F-1 Visa Employment Benefits

F-1 students who want tto gain work experience in their area of academic expertise in the U.S. can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is a temporary employment authorization for up to 12 months at each ldegree level of higher degree (e.g. OPT after a Bachelor's degree and then OPT after a Master's degree and/or PhD). 


Qualifying student applicants must meet the following conditions:

  • A history of one year of full-time enrollment in an academic program
  • Physical presence in the U.S.
  • Active F-1 status with no violations
  • Seeking employment that is directly related to a degree earned in the U.S.

Application Approval

OPT requires an application be prepared and sent to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) for review. The application fee is $410. Mercer University's office of international programs will help you with the application process. 

When to Apply

It can take up to 90 days for USCIS to process an OPT application, so students should begin planning the application approximately 5 months before they want to begin working.

Post-Completion OPT Timeline

•  The OPT application can be submitted as early as 90-days before your I-20 end date. Your I-20 end date should match your approximate graduation date from Mercer University, and will need to be changed if it is not accurate.
•  The latest date the OPT application can be submitted and received by USCIS is 60-days after your I-20 end date. Please do NOT plan to wait this long to apply!
•  The OPT application process and notification of results takes up to 90-days. Keeping this in mind, you should apply at least 3-months before the start date you plan to request for your OPT authorization. You will indicate your desired employment authorization start date on the Mercer University OPT Application.

How to Apply

Meet with your international student advisor to learn about the opportunity, application process, requirements and to determine the best date to apply and the date to request for your authorization to begin.

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STEM OPT Extension Overview

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student's program of study in an approved STEM field. On May 10, 2016, this extension effectively replaced the previous 17-month STEM OPT extension.

Eligible F-1 students with STEM degrees who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (often for 12 months) have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension.

Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT.

STEM OPT Extension Qualifications

To qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student participating in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT must:

— Have a degree in an eligible STEM field from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school at the time of the STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.

(Check ICE's website to see if your degree qualifies: STEM Designated Degree Program List)

— Pursue the STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

— Ensure the employer will agree to provide the student with formal training and learning objectives according to USCIS's  I-983 Training Plan.

— Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.

Stem Application Overview

In general, the stem extension process is the same as the process for applying for the initial OPT work experience program. However, there are some important additions:

  • Students must submit to the international advisor (DSO) a completed Form I-983 before the DSO can issue the I-20 necessary for the STEM extension application.
    • The Form I-983 must be completed by the student and the employer together
    • It must provide details regarding learning goals and objectives, plans for fulfilling those objectives, and how success in achieving those objectives will be measured.
  • Students must submit a copy of the diploma or official transcripts for the STEM degree.
  • Your employer must be registered with E-Verify and report the identification number on the Form I-983. This number must also be included in the student's STEM Extension application, Form I-765

Submitting the STEM OPT Extension Application to USCIS

  • Submit a completed Form I-983 to your school official (international student advisor) and obtain a new Form I-20 requesting STEM OPT
  • Complete the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization for STEM Extension
    •  The eligibility category for the STEM Extension is (c)(3)(C) 
  •  Obtain two passport-sized photos 
  •  Print out of the I-94 record of arrival 
  • Neatly print in pencil the name and I-94 number on the back of each photo
  •  Make out a personal check or money order payable to the Department of Homeland Security in the amount of $410, and keep copies of this document
  •  Make a photocopy of the passport biographical page of a valid passport
  • Make a photocopy of the current, valid F-1 visa
  •  Obtain a copy of all I-20s authorizing full-time CPT
  •  Make a photocopy of all previous and current EAD cards 
  • Complete Form G-1145 to receive email and/or text message updates regarding the application processing
  • Submit all materials above to the school official for review as early as 100 days before the expiration date of the current OPT
  • Mail the completed application packet through the United States Postal Service (USPS) to USCIS as early as 90 days before the expiration of the current OPT at the address below:

USCIS Dallas Lockbox

P.O.Box 660867

Dallas, TX, 75266

Additional evidence to be considered in the application submission
•  Job offer letter (not required, optional)
•  Photocopy of I-797A Notice of Action for Change of Status if the student entered the U.S. in any visa status other than F-1 

If your application submission is incomplete, incorrect, or late, it will be returned to you, and you may lose your opportunity to apply for the STEM extension. Work with your international student advisor to make sure that your application is complete. All elements of your application must be mailed in a single envelope to USCIS.

Additional STEM Extension Rules and Regulations

Please note these few additional rules concerning the STEM Extension in addition to the Post-Completion OPT regulations:

•  Students are required to submit a self-evaluation from the I-983 training plan no later than the end of the first year, and again at the end of the second year, of STEM OPT. 
•  Update the school official/international advisor at Mercer University with any change in your employer information or your physical address within 10 days of the change.
•  The STEM Extension carries over any unused unemployment days from your first year of OPT, and also provides you with 60 additional unemployment days.
•  Respond to any communications from Mercer University regarding reporting requirements during the STEM OPT period.


