The International Services for Students and Scholars (ISSS) office is here to assist students and scholars in maintaining their status. Please remember this is ultimately the responsibility of the student to maintain their status while in the United States. Our office is not a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). However, we are obligated to answer inquiries from DHS or the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USCIS).
This page was last updated on: March 12, 2021.
Campus Clubs & Organizations
- Rensselaer offers many ways for you to get involved in clubs and organizations on campus. To learn more about the Rensselaer Clubs and Organizations, visit the Rensselaer Union website here: union.rpi.edu/clubs
RPI Student Legal Services
- RPI Student Legal Services is not for Immigration Legal advice. If you have questions about immigration matters, please speak with a professional in the ISSS Office. To learn more about the Student Legal Services, see this link: union.rpi.edu/student-legal
Student Health Center
- Rensselaer's Student Health Center is a comprehensive, nationally accredited, physician-directed program providing outpatient ambulatory health care. Services include medical, gynecology, and allergy clinics, Counseling Services, and educational programming.
- The Student Health Center is located on the 3rd Floor of Academy Hall, Suite 3200. Counseling Services is located on the 4th Floor of Academy Hall, Suite 4100. Website: studenthealth.rpi.edu
- You can call the Health Center at 518-276-6287 or Counseling Services at 518-276-6479 to schedule an appointment or ask a question
- Tip: Keep a first aid kit for minor illnesses or injuries that do not require the assistance of a professional.
- In Case of Emergency
- Call 911
- Rensselaer Public Safety Emergency Number: 518-276-6611
- Samaritan Hospital: 2215 Burdett Ave, Troy NY - 518-276-3300
- NOTICE: These numbers are for emergency use. If you are in immediate need of medical attention, or in a life-threatening situation, do not hesitate to call these numbers. However, if your case is not an emergency, medical fees may not be covered by insurance and can be very expensive.
- For Non-Emergency matters, consider going to Urgent Care. Not sure what is urgent care or how to decide what is better for you? Check out this article from Mount Sinai for information.
- Urgent care is often much less expensive than going to the emergency room.
Weather in Troy
- Troy experiences all four seasons at their best. We have a very warm summer, where temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit and above, and a very cold winter, where temperatures can reach to 0 degrees Fahrenheit and below with lots of snow.
- There are many tools to help you plan for the weather. Some tools we recommend are the Weather Channel and Swackett [for Apple only].
- The Department of Public Safety also has information about how you can learn about severe weather and natural disasters: www.rpi.edu/dept/public_safety/campus/weather.html
- If the weather approaching campus is severe, a message will be sent out through the RPI Alert system. To learn about this system and update your information, go here: alert.rpi.edu
The Arch is a unique approach to education that provides flexibility in the semester schedule, allowing students to pursue professional and personal development opportunities that prepare them to meet the multifaceted challenges of the 21st century.
For more information on international students and The Arch, please see the ISSS page Current Students: The Arch here: https://info.rpi.edu/international-services-students-and-scholars/current-students-arch
Follow these guidelines to ensure that you are maintaining legal status in the United States:
- Register as a full-time student - You must be registered full-time for every fall and spring semester. Full-time is 12 credit hours (for graduate students on teaching assistantships, it is 9 credit hours with approval from OGE). You must consult the ISSS Office before going part-time, as being part-time is permitted in certain situations.
- Update your SIS account with any change of address - This must be done within 10 days of the change. Your U.S. address must be listed as the address type 'SC - Local' and your address outside of the U.S. must be listed as the address type 'Permanent'. Please make sure to also keep your phone numbers (both inside and outside the U.S.) updated.
- Keep your passport valid at all times - Your passport should be valid for six months into the future at all times. Contact your embassy on what is required for a passport extension.
- Report changes to ISSS - If you change your major or education level (ex. BS to MS), you must report it to ISSS within 10 days of the change.
- All changes to the following items must be reported to ISSS within 10 days of the change: change in name, change in citizenship, change in education level, change in major, and change in finances.
- Do not work illegally - If you are not sure what is legal, contact the ISSS staff. Unpaid and volunteer employment related to your field of study still counts as employment for immigration purposes.
- Keep your I-20 valid - Check the Program End Date and degree information on your I-20. You must update ISSS within 10 days if any of the information listed on your I-20 changes, and apply for a Program Extension at least 30 days before the Program End Date on the I-20 if you need more time to graduate. For details on how to apply for a Program Extension, see the 'I-20 Extension' section on this page.
If you are uncertain of whether or not what you are doing is legal, always check with the ISSS Office first.
Page 3 of your I-20 contains information that you should know, as by signing Page 1 of your I-20 you are agreeing to comply with all the rules listed on Page 3.
You may request your spouse or child(ren) to be listed as a dependent through the ISSS Office. A new Form I-20 will be printed for your dependent(s) to obtain an F-2 visa and you will receive a new Form I-20 as the principal visa holder. An F-2 dependent's status is entirely dependent upon the F-1 maintaining his/her status. If the F-1 goes out of status, the F-2 loses status as well.
