We hope this section will help faculty, academic advisors and other University employees understand the special circumstances that our international students face while studying in the U.S. CIP is here to aid the students during their time at SJU, but also to help the Saint Joseph's community better understand and assist our students. If you have any questions about issues pertaining to SJU's international students, please feel free to contact us about them.
When we refer to "international students" here, we are talking about those in the student categories of F-1 and J-1 visas. There are other non-American students at Saint Joseph's who we are happy to help when we can, but our immigration expertise lies in regulations governing the F-1 and J-1 types of student non-immigrant status.
To maintain their legal ability to study in the United States, international students must pursue a full-time course of studies and make normal academic progress. The U.S. government defines "full-time" as 12 credits per semester for undergraduates and 9 credits per semester for graduate students. As we tell the students, this means 12 or 9 credits each fall and each spring, not some combination of fall, spring, summer and intersession. Students are not required to study at all during the summer or intersession; they can if they choose, and may register for as many or as few credits as they wish.
When advising international students on course registration, it is important to keep their need to be registered full-time fact in mind. We recommend that students take required courses as soon as they can to avoid missing them in a later semester. If a student cannot find enough classes that they need at SJU, they must take a course that is not needed for their degree or they can try to find a substitute course at another school.
Immigration regulations are also explicit about counting distance learning classes toward full-time enrollment. International students may only count 3 credits in a semester as part of their full-time course load. They may take more distance learning classes in that semester but would have to register for them over and above their full-time requirement. Distance learning is defined as "a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission."
Reduced Course Loads
There are only very limited exceptions to the full-time requirement. Students must meet specific criteria and have a Reduced Course Load approved in writing by an advisor at CIP before they can be under-enrolled. There is a Reduced Course Load Request Form the student must fill out, have signed by an academic advisor, and return to CIP for final authorization. A reduced course load is not authorized until it is approved and recorded in the SEVIS database by an advisor at CIP.
We respectfully request that faculty not recommend to international students in their classes or degree programs that a student withdraw from a course before speaking with one of our advisors. An unauthorized drop below full-time has serious negative consequences for international students. Students in this situation lose their legal immigration status and their ability to work. They must rectify the situation either by filing a time-consuming and expensive application with the U.S. immigration service which may or may not be approved, or by leaving the country.
International students can be approved for a reduced course load due to academic difficulties for one of two reasons. During their first semester, students struggling with the English language, with reading requirements or with American teaching methods may qualify for a reduced course load. Students must demonstrate that they are having difficulties before CIP will approve a reduced course load. Students must attempt the work that is expected of them first and will only be approved for a reduced course load after an attempt at succeeding in a course has been made. Students can also be approved for an academic reduced course load if they are placed in an improper course level. An example would be a student taking Calculus II without having taken Calculus I. Students can only have one semester of reduced course load approved for academic difficulty at each educational level and must remain enrolled in at least 6 credits.
International students can also be approved for a reduced course load due to medical conditions if less than full-time enrollment is recommended by a licensed doctor. There is no minimum number of credits required in medical situations. In some cases the student may even need a medical leave of absence.
In their last semester, international students need only take the number of credits required for them to graduate. Students are not required to register for extra courses at this time. Also, any international student finished all formal course work but completing thesis or dissertation research/ writing is not required to enroll in additional courses beyond the thesis course.
While it is not counted as a reduced course load, CIP requires international students taking part of their full-time courses at another institution to follow the same process as students applying for reduced course loads. This way the student meets with their academic advisor and knows whether and how the course will transfer back, and CIP is aware of the student's full-time concurrent enrollment.
Hiring an International Student On-Campus
If your office employs international students, it is important to know when they can and cannot work. The United States has very strict rules regarding the ability of foreign nationals to work while in the country. Working without the appropriate authorization is considered illegal employment according to federal immigration law and is a potentially deportable offense.
International students in valid F-1 or J-1 status may work on-campus at the school which they are authorized to attend for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year (students from other schools can not be employed here and vice versa). They can work more during vacation periods and holiday breaks. On-campus employment may take place in any SJU office or department – including assistantships – or at any commercial firm located here that provides direct services to students.
International students can begin working as soon as they arrive at St. Joe’s, there is no waiting period. For F-1 students, there is no CIP paperwork; J-1 students must get a letter from CIP first. All international students will need to complete the normal hiring paperwork with the Human Resources Office or their hiring department and apply for a Social Security Number. For this application they will need a letter from the hiring office confirming employment.
Neither F-1 nor J-1 students may engage in on-campus employment past the end of one semester if they will not be returning to Saint Joseph's for the next semester. This means that they cannot remain employed on-campus past exam week of the semester they complete their studies, nor after they transfer their SEVIS record to another school. International students are also ineligible to engage in on-campus employment while on a medical or academic leave or if they have been suspended from school.
Off-Campus Work Authorization for International Students
Again, the United States has very strict rules regarding the ability of foreign nationals to work while in the country. Working without the appropriate authorization is considered illegal employment according to federal immigration law and is a potentially deportable offense. To be eligible to obtain off-campus work authorization, students must first be in F-1 or J-1 status for one full academic year (two semesters of study). They must have written authorization from either CIP or U.S. immigration before they can begin any employment.
For F-1 students, there are two types of off-campus work authorization – Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training. Academic Training is the name of the off-campus work authorization for J-1 students. For these types of employment, students must be performing work related to their area of studies.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is defined by the immigration service as employment that is an integral part of an established curriculum. It is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, or cooperative education arranged with the approval of the student’s program, or any type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements. CPT may take place during the academic year or during the summer. Before beginning work, international students must have written authorization from an advisor at the Center for International Programs. The work experience must be approved by their academic department and they must be registered for a course granting credit. It is job specific so students must have an offer of employment first. For more details and instructions for students to apply for CPT, see our Curricular Practical Training page.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students intended to allow them the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom in a real world environment. Students are allowed 12 months total of OPT for each academic grade level completed. OPT is available during (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) a student’s studies, but all authorized OPT is counted toward the 12 month limit. OPT is recommended by CIP and authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, so students need to apply several months in advance. A specific offer of employment is not necessary, once OPT is authorized the work permission can be used for any job related to the student’s studies. Once it is authorized, OPT cannot be rescinded even if the student does not find employment. More information is available on our Optional Practical Training page.
Academic Training for J-1 students is work, training, or experience related to the student’s field of study. Students can receive Academic Training for a period equal to the amount of time spent in full-time studies, up to a maximum of 18 months. Academic Training is job specific and can only be authorized by CIP after a job offer has been made and the student's academic department has recommended the work experience. Further details can be found on our Academic Training page.
Immigration regulations allow both F-1 and J-1 students to apply for off-campus work permission if an individual has financial problems caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond their control. Employment authorization based on economic hardship does not have to be related to the student’s field of study. The total number of hours worked are limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session. USCIS grants economic hardship employment authorization for one year or the remainder of a student’s academic program, whichever is shorter. This work permission allows students to supplement their funding to meet some of their living expenses; it was not established to enable students to earn enough money to cover the cost of full-time study and should not be considered a solution for serious financial difficulties. There is additional information on our Economic Need page. Students considering applying for economic hardship work permission should meet with an advisor at CIP to determine their chances of success.