One of the first questions many students ask upon arrival to Western Michigan University is, “May I work in the United States?”
As an international student, there are very specific regulations regarding employment. Before beginning any job search WMU recommends that students explore the employment options available based on immigration status. Once aware of the big picture, there are many resources at WMU to help the student gain experience in their field of study and eventually find a job that is right for them.
Please read all sections below for a comprehensive overview of employment opportunities.
- On-campus employment
- Optional Practical Training
- Curricular Practical Training
- Off-campus employment: J-1
- J-2 Dependent employment
- On-campus job resources
- Taxpayer identification numbers
F-1 Students who meet the following eligibility criteria may work on campus:
- Full-time student in a WMU degree program.
- Have a valid, activated SEVIS Form I-20 from WMU.
- Have a valid, unexpired passport.
- Have an I-94 arrival/departure record marked “F-1 D/S.”
J-1 Students in a degree program must apply for work authorization through Immigration Services before working on campus. J-1 Students who meet the following eligibility criteria may work on campus:
- Full-time student in a WMU degree program.
- Have a valid, unexpired DS-2019 from WMU or another outside sponsoring exchange visitor organization authorizing the students to engage in full-time studies at WMU.
- Have a valid, unexpired passport.
- Have an I-94 arrival/departure record marked “J-1 D/S.”
- Have a letter from a J-1 sponsor specifically authorizing the student to engage in on-campus employment at WMU. J-1 Students sponsored by WMU must apply for and obtain this authorization letter from Immigration Services; all other students must obtain this letter from their sponsoring organization.
- Report employment information to Immigration Services.
There is no waiting period before F-1 Students are allowed to accept an on-campus job. J-1 Students must obtain a work authorization letter from Immigration Services before working on campus.
Students may not engage in on-campus employment if any of the criteria below apply:
- They are not registered as a full-time student or, if working during the summer term, they do not intend to register for the upcoming fall semester.
- They have graduated or taken a leave of absence and do not intend to begin a new program at WMU in the next available semester.
- They do not have valid documents, as listed above.
- The on-campus job is coded as federal work-study.
Restrictions on hours and locations for on-campus employment
- Employment is limited to part-time positions during the school year; full-time positions are permitted during official vacation periods. For hourly positions, part-time employment is a maximum of 20 hours per week; full-time employment is over 20 hours per week.
- Employment may take place at any WMU office or department. On-campus employment also includes graduate or teaching assistantships.
- Students will need to apply for a Social Security number to get paid by WMU. Read the instructions on applying for an SSN once employment has been secured.
For more information about student employee payroll and tax information, visit the student employee area of WMU's Human Resources site.
Off-campus employment: F-1 Students
F-1 Students interested in off-campus employment may be eligible for Optional Practical Training, Curricular Practical Training, or work with an international organization. To be eligible for one of these benefits, a student must be in F-1 status for at least one academic year.
Notice to students currently on OPT—see story on Immigration Services homepage.
- Optional Practical Training is a benefit available to F-1 Students who are completing a degree in the U.S. and who have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one academic year.
- OPT is intended to provide hands-on practical work experience complementary to the academic program. An F-1 Student is eligible for a maximum of 12 months (certain science, technology, engineering and mathematics students may be eligible to apply for an additional 24-month STEM extension provided the employer participates in E-verify). The student is granted one initial 12-month period of OPT per each higher degree level—one for undergraduate, one for master's and one for Ph.D. For example, a student who obtains two masters degrees will only be given one period of OPT.
- OPT is very flexible. The employment can be anywhere in the U.S. and can be for any company or organization as long as it is related to the field of study and appropriate to the degree level. OPT employment can be paid or unpaid.
- The OPT period may be completed during pre-completion or post-completion of the degree; however, most students choose to use their OPT after graduation.
- Pre-completion OPT employment is available while classes are in session, allowing part-time employment of up to 20 hours a week while maintaining full-time enrollment at WMU. It is important to note that part-time, pre-completion OPT is deducted from the available training at one-half the full-time rate. Thus, two months of part-time training would count as a one-month deduction from the available 12 months. Pre-completion OPT is deducted against the total 12-month allotment. Students who apply for pre-completion OPT will be ineligible for the STEM extension and cap-gap benefits.
- Post-completion OPT must be full-time employment of more than 20 hours per week; students are not allowed to have more than 90 days of unemployment in the 12-month period.
- While on OPT, individuals are still considered to be F-1 Students at WMU even though they may be working elsewhere in the U.S. Therefore, students on OPT are required to report that they are employed to Immigration Services within 10 days of the work start date using the Data Validation Report form. Students on OPT are also required to report to Immigration Services within 10 days whenever they experience a change in name, address or employment information.
