International Student Spotlight

  1. What do international students bring to the United States?
  2. How many international students are in the U.S.?
  3. Where do international students come from?
  4. Where do international students go?
  5. What do international students contribute economically?
  6. What is an international student? Who qualifies for F-1 status?
  7. What is the period of admission for an F-1 non-immigrant?
  8. Can an international student work in the U.S.?
  9. What is Curricular Practical Training?
  10. What is Optional Practical Training?
  11. Can Optional Practical Training be extended?
  12. What is the “cap-gap” extension of OPT?
  13. What is the STEM extension of OPT?
  14. Do international students require visas?
  15. How do international students apply for the F-1 visa?
  16. What is SEVIS?
  17. What information is recorded in the SEVIS system?
  18. What is the SEVIS fee? How and when is it paid?
  19. What is the Form I-901?
  20. Can international students obtain Social Security or Tax Identification Numbers?
  21. Are international students required to file U.S. tax returns?
  22. How to contact the U.S. immigration authorities?
  23. How to find practical information on resources in the Philadelphia area?
  24. How to find information on government offices in Pennsylvania/New Jersey?

What do international students bring to the United States?

The United States has a long history of welcoming international students to its academic institutions. International students bring many benefits to U.S. colleges and universities. For example, international students:

  • make campuses more dynamic, multi-cultural and diverse;
  • provide cultural links between the U.S. and other countries;
  • forge international alliances in science, technology, industry, business, the arts and academia;
  • help build bridges of understanding between the U.S. and other countries;
  • return to their home countries as “ambassadors” for America abroad;
  • make significant contributions to local and regional economies;
  • bring talent, innovation, energy and ideas to the United States.

How many international students are in the U.S.?

According to the most recent Open Doors Report, there are about 974,926 international students and scholars in the U.S. This represents an increase of 10% over the previous year. Of that number, 41% are undergraduate students, 37% are graduate students and 10% are Ph.D. students, with the remainder in Associate’s degrees and non-degree programs.


International students represent 4.8 % of all college and university students. However, at the graduate and Ph.D. level the percentage is much higher. In fact, according to a report from the National Foundation for American Policy, in 2016 international students accounted for 77 percent of the full-time graduate students (master’s and Ph.D.s) in Electrical Engineering and 71 percent in Computer Science.

Foreign graduate students provide crucial support for faculty researchers and strengthen the academic programs at U.S. schools, which benefits U.S. students and ensures that America retains its preeminence as a teaching center in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.


Where do international students come from?

International students come to the U.S. from all over the world. Leading places of origin include China, with 28.7% of all international enrollment, India with 11.8% of international enrollment and Korea with 8.6% of international enrollment. In 2012/13, the top 10 countries of origin were:

Rank Country % Int’l Students 2014-2015 2013-2014
1 China 31.2% 304,040  274,439
2 India 13.6% 132,888 102,673
3 South Korea 6.5% 63,710 68,047
4 Saudi Arabia 6.1% 59,945 53,919
5 Canada 2.8% 27,240 28,304
6 Brazil 2.4% 23,675 13,286
7 Taiwan 2.2% 21,266 20,993
8 Japan 2.0% 19,064 19,334
9 Vietnam 1.9% 18,722 16,579
10 Mexico 1.7% 14,779 17,052

Where do international students go?

International students attend all kinds of educational institutions, from elite colleges and major state universities, to small liberal arts colleges, technical universities and community colleges. International students are enrolled in colleges and universities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. A list of educational institutions with the highest international enrollment follows:

 Rank  Institution  City  State  Total Int’l Students
 1  New York University  New York NY  13,178
 2  USC  Los Angeles  CA  12,334
 3  Columbia University  New York  NY  11,510
 4  Arizona State University  Tempe  AZ  11,330
 5  University of Illinois  Champaign  IL  11,223
 6  Northeastern University  Boston  MA  10,559
 7  Purdue University  West Lafayette  IL  10, 230
 8  UCLA  Los Angeles CA  10,209
 9  Michigan State University  East Lansing  MI  8,146
 10  University of Washington  Seattle  WA  8,035
 11  Boston University  Boston  MA  7,860
 12  Penn State University  University Park PA  7,728
 13  University of Michigan  Ann Arbor  MI  7,423
 14  Ohio State University  Columbus  OH  7,121
 15  University of Texas  Richardson TX  7,046


What do international students contribute economically?

