U.S. Law Quick-Guide for International Students

Maintaining Status

Why do undergrads need a minimum of 12 credits?

“Undergraduate study at a college or university, certified by a school official to consist of at least twelve semester or quarter hours of instruction per academic … where all undergraduate students who are enrolled for a minimum of twelve semester [and] are considered full-time … as determined by the district director in the school approval process)” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(B).

Only up to 3 credits can be online to fulfill the 12-hour requirement

“For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken on-line or through distance education and does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G).

Health Insurance and Immunizations

While having adequate health insurance is not a federal requirement, it is a requirement as per university standards. Your PDSO or RO will inform you of the university’s requirements and what adequate coverage of health insurance means when looking for the right insurance provider. Additionally, outside of international services office, the university will have an immunization in conjunction to the international standard of testing and immunizations.

Can my spouse or children (F2 Dependents) study here?

F2 dependents—spouse or children of F1 status holder—can engage in part time study.

“An F-2 spouse or F-2 child may enroll in less than a full course of study, in any course of study at an SEVP-certified school. Study at an undergraduate college or university or at a community college or junior college is not a full course of study solely because the F-2 nonimmigrant is engaging in a lesser course load to complete a course of study during the current term” 8 CFR 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(A)(1).

Can my family members (F2 dependents) work?

In few words, this is not an option for F2 visa holders. “An F-2 spouse or F-2 child enrolled in less than a full course of study is not eligible to engage in employment” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(A)(1). This is reciprocated once again in another paragraph of the code of federal regulations; “the F-2 spouse and children of an F-1 student may not accept employment” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(15)(i).

I’m not a U.S. citizen, do I have to file taxes?

International students are responsible for filing taxes for the calendar years of stay in the United  States. The IRS describes this as, “U.S. source nonemployee compensation for any amount in excess of zero is reportable on Form 1042-S.”

The U.S. government considers the amount of scholarship you receive in excess of tuition as taxable income. This means that merit scholarships of all kinds, included athletic scholarships, are taxable as any other form of allowance. In other words, income as a “qualified scholarship” is taxable (IRC section 117). Therefore, your university may be required to withhold a certain percentage of the amount of your scholarship. The withholding amount depends on your tax status and whether the U.S. has a tax treaty with your home country.

Employment

Upon arrival in the U.S., numerous F-1 visa holders consider employment opportunities. The U.S. provides a myriad of employment and career opportunities but F-1 students do not have the same access as U.S. citizens. While employment is under certain circumstances available to visitor nonimmigrant statuses such as F-1 and J-1, such opportunities have to be authorized by the DSO or PDSO.

Any off-campus employment for F-1 or J-1 students must be authorized. Without proper work authorization, off campus employment would be considered a violation of your F-1 or J-1 status. The consequences would most likely include loss of legal immigration status in the U.S., possible deportation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and great difficulty in any future attempts to acquire a visa to enter the U.S. (UMich).

According to U.S. immigration regulations, 8 Code of Federal Regulations 214.1(e): “A nonimmigrant who is permitted to engage in employment may engage only in such employment as has been authorized. Any unauthorized employment by a nonimmigrant constitutes a failure to maintain status.” Here I address the ways employment can take shape, appropriate legal definitions, and excerpts from U.S. law.

Off-Campus employment

Since F-1 is a nonimmigrant status; “(e) Employment. A nonimmigrant in the United States … may not engage in any employment, unless he has been accorded a nonimmigrant classification which authorizes employment or he has been granted permission to engage in employment in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. A nonimmigrant who is permitted to engage in employment may engage only in such employment as has been authorized. Any unauthorized employment by a nonimmigrant constitutes a failure to maintain status within the meaning of section 241(a)(1)(C)(i) of the Act” – 8 CFR 214.1(e). This excerpt from the law is our first indicator drawing concern for engaging in unauthorized employment in the United States. If this was to happen, it would result in the termination of one’s immigration status and ultimately in exit of the country.

“An F-1 student may be authorized to work off-campus on a part-time basis … after having been in F-1 status for one full academic year provided that the student is in good academic standing as determined by the DSO” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(ii)(A). While the U.S. law gives cavity for some employment options, such requests have to be vetted by the responsible DSO at your university.

