extended work authorization (if you qualify for extension of work authorization.)

INFORMATION RESOURCES
For additional information on the Cap Gap Extension please see the Cap Gap Page from the Department of Homeland Security.

For comprehensive information about F-1 On-Campus and Off-Campus Employment click here.

J-1 Academic Training (AT)

Academic Training (AT) is a form of practical training that can be authorized only for J-1 student visa holder.

Please note that for sponsored students (e.g. Fulbright, UGRAD, etc.), the training can be authorized only by your J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Sponsor in the form of a letter. You should contact your program sponsor for more information about the limitations of your eligibility.

The information that follows is a general description of the conditions of Academic Training.

General guidelines regarding Academic Training:

  • The training must be related to your program of study.
  • You must be in good academic standing.
  • You must maintain health insurance coverage for yourself and any dependents staying with you in the US.
  • Your academic advisor must approve the training.
  • Academic Training can be authorized for up to 18-months total, or for the period of time spent in the full course of study, whichever is shorter.  Academic Training that is authorized during the course of studies will only be authorized on a semester-by-semester basis.
  • Doctoral students can receive up to 36 months of Academic Training authorization, under certain conditions.  A maximum of 18 months may be used prior to graduation, and an additional 18 months are available after completion of doctoral studies.
  • Part-time AT counts against the 18 or 36 month period the same as full-time AT.
  • Earning more than one degree does not increase your eligibility for additional periods of Academic Training.
  • AT may be taken either during or after completion of the program of study. If AT is to be utilized after the completion of the program of study, you must present a copy of this offer to ISSS no later than 30 days after the end of your program. After the 30 day period you will lose eligibility for this training.

APPLYING FOR ACADEMIC TRAINING
Academic Training Applications are processed by appointment only.  Processing appointments can be done in person at International Student & Scholar Services in 105 B.B. Comer or virtually.  To make an appointment for AT Processing you can set an appointment online here or contact international@ua.edu or 205-348-5402 to request an appointment.

For an in-person or virtual appointment, please submit a complete J-1 Academic Training Application Packet with scans of all supporting documents and forms to international@ua.edu 1 day prior to the appointment.  For applicants who will apply in-person, please come at least 5 minutes prior to your intended appointment time; those who are late will have to reschedule an appointment.

For the appointment you will need to bring the following:

  • J-1 Academic Training Application Packet
  • Department recommendation (found on page 5 of the J-1 Academic Training Application Packet), which must include:
    • when student will complete degree
    • goals and objectives for the training program;
    • description of the training program including its location, name and address of the training supervisor, number of hours of work per week, dates of the training;
    • how the training relates to the student’s major field of study; and
    • why it is an integral part of the student’s academic program.
  • Job offer letter from employer (sample on Page 6 of J-1 Academic Training Application Packet), which should include dates of employment, location of employment, contact information for employer, and number of hours to be worked per week.
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Copies of the following documents:
  • Current and previous DS-2019s,
  • passport,
  • most recent visa stamp, and
  • I-94 record

For more information and questions, make an AT Advising Appointment with International Student & Scholar Services.

J-1 ACADEMIC TRAINING EVALUATION
In accordance with U.S. Department of State Regulations, The University of Alabama, as the J-1 visa sponsor, must evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of the academic training in achieving the stated goals and objectives in order to ensure the quality of the academic training program.

J-1 Student Academic Training Evaluations must be completed at the end of the academic training. A copy of the evaluation must be submitted to ISSS (either as a scan via email to international@ua.edu or hard copy submitted at 105 BB Comer Hall).

Insurance After Graduation

It is important that you maintain medical insurance coverage after you graduate, as medical expenses in the U.S. can be very costly.  You should research individual plans through companies that insure international students in the U.S.

Some companies like InsuBuy and ISOA offer plans specifically for students while on post graduation training.

  • F-1 students: While working under OPT, you may receive insurance through your employer; however, it is very common to have a gap in insurance coverage between the student plan’s end date and potential coverage through an employer.
  • J-1 students: It is a regulatory requirement that you maintain insurance coverage for the duration of your stay.
H-1B Process Flow

Employment After Training Ends

Life After Practical Training
Many students, after completing their program of study and available practical training, wish to remain in the United States to pursue or continue employment. The most widely used non-immigrant classifications for employment in the United States are H-1B (open to all foreign nationals) or TN (for Canadians or Mexicans only) status. These classifications are employer-dependent, which means that they require an offer of qualifying employment and valid status is dependent upon continued employment.

The information below is an overview of these classifications. This information is not legal advice. You should carefully consider your own circumstances and consult with your employer and an immigration attorney with any questions.

H-1B WORK VISA

Who Can Be Sponsored: Foreign Nationals with a bachelor’s degree or higher
Where to Process: Obtain change of status (COS) inside the U.S. or obtain H1B visa at a US consulate abroad
When Can Employer File: Once employment is offered/accepted; can take 3 to 6 months to obtain approval. For private industry (Subject to the Cap), earliest H-1B start date is October 1 – filing date is on or after April 1.
How Long Can Employment Be Sponsored: Initial period of up to 3 years; extension for an additional 3 years (total of 6 years)

H-1B Requirements:

• Employment must be in a “specialty occupation” (requires application of highly specialized knowledge and at least a bachelor’s degree);
• Foreign national must meet the minimum qualifications for the position;
• Employer must meet or exceed a prevailing wage as determined by Department of Labor – Wage Database;
• Visa status is considered to be dual intent, meaning that sponsorship of Permanent Residency will have no negative effect on future visa interview (path to permanent residency)

The H-1B is available to foreign nationals offered employment in a position that requires at least a Bachelor’s degree. The H-1B petition is completed and filed by the employer (individuals cannot self-petition). The foreign national is the beneficiary of the petition. The employer and beneficiary usually work together to gather the evidence necessary to show that the position is one for which an H-1B is available and that the beneficiary has the requisite education and skills for the position. H-1B status is granted for an initial period of up to three years, renewable for an additional three years. The beneficiary need not have temporary intent; dual intent is recognized for individuals in H-1B status. Dependents may accompany the principal to the US, but will not be eligible for employment authorization. Obtaining approval for H-1B status can take between 3 to 6 months.