International education creates a positive economic impact for communities in the United States. In 2015, international students contributed over $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy. This includes expenditures on tuition and living expenses, such as lodging, books, supplies, transportation, health insurance and support for accompanying family members. Statistics reveal that more than 70% of all funding for international students comes from outside the U.S., making higher education one of the United States’ top service sector exports. In Pennsylvania which ranks number 6 in international student enrollment with 41,446 international students at large and small institutions across the state, the economic contributions exceed $1.0 billion. New Jersey ranks number 15 in international enrollment; its 17,082 international students are estimated to contribute more $500.0 million to the state economy.

What is an international student? Who qualifies for F-1 status?

A foreign national who is pursuing a full-time course of academic studies at an accredited and CIS-approved college, university, seminary, high school, private elementary school, language-training program or other academic institution in the U.S. may qualify for an F-1 visa or for F-1 status. The requirements for obtaining F-1 status include:

  • the foreign national must be a “non-immigrant”; this means that he/she has a foreign residence and other ties to the home country;
  • the foreign national must be a bona fide student, qualified to pursue a full course of study;
  • the foreign national must be entering the U.S. as a student temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing a course of study at an educational institution that has been authorized to accept international students; this means that the school has an approved CIS Form I-17 and is authorized to issue students CIS Form I-20;
  • the foreign national must comply with the requirements of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) program. For information about the SEVIS system, please click here.
  • the foreign national may not attend a public elementary school or publicly-funded adult education program, and may not attend a public secondary school unless he/she attends for less than 12 months and reimburses the school the full, unsubsidized cost of the education.

What is the period of admission for an F-1 non-immigrant?

Unlike most non-immigrants who are admitted to the U.S. for a specified and limited period of time, a foreign national who obtains F-1 status is allowed to remain in the U.S. for the duration of status, often shown in the passport as D/S. Duration of status is defined as the time during which an F-1 student is pursuing a full course of study at an approved educational institution, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies. This means that, so long as the foreign national is in status, with a valid I-20, either in school or working with authorization, he or she can remain in the U.S.

Can an international student work in the U.S.?

In general, international students are not permitted to work on the U.S. However, international students in F-1 status are permitted certain kinds of authorized employment. This includes on-campus employment, curricular practical training (CPT), optional practical training (OPT) and employment authorized by economic necessity. In general, students must complete one academic year before applying for CPT, OPT or employment for economic necessity. For additional information about employment for international students, including essential information about limitations on CPT, extensions of OPT and applying for employment authorization, click here.

What is Curricular Practical Training?

Curricular Practical Training, referred to as CPT, allows international students to earn academic credit while working for a U.S. company. In general, CPT is used to permit students to gain “real-world” and “hands-on” experience by working in a role which is linked to their academic major. CPT is used for students that are doing practicums, work/study, externships, cooperative learning, or other forms of employment which are part of a student’s academic curriculum.

CPT is usually arranged with the cooperation of the student’s department or academic advisor. CPT can be either full- or part-time and students can be paid for their work on CPT. There is no regulatory limit on how much CPT a student can do, but if the student exceeds one year of CPT then he/she is barred from using Optional Practical Training (OPT).

CPT requires an I-20 endorsed by the Designated School Official. CPT does not require the filing of an Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765) with the CIS. CPT does not require a filing fee.

What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training, referred to as OPT allows international students to work for U.S. employers in a position directly related to the student’s primary field of study. In general, OPT allows students to work for a U.S. company or organization on a full- or part-time basis for up to twelve months. Under some limited circumstances (described below), the 12-month limit may be extended. An additional one year of OPT is available for each higher educational level i.e. one year for undergraduate, an additional year for graduate school, etc.

Students may use elect to use part of their OPT while they are still in school; for example, to accept employment during the summer break between junior and senior year. This is called pre-completion OPT. More commonly, students will preserve their OPT for after they graduate, and use OPT to enter the work force as a student. This is called post-completion OPT. Whether a student uses pre-completion or post-completion OPT, they cannot exceed the regulatory limit.

If the student chooses to engage in pre-completion OPT, he or she may not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, but may work full-time during his or her annual vacation and other times when the school is not in session. If a student engages in pre-completion OPT, the student’s eligible period of post-completion OPT will be reduced by one month for every two months of part-time pre-completion OPT that is worked when he or she graduates.

