Working On and Off Campus

F-1 Visa-holding International Students

The primary purpose of the F-1 visa is to study. Although there are some opportunities for employment, they are very limited and not enough to fund your tuition and living expenses. Please ensure you have sufficient funds to support your study in the U.S. without relying on having a job.

Working without appropriate authorization is illegal and may result in a visa violation with severe and long-term consequences. Please consult with the Center for International Education's (CIE) International Student Services for questions regarding whether an employment opportunity can be authorized. 

On this page

Working On Campus

Working on-campus is a benefit of holding legal F-1 visa status. If you are in valid F-1 visa status on an I-20 issued by Madison College (or CIE), no further work permission is required to work on-campus. The wage must be paid by Madison College for a job to be considered on-campus employment. On-campus employment must be:

  • No more than 20 hours per week during fall and spring semesters. During winter break, spring break and summer, working more than 20 hours per week is allowed.
  • Stopped upon completion of your degree, when your I-20 has been transferred-out, or when no longer in valid F-1 visa status. 

Work Study versus Student Help

There are two types of student positions at Madison College: work-study and student help. International students may only apply for on-campus “student help” positions. International students are not eligible for “work study” jobs, which are funded by federal financial aid for which only U.S. citizens or permanent residents are eligible. Some jobs may accept both work study or student help applicants. 

How to Find a Student Help job on Campus

To learn how to search and apply for on-campus student help positions, visit the “Student Jobs” section on the Career and Employment Resources webpage. You will be directed to log into Wisconsin TechConnect where both on and off campus jobs are listed. Only apply for on-campus jobs. All on-campus jobs are in the “Services” section. The jobs listed change frequently so check back often.

We encourage you to write a cover letter to include with your completed employment application. Visit Career and Employment Services for assistance.


Is a Social Security Number Needed?

A Social Security Number is not needed to apply for a job. F-1 visa holding international students may only apply for a Social Security number after getting an employment offer.

Working Off Campus

Off-campus work is ONLY allowed with SEVIS-authorized permission from CIE and, in some cases, also the USCIS. As an international student you do not qualify for off-campus work authorization until you have been enrolled full-time in valid visa status for at least one academic year.

 There are three different off-campus work authorizations:

  1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) - To fulfill an internship that is either a requirement or elective option for a program to which you are admitted. Unlike other off-campus work permissions that require approval by the USCIS, CPT can be approved directly by CIE, but you must first have a specific internship job offer. Log into the ISS Portal to request CPT authorization.
  2. Optional Practical Training (OPT) Authorization to accept employment related to the program of study, which is often used for up to one year immediately after completing a degree, but can be used part time while studying. Must be recommended by CIE before submitting the OPT application to the USCIS for approval which typically takes three months and requires a $410 processing fee. Additional information on OPT is available in OPT Additional Information (PDF, 152KB). To begin the application process, submit your OPT request via the ISS Portal. When on post-completion OPT, submit employer details to comply with visa regulations and notify CIE of any employment changes.
  3. Severe Economic Hardship (SEH) - To provide financial assistance following a documented and unexpected loss of the financial support shown to receive an I-20 or the F-1 visa. Must be recommended by CIE before submitting the SEH application (PDF, 168KB) to the USCIS for approval. This typically takes three months and requires a $410 processing fee unless you qualify for a waiver. 

Obtaining a Social Security Number

F-1 visa holding students may only apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) after receiving a legal employment offer. Without an employment offer, obtaining an SSN is not possible.

How to Apply for an SSN:

  1. Seek on-campus or off-campus employment, but only as authorized. If offered a job, you may verify eligibility to accept the employment offer with CIE’s International Student Services.
  2. If eligible to accept the job, ask the employer for a signed and dated employment offer letter on employer letterhead that provides the following:
    • Brief description of the job,
    • Anticipated or actual employment start date
    • Number of hours expected to work
    • Employer contact information, including telephone number and name of the student’s immediate supervisor
    • If working on-campus, please include Madison College’s Employer Identification Number: 391086718
  3. Submit a copy of the job offer letter to CIE via the ISS Portal to obtain a second letter that verifies F-1 visa eligibility to accept the position.
  4. Visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) located at 6011 Odana Road in Madison. Bring the following items:
    • Employment offer letter (see number 2 above)
    • F-1 status verification letter (see number 3 above)
    • Valid passport
    • F-1 visa stamp (located in passport) or F-1 visa status approval notice (if changed visa status within U.S.)
    • Most recently issued, valid I-20 (if you are new to Madison College, please wait until CIE has reported your full-time enrollment)
    • I-94 arrival record
    • Student ID card, drivers’ license, or another form of photo identity
    • Page five of the SS-5 form, completed. This form is also available at the SSA.

Full details on applying for an SSN are available on the Social Security Administration's website.

Note: It may take several weeks to receive the social security card. You may begin working before receiving it.

When you receive the social security card, please show it to your employer, who will need to record the number.

Do not keep your social security card in your wallet or backpack. Leave it in a safe place at your apartment/house and carry it only when needed.