The Data Validation Report form, Optional Practical Training STEM Extension Request form and Optional Practical Training Workshops schedule are accessible on the Forms page.
Optional Practical Training workshops are offered regularly throughout each semester for eligible F-1 Students. Workshops cover instruction on the application process, OPT employment, and the mandatory reporting requirements that must be submitted to the school while on OPT to maintain lawful F-1 status. Registration is required by calling International Admissions and Services at (269) 387-5865 or by signing up at the International Admissions and Services reception desk on the fourth floor of Ellsworth Hall.
The Post-Completion Optional Practical Training Application Request form and Optional Practical Training Workshops schedule are accessible on the Forms page.
Curricular Practical Training is defined as employment that is an integral part of a student’s curriculum, including alternate 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. CPT for F-1 Students is intended to provide work experience as an integral part of a student’s academic program, prior to completion of that program.
Types of CPT
- Required by the degree program: Training that is a core requirement of all students in the degree program meets the requirements for CPT.
- Not required by the degree program: Training that is not required by the degree program, but that meets the requirements for CPT because the work is an integral part of the program of studies and the student will receive academic credit for the employment experience. Students can either sign up for an internship class or connect CPT to a relevant class being taken during that semester.
- Students who have been lawfully enrolled full time for one academic year, which is two full semesters (example: spring and summer I and II, or fall and spring), may apply to participate in this type of training. Graduate students in programs that include immediate, mandatory training are not bound by the one academic year in full-time status requirement as long as such employment is required from everyone in the program as part of the degree requirements.
- The student must have a job offer to be eligible for CPT, since the CPT employment authorization will be position and employer specific. If there are any changes in the terms and conditions of the CPT, contact Immigration Services immediately because a new CPT authorization might be necessary.
- During the school year, F-1 Students must be enrolled full time to be authorized for CPT. Students may participate in full- or part-time CPT during the annual vacation semester and are required to register for at least one class that is directly related to CPT. Students may not take a reduced course load and then apply for CPT, except: (1) when a master's or Ph.D. student has completed all coursework excluding thesis; or (2) when a student is in his/her last semester before graduation and is getting the balance of credits for the degree program.
- Students who are finished with the program requirements but who delay graduation to make use of CPT will not be granted CPT.
Additional CPT information
- Although authorized part-time (20 hours or less per week, not an average of 20 hours a week) CPT employment is permitted with no penalties until completion of a degree, students who have received one year or more of full-time CPT (21 hours or more per week) are ineligible for Optional Practical Training, which is typically used immediately after graduation.
- CPT is authorized on a semester basis. Should the student require additional time past the current CPT end date, they will need to reapply with new required documentation.
- If CPT will be completed during the last semester, the student must have at least one other remaining degree-required course to register for, in addition to the CPT course.
- Students are authorized to work for specific dates of employment, which are stated on the I-20. A student may not begin before the start date or continue working after the end date. If it is expected that the student will need to work beyond the end date, they must reapply for CPT and be approved by Immigration Services. If they work beyond the end date, they will be working illegally and could lose future immigration benefits.
The Curricular Practical Training Request form and Curricular Practical Training Workshops schedule are accessible on the Forms page.
Academic Training is flexible in format and offers a variety of employment situations to supplement the academic program in the U.S. as a J-1 Student. Academic Training is available before completion of the program of study, as well as afterward. J-1 Students in non-degree programs are also eligible for AT. Prior written authorization by an Immigration Services advisor is required.
- Student's primary purpose in the U.S. must be study rather than Academic Training.
- Students must be in good academic standing.
- Proposed employment must be directly related to the major field of study.
- Throughout Academic Training the student must maintain permission to stay in the United States in J-1 Student status, and apply for extensions as necessary.
- Student must maintain health insurance coverage for self and any J-2 Dependents.
- Cannot do post-completion Academic Training in aviation or medical fields.
- Employment may be authorized for the length of time necessary to complete the goals and objectives of the training, provided the amount of time is approved by both the academic advisor and an Immigration Services advisor. It may not exceed the period of full course of study or 18 months, whichever is shorter. Post-doctoral training may last up to 36 months for students who have earned a Ph.D. Additional AT beyond the 18- or 36-month limit is allowed only if it is required by the degree program.
- Part-time employment for AT counts as full-time employment.
- Earning more than one degree does not increase the amount of time available for AT.
After completion of program of study
- Academic Training following completion of the program of study must involve paid employment, unless a student can verify adequate financial support during the terms of AT.
