Living and Working in the U.S.

Living and Working in the United States

Learn more about living and working in the United States as a Merrimack College international student.

We want to help you have a smooth transition when moving to the US. Below are important documents that you may need or want to review in order to help you with your adjustment.

  • Getting a Massachusetts Driver’s License .pdf
  • International Student Tax Information.pdf
  • International Students Guide to US Health Care.pdf
  • Sample Letter_Inviting Foreign Guests for Commence.docx
  • Social Security Application Process.pdf

Employment in the US

On-campus employment is work that F-1 students whose status is Active in SEVIS status may apply for. On-campus employment is specific to work that takes place on campus or at an off-campus location that is affiliated with the school. Examples of on-campus employment include working at a university bookstore or cafeteria. Off-campus employment must be authorized by the ISS office in advance.

Curricular Practical Training

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is work authorization granted to students in F-1 status for work that is an “integral part of an established curriculum”. CPT enables students to apply and practice the knowledge and skills gained in their academic programs. CPT is granted by the International Student Support in accordance with U.S. immigration law. Authorization of CPT includes both academic and immigration components.

Academic Eligibility

Internships must be approved by the appropriate Merrimack department, and students must be registered for the particular academic course that supports the internship. The experience/internship must be relevant to the student’s major curriculum (not the minor). A student may only engage in CPT if:

  • the student is registered in a credit-bearing internship course
  • the work experience is a graduation requirement for the student’s academic program
  • the internship/employment is an integral part of the curriculum
Immigration Eligibility
  • You must currently be maintaining valid F-1 status and must have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year before applying for CPT.
  • CPT is authorization is date and employer specific. If you anticipate changes to your internship, (ex: different dates, different employer, etc.) you must first obtain authorization from ISS.
  • There is no limit on the amount of time you can be authorized for CPT. However, if you use 12 months or more of full-time CPT you will lose your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Please note that to apply for CPT, you must first meet with an ISS advisor to talk about your eligibility and course requirements.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) Overview

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a work authorization granted to students on F-1 status for work that is related to their field of study. OPT enables you to apply and practice the knowledge and skills gained in your academic programs. OPT is granted by the International Student Support in accordance with U.S. immigration law.

Students are eligible to participate in Optional Practical Training if all of the following criteria are met:

  • You have completed all course requirements for the degree.
  • Your employment is directly related to your major field of study.
  • You have been in F-1 student status in the United States for at least one academic year (three terms).

**OPT is an option at every degree level. Please note that a second master’s does NOT qualify you for another 12 months of OPT.**

More Information About OPT

USCIS is now accepting applications for OPT and the STEM Extension online. ISS has put together a PPT to walk you through that process step-by-step. You can download How to submit an OPT Application ONLINE with USCIS.pptx here. When you’re ready to begin the process with ISS, click on the APPLY NOW button below.

Update Your OPT
  • While on OPT, you must report to the DSO/ISS Advisor within 10 days of any changes in your name or address, and employment information. Please complete the questionnaire to update your employment status and enter in your employment information. You must begin employment within 90 days of your OPT start date or you will fall out of status.
  • For more information about OPT reporting requirements, you can visit this link. To update your US local address in your MyMack.
  • To fill out the form to have a DSO update your OPT SEVIS record, click the APPLY NOW button below to start an OPT Employment Update record. For help with creating that record, open the OPT Employment Update Guide.
Report Your STEM OPT Participation

In order to maintain their legal F-1 status, a STEM OPT student must regularly check in with their DSO throughout the duration of the extension to validate Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) information and report changes made to the student’s training plan.Every six months a student must work with ISS to confirm that the record in SEVIS accurately reflects their current circumstance. As part of this six-month reporting, STEM OPT students must confirm that their SEVIS information correctly identifies their:

  • Legal name.
  • Residential or mailing address.
  • Employer name and address.
  • Status of current employment.

SEVP Portal users will receive a reminder via email 30 days before any validation report is due. Please note that STEM OPT students must report a change in this information, including any loss of employment, within 10 days of the change.

Also, please remember the ANNUAL REPORTING REQUIREMENT: Each STEM OPT student must complete and submit an annual self-evaluation describing the progress of the training experience.

The student must ensure that the DSO receives the assessment no later than 10 days following the conclusion of the training period. The student must submit the assessments for the stated periods:

  • Initial: 12 months after the STEM OPT start date, and
  • A Final assessment that recaps the training and knowledge acquired during the complete, 24 month training period.
Cap Gap Extension Request

Many F-1 students complete a program of study or post-completion OPT in mid-spring or early summer. Per federal regulations, after completing their program or post-completion OPT, F-1 students have only 60 days to take the steps necessary to maintain legal status or depart the United States. However, because the change to H-1B status does not occur until Oct. 1, an F-1 student previously had two or more months following the 60-day period with no legal status.

