F-1 Visa Employment Benefits

F-1 students who want to 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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F-1 students with STEM degrees who participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (up to 12 months) have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension for a period of 24 months.

The application process for the STEM OPT extension is different from the OPT application process, though the cost is the same, and more is required from employers in terms of managing a training plan for students participating in STEM OPT.

Students MUST apply for STEM OPT extensions during the active period of post-completion OPT. Once the students 60-day grace period begins, they are no longer eligible to apply for STEM OPT.

STEM OPT Extension Qualifications

  • Only students whose degree is listed on the ICE website as a designated degree for STEM OPT may apply for a STEM OPT extension.

STEM Designated Degree Program List

  • Applicants MUST already have a job or job offer from an employer that is enrolled is USCIS’s E-Verify program. The employer must provide the E-Verify number in order for the student to apply for STEM OPT.
  • The employer MUST be willing to work with the student to complete the training plan developed by the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
    • The I-983 Training Plan MUST be evaluated by the employer at the end of the first 12 months and again at the end of the full 24 months, and the evaluation MUST be submitted to Mercer’s school official, or DSO
    • The student MUST submit mid-year reports to the DSO at the 6-month and 18-month points of the 24-month STEM OPT verifying that they are still working for the same employer. If the student changes employers during this period, a NEW I-983 Training Plan must be completed by the new employer and submitted to the school official within 10 days of the employment start date.

STEM OPT Rules and Regulations

In addition to the rules and regulations governing student status during the post-completion OPT period, students present in the U.S. on a STEM OPT Employment Authorization are subject to upholding the following guidelines:

  • Students must work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer
  • Students are REQUIRED to submit a self-evaluation from the I-983 training plan at the end of 12 months and again at the end of the 24 months.
  • Students are REQUIRED to report to Mercer’s school official at the end of 6 months and again after 18 months in order to verify that no changes have been made to the student’s employment.
  • Update the school official at Mercer University with any change in employment within 10 days of the change.
  • Update the school official at Mercer University with any change in physical address within 10 days of the change.

Unemployment Rules and Regulations

  • The STEM OPT Extension allows for 60 days of aggregate unemployment.
  • Any unused unemployment days from the post-completion OPT period may also be carried over into the STEM OPT extension period.
  • Students MUST report unemployment to Mercer University’s school official in the form of a change in employment within 10 days of the loss of employment.
  • USCIS will automatically terminate the SEVIS record of any student who exceeds the limit on days of unemployment, regardless of the expiration date on the EAD card.


IMPORTANT NOTE:  Mercer University students on STEM OPT, though no longer students at Mercer University, are REQUIRED to remain in contact with our international student advisors/school officials in order to ensure they maintain their F-1 student non-immigrant status while on STEM OPT. Failure to respond to communications from Mercer University staff regarding reporting requirements may result in irreversible consequences.

For details on the process of submitting the OPT STEM application through Mercer University, download our OPT STEM Extension Fact Sheet.

For more information, visit the

Department of Homeland Security STEM OPT Hub 


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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.