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J-1 Visa Employment Benefits

J-1 Exchange Visitors at Mercer University are eligible to apply for employment off-campus in the form of Academic Training (AT).

AT can be granted for work off-campus part-time (20 hours per week or less) during fall and spring semesters, and full time (more than 20 hours per week) during school breaks and vacation semesters. The AT benefit requires advanced permission and changes to the Form DS-2019 PRIOR to the start of off-campus training.


A J-1 student is allowed to engage in employment related to his/her major if s/he meets the following conditions:

•  Student is primarily in the U.S. to study, not to work.
•  Student is in good academic standing.
•  The training is directly related to his/her major field of study.
•  Proof of health insurance coverage while participating in AT.
•  Receives written Academic Training permission from his/her Responsible Officer (RO/ARO).


1. Communicate with your academic advisor from your home institution and obtain a letter in English with the following information:

•  A description of the academic training program, including its location, the name and address of the training supervisor, number of hours per week, and dates of the training;
•  The goals and objectives of the specific academic training program;
•  How the academic training relates to the student’s major field of study; and
•  Why it is an integral or critical part of the academic program of the student.

2. Obtain a letter on official company letterhead from the future employer that includes all of the details listed below.

•  Job title
•  A brief description of your training
•  Proposed training start and end date
•  Location of the training/employment
•  Estimated number of hours per week
•  Name and address of the training supervisor

3. Meet with your international student advisor to formally request AT approval by providing the two official letters, finalize authorization within the SEVIS system and update your Form DS-2019.

4. Prepare to apply for a Social Security Number if your position will be paid.

Time Limitations for Academic Training

•  Academic Training employment may not exceed the period of full course of study or 18 months, whichever is shorter.
•  Part-time Academic Training counts against the amount of full-time employment available. Example, if you are on a 12-month academic program, then you are eligible for 12 months of Academic Training. If you use 6 months of part-time Academic Training before you finished your academic program, then you only have 6 months of full-time Academic Training left after the academic program.

Authorization Deadline

If you are going to complete your program, then you must receive your academic training authorization before the end of the semester. Your SEVIS record must be in active status for the authorization to be recommended and approved. Always be aware of your program end date (last day of the semester/last day of exams). Applying for AT authorization should be a process you begin early.




Requirements and Resources


Only students who secure employment are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN).

Students who wish to apply for a Social Security Number will need to take the following documents with them to the Social Security office. Applicants without the following documents will be denied.

For all international student applicants on an F-1 or J-1 visa:

  • Completed Application for Social Security Card
  • Passport
  •  Visa
  •  I-20 or DS-2019
  • I-94
  • A letter from supervisor on company letterhead that outlines the terms of the employment.
  • A letter from the international student advisor validating the student’s eligibility for employment per immigration regulations.

Students must apply for a Social Security Number in person.

Locate the nearest Social Security Administration Office near you: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is everyone asking for my Social Security Number?
International visitors are not required to have a Social Security Number to enter the U.S., open a bank account, sign a lease, or get a Georgia driver's license. However, it is likely that you will be asked for an SSN when trying to do these things. This is because SSNs are used to check your financial credit history (i.e. do you pay bills on time?).

If you are asked for an SSN by a cell phone carrier, bank, landlord, etc. you should explain that at this time you are not eligible for one because of your student visa status.

What is a Social Security Number?
A Social Security Number (SSN) is a permanent nine-digit identification number administered by the Social Security Administration, an agency of the U.S. federal government. SSNs are required for anyone employed in the U.S. This number tracks income for employers and the IRS.

Who is eligible to receive a Social Security Number?

International students on non-immigrant visas with work authorization and a letter of employment are eligible for a Social Security Number. F-2s are not eligible for a Social Security Number.

Who is required to have a Social Security Number?
All individuals working in the U.S. are required to have a Social Security Number.

Do I need to protect my Social Security Number?
If you get a Social Security Number, you should protect it in order to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. While you likely will be asked for your SSN when leasing an apartment, setting up a bill or service (cell phone, utilities), or opening a bank account, you should protect your Social Security Number and do not give it out freely. You should not carry your Social Security card around with you. You should keep your card (and your number) in a safe place and do not give it out to anyone who does not have a legitimate reason to ask for it.

If someone is able to get your Social Security Number, they can open bank accounts or buy things under your name! You can quickly become a victim of identity theft if someone gets your number and they can cause problems far into the future. Do not give your number over the phone or via email, particularly if you did not initiate contact.

Replacing a lost EAD card

If your EAD (employment authorization document – the physical card you receive when your OPT is approved) is lost, stolen, or otherwise no longer in your possession, you must apply for a replacement EAD. Please note this will require a new complete OPT application, including the $410 fee. Please contact the Office of International Programs if you would like assistance preparing the application for the replacement EAD card.