H-1B Cap: Each governmental fiscal year (October 1 – September 30), 65,000 H-1B visa numbers become available nation-wide. An additional 20,000 H-1B visa numbers are available for individuals with a master’s degree or higher. All private employers are subject to the Cap, meaning that once all the H-1B visa numbers are used in a fiscal year, they must wait until the following filing period to sponsor an employee for an H-1B.  Unlike the private sector, institutions of higher education (colleges and universities), certain nonprofit organizations, and government research organizations are not subject to this annual H-1B numerical cap, and thus they are able to file for H-1B sponsorship at any time of the year. The earliest an H-1B petition may be filed is six months prior to the start date of employment.

Fees: The filing fee for an H-1B petition is currently $460. Employers are also required to pay an additional $500 “fraud prevention and detection fee” for initial H-1B petitions. Private companies (with some exceptions) must also pay a training fee of $1500 ($750 for small businesses). However, institutions of higher education, affiliated non-profits, and government research organizations are exempt from the training fee.

Premium Processing Fee: Premium Processing is an expedited handling of H-1B applications that a petitioner may request for an additional fee of $2500 (filing the form I-907). Under Premium Processing, the H-1B application will be adjudicated within 15 business days (rather than the normal processing time of 3 – 6 months).

Prevailing Wage: Employers must first satisfy Department of Labor wage standards BEFORE petitioning for H-1B status. The employer must meet or exceed the “prevailing wage” as determined by the Department of Labor for the position for which the H-1B is sought.  A wage database is available on the Department of Labor Website.

Attorney’s fees: You should also anticipate that you may be responsible, or partially responsible, for attorney’s fees connected to the filing of the H-1B petition. This will depend on the employer, your salary and other arrangements.

TN WORK VISA – USMCA TRADE VISA (Formerly NAFTA)

Who Can Be Sponsored: Only Citizens of Canada and Mexico
Where Can TN Be Filed: Obtain TN status at the border (Mexican citizens must first obtain a TN visa from US consulate); Change-of-Status from within US is possible, but is slower than processing at the border.
When Can TN Be Filed: Once employment is offered/accepted.
How Long Can Employment Be Sponsored: TN status is available for up to 3 years and is renewable indefinitely

TN Requirements: 

• Canadian or Mexican citizenship;
• Job offer in particular field itemized in the list of Professionals in USMCA Chapter 16 Appendix 2  (same list of occupations as the appendix to NAFTA);
• Qualified for position; and
• TN Employee must prove temporary intent

TN status is only available to citizens of Canada and Mexico for particular fields or occupations found in the the list of Professionals in USMCA Chapter 16 Appendix 2. TN status is granted for up to 3 years, but is dependent on the length of the appointment. TN may be renewed indefinitely. A TN applicant must establish that the job is one for which TN status is available, that he/she is qualified for the position and that he/she has “nonimmigrant” or temporary intent. Dependents may accompany the principal to the United States, but will not be eligible for employment authorization.

The TN is attractive because it is relatively easy to obtain. For Canadians, the application is made at the US port of entry at the Canadian border, and the status is granted or denied in an immediate adjudication by an Immigration official. No visa is required for Canadians in TN status. Mexican nationals seeking TN status are required to first apply for a TN visa stamp at a US Consulate.

Because a TN requires proof of temporary intent, it may be difficult to file for permanent residency while in TN status.

OTHER WORK VISAS – E-3, H1B1, O-1, & L-1
There are other options for employment in the United States, however citizenship in a particular country is required for some. For example, citizens of Australia may be eligible for an E-3 visa, citizens of Chile and Singapore may be eligible for an H1B1. Other options include the O-1 visa (requires meeting the “person of extraordinary ability” standard) and L-1 (intracompany transferee).

PERMANENT RESIDENCY (e.g. THE GREEN CARD):
There are several ways in which individuals may pursue Lawful Permanent Residency, also referred to as the “green card.” Most options involve a long process that can stretch over a period of one to three years, with no guarantee of success. The most popular routes to permanent residency are the diversity visa lottery, family based petitions, or employment based petitions.

A common route to permanent residency in the employment context is the labor certification process. This process requires an employer to sponsor the foreign national employee and, in most cases, requires filing an application with the Department of Labor, which demonstrates that there is a position for which there is no minimally qualified United States worker available. There are some positions, such as University professors, which do not require the employer to show the unavailability of US workers. Rarely, an applicant can bypass the Department of Labor altogether (where the individual can establish extraordinary ability) and file only with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

UNDERSTANDING IMMIGRATION:
The process to obtain and change status in the United States involves a complex and constantly changing set of laws and regulations. The petitions and applications are most commonly pursued with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services/ Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor. It is important that individuals who are considering filing any documentation with respect to immigration obtain as much information as possible on the procedures and consequences of filing. It is recommended that you consult with a qualified immigration attorney prior to pursuing benefits under US immigration laws.

IMPORTANT NOTE: International Student & Scholar Services is available to offer guidance and answer basic questions during your time as a student. International Student & Scholar Services staff members are not attorneys and should not be considered your legal representative 

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