Please note: All family members must be covered by medical insurance while in the United States. The RPI Health Center can assist you with adding your dependent(s) to your current coverage.
To request that your spouse or child(ren) be issued a Form I-20, please submit the following documents to ISSS:
- Completed Dependent Request Form - get here: rpi.app.box.com/v/dependentrequest
- Clear picture of dependent's identifying page in passport
- Proof of relationship to dependent (e.g. birth certificate or marriage certificate)
- Proof of sufficient finances (see form for the amount needed)
If the funding is not in your name, your sponsor must also provide you with a signed Affidavit of Support: rpi.app.box.com/v/affidavitofsupport
Limitations on F-2 Dependents
F-2 dependents are not eligible to study full-time at the university level. F-2 dependents are eligible to study part-time at the university level. F-2's may also be eligible to take classes which are recreational or vocational (i.e. English language course, cooking course, etc.), but you should consult the ISSS Office first.
Study in the States has published an FAQ on updated F-2 dependent study regulations (effective May 29, 2015).
As an F-1 student, you have several options in your final semester. As you get ready to complete your program of study, you can:
Request a Reduced Credit Load (RCL) in your final semester
The federal government permits you to be a part-time student in very specific circumstances. You must obtain approval from ISSS before you become a part-time student.
For more information, expand the below section on Reduced Course Load.
All F-1 students are required to complete their program by the Program End Date listed on their I-20. If you will not complete your program by this date, you must apply for an extension at least 30 days before your Program End Date on your I-20.
For more information, expand the next section on I-20 Extension.
Apply for Post-Completion OPT (if eligible)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) offers F-1 students an opportunity for off-campus work experience in their field of study.
For more information, see the Employment in the U.S. section on Optional Practical Training (OPT).
60 day grace period
When F-1 students finish their program of study, there is a specified grace period of 60 days that begins after your Program End Date on your I-20.
During this grace period, you can do any of the following:
- Apply and be accepted to a new academic program which starts within 5 months of your graduation date; or
- Apply for Post-Completion OPT [see the section on Post-Completion OPT for instructions and timelines]; or
- Travel inside of the U.S. and depart the U.S. by the end of the grace period; or
- Apply to USCIS for a change of status [legal counsel recommended].
If you have applied for Post-Completion OPT, you are able to remain inside the U.S. in legal F-1 status while your application is pending. In fact, you should NOT depart the U.S. with a pending application. Your 60-day grace period does not apply during this time. Instead, you will receive a 60-day grace period upon completion of OPT.
Transfer to another U.S. school
For students who intend to transfer to another U.S. school, see the Leaving Rensselaer section on Transfer.
Start a new program at RPI
Students who intend to begin a new program of study at RPI will need to request a Change of Education Level (COL) I-20 within 60 days of of their Program End Date. Please keep in mind that you must allow ISSS at least 2 weeks for processing, so we highly recommend you submit all your documentation to us in advance of your Program End Date.
Submit the ISSS Change of Education Level I-20 Request, found here: https://rpi.box.com/v/noncotermCOLI20request
- If you are a Co-Terminal student, there is a specific form that you will need to complete instead of the above process. Please complete the ISSS Co-Terminal Change of Level Request, found here: https://rpi.box.com/v/cotermCOLI20request.
We recommend that you come and speak with ISSS at our Open Hours during the semester before you will start your new program so we can provide guidance on travel outside of the U.S. and timing expectations. After your Change of Education Level I-20 has been issued, you are able to be employed on-campus (but not off-campus).
All F-1 students are required to complete their program by the Program End Date listed on their I-20. If you will not complete your program by this date, you must apply for an extension at least 30 days before your Program End Date on your I-20. Extensions filed in an untimely manner may not be processed and the student may have to return home or file for a reinstatement, which can be a costly and timely process.
Program Extension Requirements
To be eligible for a program extension, the student must have:
- Continually maintained full-time F-1 status AND
- Have compelling academic or medical reasons for the delay in completing the program, such as:
- Change of major or research topic
- Unexpected research problems
- Loss of credits upon transfer to Rensselaer
- Documented illness
Please note: Delays due to academic probation or suspension do not qualify for an extension. In this case, you would have to apply for reinstatement.
To apply for an extension, please submit the F-1 Program Extension Form found here: https://rpi.box.com/v/F1programextension
International students are required to maintain a full-time course load every fall and spring semester. Full-time is 12 credit hours (for graduate students on teaching assistantships, it is 9 credit hours with approval from OGE).
A reduced course load is only allowed in certain situations. These situations also require academic approval and ISSS approval. Students can receive a maximum of two Reduced Course Loads (RCL) per education level, excluding a RCL for medical reasons (maximum of 12 months).
Do not drop below full-time without first working with ISSS for the required approvals. If you drop below full-time without approval from ISSS, you are not maintaining your F-1 status and your SEVIS record may be terminated.