- Obtain a written offer of appropriate employment and present a copy to an Immigration Services advisor prior to the program completion date (or before the DS-2019 end date, whichever is earlier), or they will lose eligibility for AT after completion of studies. In any event, do not let the DS-2019 expire.
- If planning to leave the U.S. after completing the program of study and re-entering the country for J-1 Academic Training, employment authorization must be obtained before leaving the U.S.
The J-1 Academic Training form is accessible on the Forms page.
- J-2 employment may be authorized by the United States Center for Immigration Services for the duration of the J-1 principal’s authorized stay as indicated on the arrival/departure record and Form DS-2019, or a period of four years, whichever is shorter. However, the Employment Authorization Document is usually issued for a 12-month period and has to be renewed once a year.
- J-2 Dependents are eligible to apply for permission to work from USCIS through a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. The J-2 Dependent may begin employment only after having received the approved Employment Authorization Document from USCIS.
- The regulation states that employment may not be granted when the earnings are to be used to support the J-1 visa holder; the earnings must be used for the family’s customary recreational and cultural activities and those related to travel.
Handshake is a Web-based employment service that offers a variety of online job listings, including full-time, part-time, internship, seasonal and temporary jobs. Students can use the Handshake site features to:
- Search and apply for jobs.
- Sign up for on-campus interviews and events.
- Publish resumes online or search resume books.
Career and Student Employment Services specializes in partnering with employers to provide career development opportunities for students and alumni. Support services and programs focus on finding employment, exploring options and career management. Employment services include:
- Career advising
- Career events
- Career planning and assessment
- Internships/cooperative education
- Mentor programs
- Student employment
WebCheck is available for WMU student employees through the GoWMU portal. The WebCheck link appears on the Student Services tab, under the Career Development and Employment Resources channel. It will default to the Student Services tab, or can be added to any tab within GoWMU.
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
An ITIN is a tax processing number issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. It is a nine-digit number that always begins with the number 9 and has a 7 or 8 in the fourth digit (example: 9XX-7X-XXXX). The IRS issues ITINs to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number, but who do not have and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security number from the Social Security Administration. ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have U.S. tax return and payment responsibilities under the Internal Revenue Code. ITINs are for federal tax reporting only and are not intended to serve any other purpose. An ITIN does not authorize work in the U.S. and is not a valid identification outside the tax system.
Who needs an ITIN?
The IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and who do not qualify for a Social Security number. An ITIN is also required for non-resident aliens required to file a U.S. tax return just to claim a refund of tax under the provisions of a U.S. tax treaty. Examples of individuals who need ITINs include:
- A nonresident alien student, professor or researcher who is required to file a U.S. tax return but is not eligible for a Social Security number.
- A U.S. resident alien (based on the substantial presence test—days present in the U.S.) filing a U.S. tax return and is not eligible for a Social Security number.
- A dependent or spouse of a non-resident alien visa holder not eligible for a Social Security number.
- Dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien not eligible for a Social Security number.
For more information about ITINs, visit the IRS ITIN information page.
Social Security number
A Social Security number is a unique, nine-digit taxpayer identification number used for taxpayer identification, income reporting and record-keeping purposes. The Social Security Administration issues numbers to all U.S. citizens and permanent residents and to eligible foreign nationals. Eligibility to apply for a Social Security number is dependent on one’s eligibility for employment in the U.S.
Who needs an SSN?
Everyone who is employed in the U.S. must have a Social Security number. An SSN may be assigned to a foreign national authorized to work in the U.S. Once issued, the number is valid for a lifetime. If a student has been issued a number previously, do not apply for another; doing so will likely cause confusion in tax records. If they do not have an SSN, they will need to visit one of the local Social Security Administration offices to apply.
U.S. employers withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from workers’ wages. In general, Social Security taxes are not withheld for students and scholars on F-1/J-1 status who are nonresidents. However, individuals filing as residents for tax purposes will have Social Security tax withheld. F-1/J-1 Students generally are considered nonresidents for tax purposes for their first five years in the U.S. J-1 Scholars are generally considered nonresidents for tax purposes for their first two years in the U.S. An SSN is used to report wages to the U.S. government and to determine eligibility for Social Security benefits.
The immigration status of all nonimmigrant applications for SSNs must be verified by the Department of Homeland Security. Processing time for a new SSN may take several weeks.
If a student has been offered an on-campus job with proper approval they may start working without an SSN, but they should immediately apply for one.
The Obtaining a Social Security Number document is accessible on the Forms page.