Working with an International Organization

While working for an international organization is possible as an international student, such cases tend to be rarer. An international student visa is intended for the individual to engage in full-time study in the United States and not for employment tendencies. This explains why such a working opportunity may challenge the reason for the individuals stay in the U.S. For this work to happen, “a bona fide F-1 student who has been offered employment by a recognized international organization … must apply for employment authorization to the service center having jurisdiction over his or her place of residence. A student seeking employment authorization under this provision is required to present a written certification from the international organization that the proposed employment is within the scope of the organization’s sponsorship, Form I-20 ID or SEVIS Form I-20 with employment page completed by DSO certifying eligibility for employment, and a completed Form I-765, with required fee as contained in §103.7(b)(1) of this chapter” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(iii). Once again, we can recognize how the DSO of the U.S. institution has to review the motivations of this work not to be in interference with the study of the international student.

On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment must either be performed on the school’s premises, (including on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria), or at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school. Employment with on-site commercial firms, such as a construction company building a school building, which do not provide direct student services is not deemed on-campus employment for the purposes of this paragraph. In the case of off-campus locations, the educational affiliation must be associated with the school’s established curriculum or related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level. In any event, the employment must be an integral part of the student’s educational program. Employment authorized under this paragraph must not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session.

An F-1 student may not engage in on-campus employment after completing a course of study, except employment for practical training as authorized. An F-1 student may engage in any on-campus employment authorized under this paragraph, which will not displace United States residents. … Upon initial entry to begin a new course of study, an F-1 student may not begin on-campus employment more than 30 days prior to the actual start of classes” – 8 CFR 214.2 (f) (9) (i).

Volunteering 29 CFR 553.101 (a)

Work that is unpaid may still be considered employment for F-1 or J-1 status holders. According to the Department of Labor, a volunteer is: an “individual who performs hours of service… for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered”  We recommend that if you are engaging in an unpaid internship or some form of volunteering. off -campus that you consider using Curricular Practical Training. Please ensure that your prospective supervisor is aware of these federal regulations and that you have assurances (preferably written) to that effect before you accept the position. We also recommend that F-1 students who do engage in unpaid internships have a letter from their academic advisor confirming that the internship is in the major field of study, and a letter from the employer confirming that there was no remuneration or any other type of compensation provided in any form during the dates the student was participating in the internship. Many of these will be provided by your international office in the form of CPT paperwork to be requested.

This is information is made clear and available on the Fact Sheet #71: internship programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This information is made available by the U.S. Department of Labor.

CPT Guidelines

Curricular practical training. An F-1 student may be authorized by the DSO to participate in a curricular practical training program that is an integral part of an established curriculum. Curricular practical training is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. Students who have received one year or more of full time curricular practical training are ineligible for post-completion academic training. Exceptions to the one academic year requirement are provided for students enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in curricular practical training. A request for authorization for curricular practical training must be made to the DSO. A student may begin curricular practical training only after receiving his or her Form I-20 with the DSO endorsement” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i).

I just arrived for orientation; can I start working through CPT?

“An F-1 student may be authorized to work off-campus on a part-time basis … after having been in F-1 status for one full academic year provided that the student is in good academic standing as determined by the DSO” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(ii)(A).

OPT Guidelines

“Consistent with the application and approval process in paragraph (f)(11) of this section, a student may apply to USCIS for authorization for temporary employment for optional practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study. The student may not begin optional practical training until the date indicated on his or her employment authorization document, Form I-766. A student may be granted authorization to engage in temporary employment for optional practical training” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A).

Can’t I just get an OPT form? I do not want to come into the office.

“Student responsibilities. A student must initiate the OPT application process by requesting a recommendation for OPT from his or her DSO. Upon making the recommendation, the DSO will provide the student a signed Form I-20 indicating that recommendation” – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i).


Sources:

Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations
International Taxpayers, Internal Revenue Service
International Center, University of Michigan
Office of Global Services, Northeastern University
Bechtel International Center, Stanford University
The Office of International Affairs, The University of Chicago
Office of International Students & Scholars, Yale University
Student and Exchange Visitor Program, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Department of Labor


Download pdf: drive.google.com

Mario Marset Ehrle, International Services Specialist
Office of International Student and Scholar Services at the University of Southern Mississippi

This information does not represent the views of my employer.

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