Undergraduate students and graduate students have a different process to request to be part-time student, so please review the process which is appropriate for you.
Undergraduate Part-Time Process
- Undergraduate students need to complete the ISSS Reduced Course Load (RCL) Form, found here: rpi.app.box.com/v/RCLrequest, and have their academic advisor complete Page 2 of the form, then submit this to ISSS.
- You should also obtain the Part Time Status Petition/Request Form from ALAC and submit that to ISSS when you hand in the ISSS RCL Form, as we must sign it for you to be approved to be part-time.
Graduate Part-Time Process
- Graduate students need to complete the Graduate Student Request for Change of Status Form, found here: info.rpi.edu/graduate-academics/forms-publications-policies, and get this form signed by your Present Graduate Program Director and OGE before you submit this to ISSS.
- ISSS cannot sign this form and submit it to the Registrar's Office for processing until the academic side has approved your request as noted on the form.
Please note that ISSS staff are not tax professionals, and ISSS is not able to provide you with any tax guidance or assistance. If you have any questions you must speak with a tax professional.
All international students are required to file some kind of tax paperwork each year you are in the U.S.. Filing tax paperwork does not always mean that you will owe money.
The tax year in the U.S. is based on the calendar year, so from January 1 through December 31 per year. Traditionally, tax paperwork is due in April to cover the previous calendar year. An example: Tax paperwork filed for the calendar year of January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 would be filed by April 2021.
Every year, you must file the Form 8843 whether or not you have earned any income. This tells the government how long you have been inside the U.S. and in what status (F, J, etc.). If you earned income, you also are required to file federal taxes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
We recommend that you keep copies of all forms you mail and send them using USPS Certified Mail so you have proof of when you sent them and the address where you sent them. DO NOT SUBMIT FORMS TO ISSS.
- ISSS recommends you find a tax accountant who is proficient in immigration tax regulations. You will need to pay for assistance from any tax accountant or tax service.
- For your convenience, ISSS has teamed up with Sprintax to provide you with easy-to-use tax preparation software designed for non-resident students and scholars. The company website is listed in the Resources section.
- State and Federal Tax Filing:
- Federal Income Tax Forms and Publications:
- New York State Tax Forms:
- Tax Forms From Other States:
- Social Security information:
- Additional Tax Information:
Unlawful presence is a complex policy, and the best way to not have problems is to make sure you maintain your F-1 status and speak with ISSS if you have any concerns.
February 06, 2020 - A permanent nationwide injunction was issued blocking the August 2018 policy from USCIS.
From NAFSA Accrual of Unlawful Presence and F, J, and M Nonimmigration Resource: “On February 6, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina issued a permanent nationwide injunction blocking the August 8, 2018 USCIS policy memo that sought to change how days of unlawful presence are counted following a violation of F, M, or J nonimmigrant status.”
- Accessed on 02/20/2020, URL: https://www.nafsa.org/professional-resources/browse-by-interest/accrual-unlawful-presence-and-f-j-and-m-nonimmigrants
Previous Update from 2019
USCIS has revised their policy regarding unlawful presence, effective August 9, 2018.
Please see this link for additional information: https://rpi.box.com/v/USCISunlawfulpresence
Students travelling within the United States should still carry their immigration documents with them. This includes your passport, visa, and I-20. You may be asked for these documents to prove your status at any time by government or law enforcement officials. Puerto Rico is a United States territory and is considered a part of the U.S.
NOTE: Students with a pending change of non-immigrant status application or immigrant visa petition should only travel within the United States, as travel outside the United States has the effect of abandoning the application. You should also travel with a receipt notice of your pending application. We strongly advise consulting with an immigration attorney for travel in these situations.
- Do I need a travel signature for travel inside the U.S.?
- Answer: No. You only need a valid travel signature to enter the U.S. If you do not depart the U.S., you do not need a travel signature.
- Where is the travel signature on my I-20?
- Answer: On the I-20, it is on Page 2 in the 'Travel Endorsement' box.
Before you go
Before you leave, make sure you have:
- Passport valid 6 months into the future
- Valid F-1 Visa
- I-20 with valid travel signature signed by ISSS
- See Page 2 in the Travel Endorsement section for the date of your last signature.
- For currently enrolled students, signatures are valid for 12 months. For students on OPT or STEM OPT, signatures are valid for 6 months.
- The signature must be valid upon the date of your re-entry to the U.S.
- If on OPT/STEM OPT you must bring your original EAD card, and we recommend you also carry proof of resuming employment (e.g. contract, offer letter, etc.).
General Travel FAQs
- What if I did not get a travel signature?
- Review the ISSS Travel Signature FAQs, found here: rpi.box.com/v/travelsignatureFAQs
- Contact ISSS as soon as possible for guidance.
- If your return date is less than one week away:
- At the Port of Entry (POE), tell the CBP Officer that your forgot to get a signature and give them your I-20. ASK for the Form I-515A.
