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. ISS 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 student population, 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. 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), in order to maintain their government mandated full-time enrollment.
Immigration regulations also dictate the number of online courses that can count toward full-time enrollment. International students may only count 3 credits in the fall or spring semesters 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. In addition if an international student only has one class left in their final semester, that class cannot be an online class.
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 ISS before they can be under-enrolled. There is a Reduced Course Load Request Form (add link) the student must fill out, have signed by an academic advisor or program director, and returned to ISS for final authorization.
We respectfully request that faculty do not advise international students to withdraw from a course before speaking with one of our advisors. An unauthorized drop below full-time can have serious negative consequences for international students.
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 or with American teaching methods may qualify for a reduced course load. 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.
Hiring an International Student On-Campus
International students in valid F-1 or J-1 status may work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year. 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 (e.g. cafeteria, bookstore).
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 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. 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
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 ISS or the U.S. government 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. For these types of employment, students must be performing work related to their area of studies.
Curricular Practical Training (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 Office of International Students and Scholars. The work experience must be approved by their academic department and they must be registered for a course granting credit. It is job specific work permission 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 handout (add link).
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 of OPT work permission 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 ISS 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. More information is available on our Optional Practical Training handout (add link).