To deal with this situation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security established regulations that automatically extend F-1 status and, if applicable, post-completion OPT employment authorization from April 1 to Sept. 30 for eligible F-1 students. We call this the cap gap extension.

Travel During OPT

Before the completion of your academic program, the usual procedures for travel still apply. After completion of your academic program, the guidance for travel is related to whether your post-completion OPT has been approved yet or not.

While Post-Completion OPT is Pending

If your post-completion OPT has not been approved and you do not have a job or a job offer, travel is permissible, but not advisable.

In order to have the best chance of re-entering the U.S. without problems when your post-completion OPT is pending, you should travel with the following documents:

  • Passport (valid for six months after you plan to re-enter the U.S)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (this requirement does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • I-20 (with a travel signature no older than six months *)
  • I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797)
  • If you need to apply for a new F-1 visa when your post-completion OPT application is pending, you should also be sure to have your I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) in addition to the usual documents required for a visa application.
After Post-Completion OPT is Approved

If your post-completion OPT has been approved (EAD card has been issued by USCIS) and you have a job or a job offer, you may leave and re-enter the U.S. in order to begin or resume employment.

After USCIS has issued an EAD card for post-completion OPT, in order to have the best chance of re-entering the U.S. without problems, you should be sure you have the following documents:

  • Passport: An unexpired passport valid at least six months into the future.
  • I-20: An unexpired I-20 with a travel signature less than six months old.
  • F-1 Visa Stamp: An unexpired F-1 visa stamp valid for further entries into the United States (Citizens of Canada do not need an entry visa).**
  • EAD: An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by the USCIS for F-1 students on practical training.
  • SEVIS Fee Receipt: Proof that you have paid the SEVIS fee.
  • F-1 Students – Employer Letter: (Highly recommended) Get a letter from your employer stating your job title, job description, begin and end dates (must fall within the practical training period), and verifying that your employer knows you are traveling and expects you to return to complete your job. If you do not have a job, we advise you not to travel as you may difficulty re-entering the U.S.

**If you need to apply for a new F-1 visa, be sure to have your EAD card and evidence that you already have a job in the U.S. or that you have a job offer in addition to the usual documents required for a visa application.

Important Note on Travel Signatures

During post-completion OPT, the travel signature on your I-20 should be no older than six months. Be sure to request an updated signature in a timely manner.

Summary of Guidance: Students who have an EAD card for post-completion OPT and evidence of either a job or a job offer may depart and re-enter the U.S. during their OPT period. Of course, re-entry to the U.S. is never guaranteed.

Students whose EAD card has not yet been issued (OPT application has not yet been approved by USCIS) are allowed to re-enter the U.S. to resume the search for employment. While your OPT application is pending, you are not required to have a job or a job offer for re-entry to the U.S.

Important! If a student who has an EAD card but does not have a job or a job offer departs the US during the post-completion OPT period, OPT ends. Border officials might not allow someone in this situation to re-enter the U.S. For this reason, students who do not have a U.S. job or a U.S. job offer but who plan to leave and re-enter the U.S. after their EAD card has been issued (their OPT has been approved by USCIS) are taking a risk.

For more information, see U.S. Department of Homeland Security FAQ for Travel. Download this handout on OPT & Travel.pdf for quick reference.