- Your entry into the U.S. may be delayed. Make appropriate travel plans and give yourself time.
- I received a Form I-515A at the Port of Entry. What do I do?
- First, contact ISSS immediately. A Form I-515A must be resolved within 30 days of issuance and ISSS must provide you certain documentation to resolve it.
- Study in the States has created a handout to help you understand the process to resolve a Form I-151A. See this link for more information: bit.ly/formI-515A
- Do I need a new visa?
- If it will be valid for your return date to the U.S, no.
- If not valid, yes. Plan accordingly and contact the U.S. Consulate/Embassy and schedule an appointment before you depart to ensure you have enough time to get your visa to return. To find a U.S. Consulate/Embassy, use this link: www.usembassy.gov/
- To renew your visa, make sure you have the following documents:
- I-20 (If anything needs to be updated on the I-20, come in to ISSS at least two weeks before leaving to request an updated I-20.)
- Transcript (Obtain this from the Registrar's Office)
- Financial Documents (should match the finances listed on Page 1 of your I-20)
- Rensselaer ID Card
- Academic Documentation (this is especially important for graduate students or students with a sensitive area of study), including: letter from department, description of your research plan and current CV)
- If you are on OPT/STEM OPT and want to renew your visa, please consult with ISSS first, as it is harder to renew your F-1 visa on OPT/STEM OPT.
- Where is the travel signature on my I-20?
- On the I-20, it is on Page 2 in the 'Travel Endorsement' box.
- How long is my travel signature valid?
- For students with an I-20, the signature is valid for 1 year if they are enrolled at Rensselaer OR valid for 6 months if they are on Post-Completion OPT or STEM OPT.
Travel to Canada
- Refer to the Canadian Consulate General websites before traveling, found here: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/visit-canada.html
- Check to see if you need a visitor visa to enter.
- Note: If you are taking a flight through Canada to your home country, you may have to apply for a transit visa. For more information, go here: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/visit-canada/transit/apply.html
- If you will be traveling to Canada for 30 days of less and your visa has expired, you may be eligible for automatic visa revalidation to enter the U.S. For more information, see this link: bit.ly/visa-automaticrevalidation
Travel to Other Countries
- If you are visiting a country other than your own, you may need a visitor's visa to enter. Contact that country's embassy or consulate in the U.S., or search for their website.
- If you are “transiting” into a country, meaning that your flight home requires an intermediate stop in a third country, find out if a transit visa is required, and if so, if it needs to be obtained in advance. For example, you may need a visa to transit Canada or the United Kingdom.
Renewing your F-1 Visa
- ISSS recommends applying for a renewed visa in your home country, rather than another third party country. Canada has recently begun limiting the number of third-party country visas it will issue, and if you visa application was denied, you would have to return home before returning to the U.S.
- Applying for a new visa can be a lengthy process, so make sure you allow sufficient time. The best time to renew a visa is during the annual academic breaks.
- The visa is an entry document, meaning you can remain in the United States on an expired visa stamp as long as your F-1 status is still valid. However, you will need a valid visa to re-enter the United States, unless Automatic Visa Revalidation applies. For more information, see this link: bit.ly/visa-automaticrevalidation
- To prepare for your visa interview, see this link for help: http://bit.ly/SITS-F1-visaguidance
- Any individual applying for a visa, but especially individuals from certain countries or who are pursuing degrees in certain “sensitive areas of study,” may have to undergo a criminal background check and/or undergo administrative processing before obtaining a visa. This can be a very lengthy process and can delay your visa, so please allow time for processing if you believe you may be subject.
Technology Alert List and Sensitive Areas of Study
- Graduate students who are considered to be majoring in "sensitive areas of study" as determined by the U.S. government may also be required to undergo administrative processing before a visa can be issued. There is a document called the "Technology Alert List" that visa officers consult for this purpose.
- China, India, Israel, Pakistan and Russia have received special mention by the U.S. State Department in the context of this list because these countries are considered to possess nuclear capability that is of concern to U.S. national security.
- Even if you are not a citizen of one of the countries listed above, your field of study (especially if you are a doctoral student majoring in the sciences, technology, computer science or engineering) might require your visa application to undergo an administrative processing REGARDLESS of the country you are from.
- The State Department has announced that these clearances generally take as long as eight weeks for review. Once granted, the clearance will be valid for the duration of the student's study, to a maximum of four years, unless the field of study changes.
- It is strongly recommended that if your field of study is "sensitive", you should obtain a letter from your faculty advisor that explains the nature of your studies and/or your research. The letter should also include your faculty advisor's address, e-mail and telephone number. The letter should be written using language that is easy to understand, and should not exceed the front side of one page. In addition, print a copy of your faculty advisor's official university webpage, containing information regarding his or her research, and attach the letter to it.