To be granted OPT, a student must have a Form I-20 endorsed by his/her Designated School Official. In addition, the student must complete and submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The Form I-765 requires a filing fee of $380. For information on submitting the Form I-765, please click here.

Can Optional Practical Training (OPT) be extended?

In general, OPT is limited to twelve months. There are two exceptions to this rule. These are the “cap-gap” extension and the “STEM” extension. These two extensions were introduced in 2008 to help F-1 non-immigrants applying for H-1B status to bridge the gap between the expiration of OPT and the effective date of a cap-subject H-1B.

What is the “cap-gap” extension of OPT?

There “cap-gap” extension allows F-1 students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain employment authorized during the “gap” between the end of their OPT and the effective date of a cap-subject H-1B. To be eligible for the “cap-gap” extension, the student must be on OPT and be the beneficiary of a Petition for H-1B status filed by a U.S. employer. Assuming that the Petition for H-1B status is accepted under the “cap”, then the F-1 student’s OPT is automatically extended beyond the expiration date on the EAD. If the student’s H-1B is approved, then the OPT is extended through September 30. If the student’s H-1B is not accepted under the H-1B cap, or if it is denied, withdrawn or revoked, then the F-1 student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date of the rejection notice or their program end date, whichever is later, to depart the United States.

Please note that, when a student qualifies for the “cap-gap” extension of their OPT, they do not receive a new EAD. Rather, eligibility for the “cap-gap” extension is noted on the student’s SEVIS record. The lack of any document to show the extension of OPT can cause a problem in establishing ongoing employment eligibility at the workplace.

Also, because students who benefit from the “cap-gap” extension do not receive a new EAD and are awaiting the approval of a Petition for change of status, they cannot freely travel out of the U.S. Rather, students who are on “cap-gap” extension of the OPT, should not plan to travel until they receive word that the Petition for H-1B has been approved.

For additional information about OPT, the “cap-gap” extension and travel and employment during this time, please contact us.

What is the STEM extension of OTP?

The “STEM” extension allows certain F-1 students with Optional Practical Training (OPT) to extend their employment authorization beyond the customary 12-month limit. More specifically, F-1 students eligible for the STEM extension may be granted an additional 24-months of OPT, beyond the 12-month limit, for a total of 36 months of authorized student employment. The reason behind the STEM extension of OPT is to permit students affected by the H-1B cap to have a second and even a third opportunity to apply for an H-1B in subsequent fiscal years.

The STEM extension of OPT is aimed at F-1 students who have graduated with STEM majors and who have jobs with U.S. companies. STEM refers to degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. For a list of academic majors which fall under the STEM designation, click here.

If a student’s major is a STEM-designated major then, prior to the expiration of the initial 12 month OPT, he/she may apply for the STEM extension of OPT. The application to extend OPT is made on the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. The Form I-765 must be accompanied by an original, signed Form I-20, endorsed by the Designated School Official, two photographs, a copy of your STEM degree, and a filing fee of $410 after December 23, 2016 . The Form I-765 can be filed by mail/express mail, or electronically.

To qualify for the STEM extension, the F-1 student must confirm that his/her employer is a registered user of the government’s E-Verify program. Administered by the CIS and the Social Security Administration, the E-Verify program is a web-based system, for verifying employment eligibility. All employers who register as users of E-Verify pledge to use the system to confirm the employment eligibility of all new hires, regardless of nationality or immigration status. For more information about the E-verify system, click here.

Under a revision to the regulation implemented in 2016, an application for a 24-month STEM extension must now be accompanied by a Training Plan on CIS Form I-983.  The Form I-983, called the Training Plan for STEM OPT students, requires employers to confirm that  they have the resources and personnel available to appropriately train the student,that the student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker; and that their company will help the student attain his or her training objectives. The signed Training Plan includes an acknowledgement of CIS’s authorization to visit the worksite of the F-1 student to ensure compliance with STEM OPT requirements.  For more information about Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students click here and click here.

Do international students require visas?

Nearly all international students require F-1 visas to come to the U.S. A visa is a document placed in a passport or other travel document at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate which permits foreign nationals to travel to the U.S. by air, land or sea. Having a visa does not guarantee admission to the U.S. and the final decision as to whether a person is or is not admissible to the U.S. is up to the U.S. immigration inspector at the port of entry.

How do international students apply for an F-1 visa?