After Mailing Your OPT Application

It may well take USCIS over 90 days to process OPT applications. Plan accordingly! Please read the following carefully so that you:
  1. know what to expect in terms of process and documentation
  2. avoid possible problems
After Mailing the I-765
  1. Make a copy for your records of the receipt from the post office showing the tracking number.
  2. Set up email notifications at with tracking number to monitor when your application is received by USCIS.
  3. In the unlikely event that delivery is delayed, denied, returned, missing, etc., call USPS customer service to determine the problem and follow recommended instructions. If you determine that your I-765 has not reached USCIS, contact the Office of ISS for advice.
After the I-765 Is Received by USCIS
  1. Print the page from showing that your application was received on or before your I-20 end date and keep this with your records.
  2. If you paid by personal check, monitor your bank account and note the date the check cleared. This will confirm receipt by USCIS.
When You Receive Form I-797 Receipt Notice in the Mail
  1. Make a photocopy for your records.
  2. Sign up for email updates at USCIS website using Receipt Number.
  3. Verify that name and mailing address are printed 100% correctly on receipt notice. If you find any error, email regarding how to proceed.
When Case Status Online Reflects “Approved”
  1. If someone else is receiving the EAD on your behalf, alert that person that a piece of mail should be arriving soon. Ask him/her to notify you as soon as it arrives, and make sure that s/he puts that mail in a new envelope before mailing it on to you.
  2. Take any steps possible to ensure delivery of your mail. If you live in an apartment complex, check that your name is on your mailbox. If you have roommates, alert them you are expecting something important.
  3. DO NOT notify USPS to hold mail, forward mail, or process a change of address until you receive the EAD.
When You Receive the I-797 Approval Notice and EAD
  1. Make a copy of the Approval Notice and EAD (front and back) for your records
  2. Submit scanned copies of both of those documents as an OPT Updated on this site.
  3. Remember: You are not authorized to begin employment until the start date on the EAD arrives, even if you have the card in hand.
If You Change Your Mind about Applying for OPT
If for any reason you decide you do not want OPT, you must take immediate action to prevent your I-765 application from being adjudicated by USCIS (i.e. approved or denied).
  1. Write (but do NOT send!) a letter to USCIS requesting your I-765 application be withdrawn.
    1. Note “Re: I-765 Withdrawal” on the letter
    2. Include biographical information to identify yourself, including name, date of birth, and SEVIS ID number
    3. Request that the Form I-765 application for Optional Practical Training be withdrawn and include a short statement of why you are withdrawing your request
    4. Date and sign
    5. If you have received Form I-797 (Receipt Notice) from USCIS, include the case number in your letter
  2. Email with your full name, Merrimack ID, and case number (if you have already received a Receipt Notice from USCIS). Indicate that you mailed your I-765 and want to withdraw your OPT application. Attach your letter to USCIS to the e-mail and a copy of your Form I-797 Receipt Notice (if you have it).
  3. A Merrimack DSO will contact the USCIS Service Center to request the withdrawal of the application. The Service Center may have additional instructions for you to follow before they officially withdraw your application. The DSO will inform you if this is the case.
  4. In a few weeks USCIS will send a confirmation letter to the address you listed on the I-765 indicating your application has been withdrawn. Keep this original and a photocopy in your records.
If You Do Not Receive the Receipt Notice within 4 Weeks
  • There are a few possible reasons your Receipt Notice has not arrived:
    • USCIS did not mail it yet. They may take up to 6 weeks to put a Receipt Notice in the mail after your application is received.
    • Your Receipt Notice was “returned undeliverable.” This means the Post Office was unable to deliver the letter to your address and they mailed it back to USCIS. USCIS keeps it for a short time and then destroys it.
    • The Receipt Notice was lost permanently before delivery (e.g. delivered to the wrong address) or after delivery (e.g. accidentally discarded as junk mail).
  • To try and recover your receipt notice after you have waited four weeks, start with these steps:
    • First do what you can to determine whether the Receipt Notice has already been delivered. Double check any stacks of mail you may have and ask roommates, neighbors, the apartment manager, etc.
    • Email to inquire about the status of your receipt notice. Include your name, date of birth, and date your I765 was delivered to USCIS.
    • Call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at (800)375- 5283 and ask for your receipt number. If you are able to obtain it, enter it on the website under Case Status on the left hand side. You can often gain helpful information this way.
  • You may find that one or both of the above steps solve your problem. For example:
    • USCIS might tell you the Receipt Notice was not mailed yet and to wait a little longer.
    • The Receipt Notice might have been returned undeliverable and USCIS still has it. Check that USCIS has the correct address on file, and if so, ask them to re-send it.
  • Contact if:
    • You followed the instructions above and have not received an email reply after a week and you were unsuccessful in obtaining the receipt number by phone. You find out the receipt notice cannot be re-sent and you would like advice on international travel.
    • The address on file with USCIS is no longer correct.
A Note on International Travel
  • The official guidance from Customs and Border Protection (i.e. the border officers) is that students should carry the Receipt Notice itself for re-entry while the OPT is pending.
  • If your situation requires you to travel and attempt re-entry without a Receipt Notice, we recommend carrying a print-out from USCIS Case Status online showing the status of your case.
If You Receive Notice from USCIS that Something Is Wrong
lf any of the following happen, call or email the Office of ISS immediately for advice:
  • You receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) in the mail or see in Case Status Online that one was sent
  • You receive your I-765 application back in the mail or see in Case Status Online that it was rejected and/or returned
  • Either of the above are an indication that something is seriously wrong with your OPT application. No progress will be made on your application until USCIS receives the necessary documentation from you.
  • The allowable time period to respond to an RFE or rejected application is limited and will be indicated on the materials from USCIS. If you fail to respond by the deadline, your application will be denied.
If Your Application is Denied
If your I-765 is denied, the duration of your legal F-1 status reverts to being defined as the lasting through the I-20 end date plus 60 days grace period. If you are still within the grace period, you may stay in the U.S. for the remainder of the 60 days. If the grace period has already elapsed, you should depart the U.S. without delay. The chances for successfully appealing an I-765 denial are low. If you believe you were denied in error, contact a Merrimack DSO or private immigration attorney at once.
If Your EAD Does Not Arrive
USCIS will send the EAD using regular, first class mail. From the time Case Status Online indicates your request was approved, you should expect to wait a week or more for delivery of the EAD. If you suspect a problem in the delivery of your EAD:
  • First take any possible steps to determine whether the EAD has already been delivered to your address. Double check your stacks of mail and ask roommates, neighbors, the apartment complex manager, etc.
  • Call the USCIS customer service number and ask if your EAD was “returned undeliverable,” meaning sent back to USCIS. Keep detailed records of your conversation with the customer service agent, including the date you called, any number the agent gave you, and the advice you were given.
  • Email with a detailed account of the situation and steps you have already taken, including notes from your conversation with USCIS customer service. An advisor will respond with advice.
  • Please be aware there is usually little, if anything, the Office of ISS can do to intervene in cases of an EAD not delivered. You may need to apply for a replacement of the lost card and pay the fee again.
If your EAD was returned undeliverable or lost in the mail, you can expect significant delay in obtaining the card. If you have a job offer, you may wish to contact your employer to make arrangements for delaying your start date. Remember, you may not work until you have the EAD in hand, even if the Case Status Online shows your case was approved.
If There is a Mistake on Your EAD
If there is any problem on your EAD, email a scanned copy of the card with a description of the exact problem (name misspelled, wrong dates, etc.) to A DSO will respond with advice.
  • Remember, the dates on the card determine when you are authorized to work, even if they are not the dates for which you intended to apply.
  • If for any reason USCIS approves the I-765 after the OPT start date you requested, the start date will be set as the date the application was approved. USCIS will not adjust the end date; therefore, your OPT period will be less than 12 months. This is unfortunate, but not a mistake. There is no remedy possible in this situation.