- Be sure to include the following with your visa application:
- A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
- A description of your research plan
- A copy of your advisor’s University webpage, that describes his/her research interests
- If you find that your visa application is delayed due a need for the consulate or embassy to send your file for administrative processing based on your field of study, please notify ISSS of the situation by email.
- Visa officials are required to verify your record in the SEVIS system before a visa can be approved. This is also true for any dependents. There have been data transfer problems of some SEVIS records between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State that have resulted in lost information. If the visa official is unable to access your record in SEVIS and you have a SEVIS I-20, please contact ISSS by e-mail, phone or fax to alert us of the problem.
Entering the U.S.
What to Expect
The Federal Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in conjunction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will inspect all internationals entering the U.S. Expect close examination of your documents by these officials. Answer all questions politely and briefly. You are not required to provide them more information beyond the scope of the questions asked.
When first approaching the CBP Officer, have your passport, visa, and signed I-20 ready for inspection. You should not give any other supporting documents unless requested. We recommend having supporting documents on hand to provide only if requested, such as Rensselaer ID, financial documentation, or a letter from your department detailing your course of study if you are majoring in a sensitive area.
CBP officials are required to record your arrival data into SEVIS at the time you enter, and return your SEVIS I-20 to you, after they have stamped it. However, not all CBP officials will have access to SEVIS at their booths in the "primary lanes." Depending upon the Port of Entry, some students may be directed to a secondary inspection area or "student lanes" so that their data can be entered into SEVIS.
Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM)
The Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) is an entry/exit record-keeping system for all non-immigrants traveling to and from the United States. In addition to the usual inspection procedure conducted by CBP officers when you enter the U.S., each non-immigrant will have their fingerprints taken by placing their index fingers on an inkless fingerprint scanner. A digital photograph will also be taken.
It is a federal law that anyone carrying more than $10,000 in a monetary instrument of any form must declare that money, or risk having it seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.
Travelers should be aware that both CBP and ICE have the right to search any form of electronic media, which CBP and ICE define as any item that may contain information, including computers, floppy and compact disks, DVDs, drives, tapes, mobile phones, personal digital assistants or PDAs, BlackBerry smart phones, cameras, and music players (including iPods and MP3 players), without necessarily suspecting that the individual may be carrying unlawful information. If the computer or other electronic device is used by others, check the browser history and make sure that the contents will not cause problems if searched.
Form I-515A and Denied Admissions
If you are missing documents, or if your I-20 does not have a valid travel signature, the border official may issue you a Form I-515A. This allows you temporary entrance into the United States. You will have 30 days to submit the documents requested on the Form I-515A to federal authorities. If you receive a Form I-515A, please contact the ISSS Office immediately.
Anyone who is denied admission at the port of entry should be cautious. Arguing with the customs official is at your own risk and may result in a “expedited removal” which will result in five-year bar on admission to the U.S.. If you are denied admission, first contact the ISSS Office for assistance, but also let the immigration official know that you are willing to withdraw your application for admission to the country rather than be subject to expedited removal if you so choose.
Baggage and Airport Security
Please consult the TSA’s website here: www.tsa.gov/
Any passenger’s baggage may be selected for screening for the Federal Transportation and Security Administration (TSA). This means that they are authorized to open your baggage by any means necessary, even if it is locked, for inspection. If your bag was inspected, there will be a note inside. You should familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t allowed in your baggage, especially your carry-on, before traveling.
A F-1 visa is a sticker in your passport that is issued at a U.S. Consulate/Embassy. The purpose of the visa is for use in conjunction with the I-20 to enter the U.S. in F-1 status.
NOTE: Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not require a F-1 visa sticker to enter the U.S. as students, therefore, you will not have a visa sticker. Instead, you will show your valid Form I-20 to seek entry to the U.S. in F-1 status.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What if my visa will expire soon or has expired?
A: You can remain in the U.S. with an expired visa. Your immigration status [which comes from your I-20] is what matters once you have entered the U.S. The expired visa only matters if you will be traveling outside the U.S. and need to return.
Q: What if my visa expires while I am inside the U.S.?
A: You can remain in the U.S. with an expired visa and maintain your immigration status.
Q: What is a good time to renew my visa?
A: It depends on a number of factors. It is best to schedule an advising appointment with ISSS to discuss what you should consider in the renewal process. Examples include, but are not limited to: are you an undergraduate or a graduate student; the amount of time you will have available for visa processing before you need to return for classes; if you have ever been placed under Administrative Processing.
Q: Can I renew my visa inside of the U.S.?
A: No. The Department of State does not permit visa renewals inside of the U.S..
Q: How do I renew my visa?
A: You will complete the same process you did during your first visa interview. More details about this process are available from the Department of State here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/study/student-visa.html#howtoapply. ISSS recommends that you plan to schedule your visa appointment in advance, after your travel plans are booked, since you have the information that you need on your I-20. This may help you in obtaining an earlier visa interview date.
Q: Can I renew my visa in a country other than my country of citizenship?