There are several steps to the visa application process. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. For a list of U.S. Embassies and Consulates, click here.

The first step in the visa application process is the filing of the Online Non-immigrant Visa Application, known as the Form DS-160. To review Frequently Asked Questions about the Form DS-160, click here. To go to the Form DS-160, click here.

As part of the on-line application process, you will need to upload a passport-sized photograph. The photo must conform to CIS photo specifications. For information on specifications and requirements, click here.

After you have completed the Form DS-160, you will need to print out the application confirmation page, which you will bring to the Embassy or Consulate at the time of your in-person interview. Normally, the interview is made in an applicant’s home country. However, this is not required and regulations permit an applicant to schedule an interview at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Applying for a U.S. visa outside of your country of residence can result in additional issues and obstacles.

After the DS-160 is filed, the applicant must to schedule an in-person interview. Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early. To view wait times for visa interviews at Embassies and Consulates around the world, click here.

For new students, F-1 visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date for the course of study. However, you cannot enter the U.S. with in F-1 visa more than than 30 days before the start date. Continuing students may renew the F-1 visas at any time, as long as they have maintained status and the SEVIS records are current.

Prior to the interview, applicants must pay the visa application fee. For current visa application fees, click here.

Individuals from some countries are also required to pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee at the time of the interview. To see if you are required to pay the visa issuance reciprocity fee, click here.

When you go to the in-person visa interview, you will need to bring:

    1. a passport valid for travel to the U. S. The passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the anticipated period of stay in the U. S.;
    2. the confirmation page for the DS-160;
    3. a receipt showing payment of the visa application fee;
    4. Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status. Once admitted, the college/university will send the Form I-20. The Form I-20 must be signed by the applicant and by the Designated School Official. All students, as well as their spouses and minor children accompanying the applicant must have an individual Form I-20;
    5. evidence of financial resources adequate to pay travel, tuition, lodging, food, books and other expenses;
    6. other documents which show ties to the home country.

During your visa interview, a Consular Officer will determine whether you meet the requirements for a U.S. visa. The burden is always on the applicant to prove eligibility for a U.S. visa and, if denied, there is no right of appeal.

Assuming that the visa is approved, the passport will be returned to you with the newly-issued visa in it. In most cases, the visa will be valid for multiple entries over the course of your studies. Students from some countries may be issued visas subject to more restrictions. For more information on the visa application process, please contact us.

What is SEVIS?

SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is a nationwide, web-based system administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. SEVIS is used by the U.S. government to maintain accurate and up-to-date information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-, and J-2).

Designated School Officials (DSO’s) at accredited institutions use SEVIS to record information about international students and scholars. The SEVIS record is created when the initial I-20 is created. When the initial I-20 is printed out, it comes with a barcode and a SEVIS identification number. The SEVIS identification number stays with the international student for as long as he or she studies in the U.S. and stays with the student from school to school.

When an international student enters the U.S., his/her arrival is recorded in the SEVIS system at the port-of-entry. Once he/she reports to campus, the DSO/international student advisor records and maintains personal information and academic status of the student. In other words, SEVIS tracks whether the student is maintaining F-1 status.

PLEASE NOTE: if an international student or dependent in the SEVIS system fails to register for school or otherwise violates status, this information is sent to ICE, which is under instructions to search for the student, to find the student, to call him/her in for an interview and, if circumstances warrant, to initiate a removal (deportation) proceeding.

What information is recorded in the SEVIS system?

DSO’s are required by law to enter the following information about each F-1 student:

  • Student’s local address. If the student moves at any time, the DSO must be notified and the new address must be entered into the SEVIS system.
  • Confirmation of registration. At the beginning of each session, the DSO must confirm that the international student is enrolled on a full-time basis.
  • Reduced course load. If the student is taking a reduced course load, the DSO must report that as well as the reason why the student is not able to take a full course load (e.g., medical, personal, academic reasons).
  • Vacation. If the student is on-break, on OPT, or on leave and decides not to register for a semester, this gets reported.
  • Transfers. If the student transfers to another school, the transfer will be entered into the SEVIS system by your current school. Once the transfer is entered, the SEVIS record becomes available to the new school.
  • Extension. If the Student does not finish the program by the program end-date indicated on the I-20, an extension can be granted and must be entered in the SEVIS record.
  • Completion of program. When the international student graduates or completes his/her program, and if the student does not plan to remain in the U.S., this is indicated in the SEVIS record as a “completion.”
  • Termination. If an international student stops attending classes, does not enroll in classes at the right time, is dismissed for any reason, works off-campus, or otherwise violates his/her immigration status, the SEVIS record will be terminated. If the SEVIS record is terminated, the student must file for reinstatement in order to remain in valid status in the U.S.