If students or scholars are visiting the U.S. on an F, J, M or Q visa and are classified as nonresidents for U.S. tax purposes, they are required to file tax returns each year if they have any income subject to U.S. income tax. Additionally, if they are exempt individuals (explained under determining tax residency below), they are required to file Form 8843 regardless of income.
Forms required to file
- Form 1040NR—U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return or, if qualified, Form 1040NR-EZ—U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens with No Dependents.
- Exempt individuals: File Form 8843—Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals with a Medical Condition. This does not mean a student is exempt from paying U.S. taxes, but that they are exempt from the substantial presence test for determining residency status (see determining tax residency below). They must file Form 8843 even if they are not required to file an income tax return.
If a student received wages subject to U.S. tax withholding, the due date for filing the tax return is April 15 of the following year. If a student did not receive taxable wages during the year, the due date for filing the tax return is June 15 of the following year. The Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ (including Form 8843) must be sent to the IRS.
Note: Make photocopies of the completed tax return and all forms and attachments and keep these copies for at least three years.
Determining tax residency
There are special rules used to determine tax residency for F-1/J-1 Students. For tax purposes, U.S. tax law divides individuals into residents or non-residents, which is not necessarily the same as residency status defined by immigration law. Under tax law, residents follow the same rules as U.S. citizens, but there are special rules for non-residents. There are also special rules that apply specifically to F-1 Students and J-1 Students who are non-residents for tax purposes.
In general, for international students and their dependents in F or J status, tax residency is determined as follows:
- In U.S. for five calendar years or less, file tax forms as non-residents.
- In U.S for more than five calendar years, file tax forms as residents.
Comprehensive information is available in IRS Publication 519—U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, which may be accessed on the IRS website or by calling (800) TAX-FORM (829-3676) to request that a copy be mailed to the student. The first few pages of Publication 519 explain the two tests for determining whether the student is a resident or nonresident alien: Green Card Test and Substantial Presence Test
If a student is temporarily in the U.S. on an F/ J visa and has been present in the U.S. for no more than five calendar years, he or she is an exempt individual per the substantial presence test. An exempt individual is someone whose days in the U.S. are not counted toward the substantial presence test, not someone who is exempt from paying taxes. Exempt individuals are nonresident aliens until they are no longer exempt individuals, or until they receive permanent residency (Green Card) status.
Income Tax Assistance for International Students
The Haenicke Institute for Global Education offers a free, online federal income tax assistance software for use in completing U.S. federal income tax forms 1040NR and 1040NR-EZ early each year (late January or early February) for international students, scholars, researchers, trainees and their dependents who are nonresident aliens. Learn how to access the software on the WMU International Admissions and Services website.
A student is eligible to receive this tax assistance software if:
- They are a current international student at WMU.
- They were an international student or scholar at WMU during the current tax year.
- They are a recent WMU graduate on Optional Practical Training or Academic Training during the current tax year.
If a student is employed at the University (or elsewhere), they will need certain documents provided by the employer (usually in late January or early February) before preparing the tax return.
- Form W-2 reporting the taxable wages and any taxes withheld from the student's wages, and/or Form 1042-S reporting wages exempt from tax due to a tax treaty.
- Other types of income that a student receives may also be reported to them after the end of the calendar year in which they were paid the income.
- If the student received scholarships for enrollment, they may request a Form 1098-T from WMU after Jan. 31. Although most of the information on this form is not relevant to individuals required to file a form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ, any scholarships applied to a student account for the prior calendar year academic periods will be disclosed.
- Once a student logs in to the Sprintax system, the first screen displayed lists the documents needed to have before being ready to complete a federal income tax return. Collect all required forms and documentation needed before proceeding to work on the federal income tax form.
- WMU staff and faculty cannot provide advice on tax issues or assistance completing tax returns using the Sprintax system.
If required to file a federal tax return, a student should also file a Michigan tax return (Form MI-1040). Those individuals considered nonresidents for federal tax purposes (those required to file form 1040NR or 1040NR/EZ) should file a Michigan tax return as a nonresident of Michigan. Attach a copy of the federal income tax return to the Michigan income tax return before mailing.
Michigan tax forms are accessible via the Michigan Department of Treasury.
Income of nonresidents subject to Michigan income tax includes:
- Salary, wages and other employee compensation for work performed in Michigan.
- Business income from business activity in Michigan.
- Rent and royalty income from real and tangible personal property located in Michigan.
- Capital gains/losses from the sale of real or personal property located in Michigan.
- Patent or copyright royalties if patent or copyright is used in Michigan.
- Michigan lottery winnings.
- Michigan casino and horse track winnings.
Income received from sources outside of the U.S. is not taxable.