A: You must check with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in the country where you wish to renew your visa to determine if that is possible. ISSS generally recommends you return to your country of citizenship, as it is typically easier for the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to complete their review and processing there versus a "third party" country which might not have the same access to information.
Work authorization for on-campus employment is a benefit of maintaining your F-1 status. You are eligible to start on-campus employment in your first semester at RPI.
You are able to work for 20 hours or less per week during the semester per federal regulations. You are able to work for more than 20 hours during the summer.
- Research assistantships or teaching assistantships are awarded to you by your academic department. ISSS is not involved in this process. Your assistantship should be reflected on your I-20 in the Financial section. If it is not, please request a new I-20 from ISSS to update the finances.
- New students: You can begin working in your position as a RA/TA as of the first day of classes in your first semester. You do not need authorization from ISSS to begin employment. You will need to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) if you do not already have one. Please see the SSN section for details on how to apply.
- You cannot work beyond the Program End Date on your I-20. You are responsible for making sure that you update Glacier in your final semester with your Program End Date to ensure that Payroll is informed of the last day you can be employed as a student at RPI.
Other On-Campus Employment
- RPI does offer on-campus employment that is not through a RA/TA position. For a listing of on-campus employment, please see this link: https://info.rpi.edu/student-employment > Campus Employment - (not work-study)
- New students: You can begin working in your on-campus position as of the first day of classes in your first semester. You do not need authorization from ISSS to begin employment.
- You will need to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) if you do not already have one. Please see the SSN section for details on how to apply.
International students are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) only if they have employment or work authorization (via EAD card from USCIS or CPT from ISSS). If you do not meet these criteria, you are not eligible to apply for a SSN.
The process to apply for a SSN is different depending on the type of employment you have: RA/TA, other on-campus employment, CPT, or OPT. Please see the appropriate sub-section that applies to you.
Note that for ALL first semester students, you must complete ISSS Electronic Check-In before we can complete your registration in SEVIS and write your SSN application letter, which is required to apply for a SSN. ISSS will complete your SEVIS registration by the 4th week of semester. In order to expedite processing, please do not contact ISSS prior to the 4th week of the semester.
- If you are an RA/TA
- Submit a copy of your RA/TA award letter to ISSS via email at ISSSoffice@rpi.edu and request that ISSS issues a SSN application letter for you.
- Create/update your Glacier account with Payroll, and the schedule an appointment to submit your documentation to Payroll.
- ISSS will send you an email when the SSN application letter is ready to be picked up.
- Once you have your ISSS application letter, see this link for the next steps to apply for your SSN: rpi.box.com/v/SSNinstructionsF1
- If you hold Other On-Campus Employment
- To obtain a Social Security Number, you must submit the Social Security Number request form, which will be completed by the department or office that is hiring you. Bring the letter to ISSS and request that ISSS issues a SSN application letter for you. Get the form here: https://rpi.box.com/v/SSNletterrequest
- Create/update your Glacier account with Payroll, and then schedule an appointment to submit your documentation to Payroll.
- ISSS will send you an email when the SSN application letter is ready to be picked up.
- Once you have your ISSS application letter, see this link for the next steps to apply for your SSN: rpi.box.com/v/SSNinstructionsF1
- If you are on CPT
- First apply for CPT through ISSS. After you have received your new I-20 with the work authorization, then gather your new I-20 and CPT letter from your employer, and see this link for the next steps to apply for your SSN: rpi.box.com/v/SSNinstructionsF1
- You do not need a letter from ISSS to apply for your SSN, as the I-20 states we have issued you work authorization.
- ** Note that you must apply for your SSN during the period of time when you have work authorization. You will be denied if you apply outside of the time period listed on your I-20.
- If you are on OPT
- First apply for OPT through ISSS. After you have received your EAD Card from USCIS with proof of your work authorization, then take your new EAD card and see this link for the next steps to apply for your SSN: rpi.box.com/v/SSNinstructionsF1
- You do not need a letter from ISSS to apply for your SSN, as the EAD card states USCIS has issued you work authorization.
- ** Note that you must apply for your SSN during the period of time when you have work authorization. You will be denied if you apply outside of the time period listed on your EAD card.
What is my SSN commonly used for?
- Your SSN is commonly used when you file tax documents, start employment, open a bank account, open a credit card, open a cell phone account and apply for an apartment. You should not be asked for your SSN over the phone, and if you are, that is a sign that it might be a scam.
- Do not provide it over the phone or email to anyone!
What if someone asks me for my SSN?
- Your SSN is a unique number and it is something you must keep safe. It is what identifies you in many different government systems, and it is important to report if there is any fraud with your SSN. Your employer will always ask you for your SSN, and this is normal to provide it to them by showing your card in person to Human Resources.
- For security reasons, you should never provide your SSN over the phone or via email.
What if I already have a SSN?
- You only get one SSN. The number will never change. If you have a SSN, you do not need to apply for a new one.