What is the SEVIS fee? How and when is it paid?

All new international students and scholars must pay a SEVIS fee. Currently (11/2016) the SEVIS fee is $200. The SEVIS fee must be paid prior to applying for a U.S. visa. Dependents (spouses and minor children) do not have to pay the SEVIS fee.

The SEVIS fee must be paid at least three days prior to submitting the application for a U.S. visa. Canadian citizens, who are exempt from the visa requirement, must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days prior to applying for admission to the U.S. at a U.S. port of entry.

What is the Form I-901?

Once the international student pays the SEVIS fee, he/she will be issued the Form I-901. The Form I-901 must accompany any application for an F-1/J-1 visa or any application to change status to F-1 or J-1.

Can international students obtain Social Security or Tax Identification Numbers?

In general, Social Security Numbers (SSN) are now only issued to individuals who have authorization for on- or off-campus employment. A SSN is not required to open a bank account, get a driver’s license or install a telephone. If you are employment authorized and need to get an SSN, please see the attached flyer for additional information and instructions.

Some individuals who are not eligible for an SSN may need a tax identification number for banking or other financial transactions. For information on how to obtain an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS, please click here.

Are international students required to file U.S. tax returns?

Nonresident aliens who are in the U.S. in F, J or M status who receive no income from U.S. sources are not required to file a U.S. income tax return. However, such individuals are required to file IRS Form 8843. The IRS Form 8843 does not require an SSN or ITIN.

With very few exceptions, all individuals who earn income from U.S. sources are required to file a U.S. tax return. To file a U.S. tax return, an individual must possess either an SSN or an ITIN.

If an international student is employed in the U.S., he/she must file either the Form 1040NR-EZ, U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens With No Dependents (short form), or the Form 1040NR, U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return (long form). Most international students use the 1040NR-EZ for their tax return. However, for international students with dependents, deductions, credits and more complex tax situations, the 1040-NR may be appropriate.

It is important to note that international students in F-1 or J-1 status are NOT subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes, sometimes called FICA taxes. If your employer has deducted FICA taxes from your paycheck, you may seek a refund on IRS Form 843, Claim for Refund.

For additional information on federal income taxes and federal employment taxes, click here.

How to contact U.S. immigration authorities?

While studying at American institutions of higher education, international students are under the jurisdiction of their local USCIS office. To find your local office, click here.

How to find practical information on resources in the Philadelphia area?

The Law Office of Matthew I. Hirsch is located in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is easily accessible by car or public transportation. As a former study abroad student himself, Matthew I. Hirsch encourages all international students to explore the region, to visit cultural and historic sites and to learn about the people and places in southeastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and southern New Jersey. To find practical information for international students, please see the following resources:

  • For public transportation, train and bus schedules:
  • For information on flights or access to the Philadelphia International Airport:
  • For information on International House, an apartment building and organization offering programs, language classes, family hospitality and social/cultural events for international students in and around the Philadelphia area:
  • For information about Philadelphia cultural events and organizations, including museums, performance arts, charity walks, festivals and more:
  • For things to do in Philadelphia, plus information on hotels, restaurants, history, events, museums, festivals, etc:
  • For the International Visitors Council, the “door” to the greater Philadelphia community for guests and visitors from all over the world:
  • For Campus Philly, a nonprofit organization that encourages college students to study, explore, live and work in the greater Philadelphia tri-state region:
  • For Global Philly, an organization that encourages interactions among organizations and people engaged in international activities in the Philadelphia region:

How to find information on government offices in Pennsylvania/New Jersey?

  •  To learn about Social Security cards, to access forms or to find an office of the Social Security Administration:
  • To learn about filing federal income tax returns to access forms, or to find an office of the Internal Revenue Service:
  • To obtain information about getting married in Pennsylvania:
  • To obtain information about getting married in New Jersey, click here.
  • For information about Landlord-Tenant claims and filing lawsuits in Pennsylvania’s Magisterial Courts:
  • For other information about protecting your legal rights, please contact us.