Pro Tips for Filing with USCIS

ISS encourages you to take steps to decrease the time it takes USCIS to process and send your receipt notice or find out the status of your case by doing the following if they are available to your application process:

  • File online (if this option is available for your form type) and receive immediate confirmation that we have received your form instead of waiting for the mail;
  • IF you must use mail, then use a method of delivery that involves tracking, and retain proof of their delivery until your USCIS receipt arrives. When the receipt arrives, make sure that you check to ensure that the receipt has been properly issued.
  • Create a free USCIS online account and check the status of your case from your mobile device, anywhere, anytime using our case status online tool; or
  • Complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance, and clip it to the front of your form to request a text message and/or email when we accept your form.

We also encourage you to follow the tips below when submitting evidence with your application package for OPT, STEM OPT Extension, etc.:

  • Review the form instructions and checklist of required initial evidence on the form webpage (if this option is available for your form);
  • Submit single-sided photocopies of requested documents, unless the form instructions specifically state you must submit an original document;
  • With the exception of passport photos, please copy photographs to an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper instead of sending originals. Always send in original passport photos where requested;
  • Submit only the required evidence and supporting documentation listed in the form instructions. If we need additional information, we will request it from you; and
  • If you cannot provide the required primary evidence when filing a form, review the form instructions for appropriate secondary evidence.

For more information about USCIS filing tips, please visit their Form Filing Tips webpage.

STEM Extension

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. DHS grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students who are currently in a period of post-completion OPT once per degree level (i.e., bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate).

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. Under certain circumstances, an F-1 student may use a prior STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVPcertified school to fulfill this eligibility requirement. To find out if you qualify go to SEVP’s page on determining STEM Eligibility.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the STEM EXTENSION Reporting Requirements. You have to report every 6 months. To do so, you will need to fill out both an OPT Update Record AND a Report STEM Participation. Remember for your 12- and 24-month participation reports, you MUST upload under documents your evaluations on the I-983 form.

Do You Qualify for the STEM OPT Extension?

DHS’s STEM designated degree program list includes all STEM fields qualifying an F-1 student for a STEM OPT extension. DHS determined a “STEM field” is a field included in the Department of Education’s CIP taxonomy within the two-digit series containing engineering (CIP code 14), biological sciences (CIP code 26), mathematics (CIP code 27), physical sciences (CIP code 40) or a related field. The current list is similar to the previous list under the 17-month STEM OPT extension.

All fields of study in the four core STEM areas of engineering, biological sciences, mathematics and physical sciences are included. In general, related fields will include fields involving research, innovation or development of new technologies using engineering, mathematics, computer science or natural sciences (including physical, biological and agricultural sciences).

Look on your I-20. The number listed under your major is your CIP code.

For more information about the STEM OPT extension, click here. To begin your application for the STEM OPT extension, click on the “Apply Now” button below.