Students are often asked to obtain a SSN for opening a bank account or renting an apartment. If you do not have employment, you cannot get a SSN. So what can you do instead?
You can physically go to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office and request a denial letter (SSA-L676), which states that you are not eligible for a SSN. This letter can often be used in lieu of obtaining a SSN because you are not eligible to get one. The closest SSA office is located at 500 Federal Street, Suite 101, Troy NY 12180 (in the medical building near the Green Island Bridge).
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) offers F-1 students an opportunity for off-campus work experience in which the employment is an integral part of the student's degree program.
All CPT must be processed through ISSS and you cannot begin working until you obtain a new I-20 from ISSS that has your work authorization.
Types of CPT
- There are two types of CPT: part-time CPT and full-time CPT.
- Part-time CPT occurs when you work for 20 hours or less per week. Part-time CPT does not have any impact on your ability to get Optional Practical Training (OPT).
- Full-time CPT occurs when you work for more than 20 hours per week. Full-time CPT may impact your ability to get OPT. If you use 365 days of full-time CPT, you will lose the ability to get OPT. If you use 364 days or less of full-time CPT, you should be eligible to obtain OPT.
Am I eligible to apply for CPT?
- To be eligible for CPT, you must have been enrolled full-time for one full academic year in a status that permits work (usually F-1).
- You must be enrolled in a class for academic credit during the semester you intend to use CPT. For more details on this, see the next question.
How do I apply for CPT?
- RPI Co-op
- RPI has a Cooperative Education Program managed by the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) called Co-op. All students, undergraduate and graduate, can opt to participate in the Co-op program to obtain CPT authorization from ISSS.
- Co-op has specific requirements set by CCPD, so make sure to plan at least 2 months in advance of when you wish to start working and connect with CCPD to learn more about the Co-op requirements.
- After you are approved for Co-op, then your paperwork must be submitted to ISSS to request CPT.
- Non co-op CPT
- Graduate students may be permitted to participate in CPT with departmental approval (and OGE approval for graduate students).
- You will need to work with your Program Administrator and faculty member to enroll in a class that is at least 1 credit, then submit all documents listed on the ISSS CPT Application Form found here: rpi.box.com/v/CPTapplication
How long does it take to get CPT?
- The documentation processes for Co-op or non co-op CPT can take anywhere from three weeks to two months.
- It takes ISSS at least two weeks to process the documents after you submit them to our office. Plan in advance and get your documentation in to the appropriate offices!
Optional Practical Training (OPT) offers F-1 students an opportunity for off-campus work experience in their field of study. OPT is defined as paid or volunteer employment directly related to your major area of study. It is first recommended by the ISSS Office but final authorization must be given by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In order to be eligible, students must have already completed one academic year.
ISSS holds OPT Workshops every semester to help you prepare for your application. We recommend that you attend an OPT Workshop at the start of the semester when you will complete your program. To find the OPT Workshop schedule, see the Programs section on the ISSS News page.
For detailed instructions on how to apply, please see the OPT Process Guide here: https://rpi.box.com/v/ISSSOPTprocess
- Effective 01/22/2020, ISSS will no longer accept OPT application forms with a revision date earlier than August 2019. To check the revision date, look at the bottom left corner of the form.
- How long does it take to apply?
- It can take 90 days or more for USCIS to approve your application for OPT. In addition, you should allow the ISSS Office up to two weeks to process an initial OPT recommendation.
- When can I apply?
- You can submit your application to USCIS no earlier than 90 days before your Program End Date and no later than 60 days after your Program End Date. Our office recommends applying as soon as possible to allow time for processing and potential delays.
- What is my Program End Date?
- Undergraduate students: The Program End Date will be the official date of graduation as listed on the RPI Academic Calendar. If you graduate in Spring, the official date is the day of Commencement.
- Graduate students: For students who will graduate in the Fall semester or the Spring semester, the Program End Date will be the official date of graduation as listed on the RPI Academic Calendar. If you graduate in Spring, the official date is the day of Commencement. For students who will graduate in the Summer semester, the Program Completion Date will be determined by your advisor and must take into account both the date you intend to defend and the anticipated time needed to make corrections to your thesis or dissertation.
- When can I start working?
- Your requested start date must be within 60 days of your Program End Date. You cannot start working until you have both a) reached your approved start date and b) physically received your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card.
- How do I report my employment?
- Students on OPT MUST update their SEVP Portal Account within 10 days of any change of their employer’s name, address, dates of employment, unemployment, or any other changes to employment status. For more information on the SEVP Portal, see this link: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/sevp-portal-help
- What types of OPT are there?
- The most common form of OPT at RPI is Post-Completion OPT, or OPT that starts after you graduate. Students may also apply for Pre-Completion OPT, or work authorization before you graduate. This is most frequently utilized by undergraduate students participating in a summer internship who are otherwise ineligible for CO-OP/CPT. Please consult the ISSS Office if you have questions regarding Pre-Completion OPT.
- How long can I work?
- Students are allowed one year full-time OPT. Any Pre-Completion OPT time used would deduct from Post-Completion OPT time. If a student were to do Pre-Completion OPT, the time would accumulate at half the rate (i.e. 2 months Pre-Completion OPT would be equivalent to 1 month OPT used).
- Students in a qualifying STEM major are eligible to apply for a 24 month STEM extension, resulting in 36 months OPT total. Please see the section on STEM extensions for more information.
- Can I travel outside the U.S.?
- Our office does not recommend traveling outside the U.S. while your OPT application is pending with USCIS. If you must travel while your application is pending, please consult the ISSS Office.
- For students whose OPT has been approved, you can travel outside the U.S. provided you have the following: valid I-20 signed for travel within the past 6 months; valid passport; valid F-1 visa; EAD card; proof of employment upon re-entering the U.S. (e.g. offer letter, contract, etc.)
- What happens if I don’t have a job?
- Students are allowed up to 90 days unemployment time, including weekends, while on OPT. You cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment. The amount of unemployment time you accrue is cumulative.
- I already did OPT once. Can I do OPT again?
- You are allowed 12 months Optional Practical Training for every degree level completed (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate). If you have already completed one Master’s program and applied for OPT, you cannot apply for OPT again in a second Master’s program.
- Can I volunteer while on OPT?
- Yes, volunteering is an activity that counts as employment while on OPT. "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."
The STEM OPT Extension is a 24-month work authorization for students who completed a STEM degree. TYou must first be in an approved period of Post-Completion OPT before you are eligible to apply for STEM OPT.
For more information, see the Alumni page in the Employment section - Applying for STEM OPT.
If you are not attending classes, you are not maintaining your status. This means you are required to depart the United States, except in specific situations. If you have been put on probation, suspended, intend to take a leave of absence (LOA) or intend to withdraw - these all require you to work with ISSS to determine the options and timeline available to you.
If you are leaving Rensselaer during your program, you must contact ISSS first before submitting a Leave of Absence (LOA) request. Students often call a LOA a "gap year" or "gap semester". There are federal regulations that impact how long you can remain here, what are the options you have, and ISSS is the only office who can advise you on this.
Undergraduate students must also consult their Class Dean in the Student Success Office and submit paperwork to take a LOA or withdraw. Graduate students must consult the Office of Graduate Education and submit paperwork to take a LOA or withdraw.
When you take a leave, the Registrar’s Office changes your status to “inactive.” This means that you forfeits campus privileges, including housing, meal plans, email, and library access, while on a leave. In most cases for international students, you must also leave the country within a very short period of time (within 15 days of the effective date). This will be discussed in greater detail when you meet with ISSS staff.
Please note: This information is intended for students who are transferring out of RPI. If you are a recently admitted student transferring in, please contact the Admissions Office.
All F-1 students who intend on continuing study at a new school in the U.S. need to transfer their SEVIS record from RPI to the new school. This includes students currently on OPT.
- If you are a current student who is not completing your program of study, you must formally withdraw from Rensselaer.
- If you are a current student who is graduating, you must transfer your record within 60 days of your Program End Date as listed on your I-20.
- If you are on Post-Completion OPT or STEM OPT, you must transfer your record within 60 days of your Post-Completion OPT or STEM OPT End Date on your EAD Card.
To request a SEVIS transfer, please submit the following documents to the ISSS Office:
- Completed and signed F-1 Transfer Request Form, found here: rpi.app.box.com/v/transferoutform
- The SEVIS School Code on this form must be obtained from your new school. This is not your SEVIS ID number.
- A "DSO" is a Designated School Official. This is someone that we can contact at the new school if we have questions.
- The SEVIS Release Date is the date that your SEVIS record will be released to the new school.
- For current/graduating students, this date should be after the last day of finals per the RPI Academic Calendar.
- Copy of acceptance letter to the new institution
- Transfer-In Form from the new institution
- If the school needs to know who is your DSO at RPI or where to send their transfer form, please list: Emilie Buse, Assistant Director; email: email@example.com.
Information to Note
Please keep the following in mind when transferring your SEVIS record:
- On your SEVIS release date, your record no longer belongs to RPI. This means that you are no longer authorized for any study or employment granted by RPI, and that the ISSS Office no longer has access to the record to make changes. Please think carefully about your plans before choosing a release date.
- Your new school cannot issue a new I-20 until the SEVIS record has been released to them.
- You can remain in the U.S. throughout the transfer process. If you are overseas your record can still be transferred, but you will need the new I-20 from your new school to re-enter the U.S. and apply for a new F-1 visa (if your current visa is expired).
- Students on OPT/STEM OPT who will be starting a new program must request their SEVIS record be transferred. This can be done at any time while you are on OPT/STEM OPT or within 60 days of your OPT/STEM OPT end date. Choosing a release date before your OPT/STEM OPT ends automatically cancels any remaining OPT/STEM OPT work authorization.