Carnegie Mellon University

Frequently Asked Questions: Coronavirus (COVID-19)  and Employment

Updated September 21, 2020

Questions below address employment concerns related to the following:
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • STEM OPT
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Social Security Number (SSN)

Immigration regulations and policies are subject to change and may change rapidly without much advance notice.  Students should routinely review our FAQs, the university’s Coronavirus Information page, as well as read all university emails sent to their Andrew account. Please also see current SEVP Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 on ICE's FAQ page

Refer to the OIE News and Updates page for information related to future OPT sessions. Fall 2020 OPT Session Dates will be shared soon. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT FAQs 

USCIS currently requires OPT and STEM OPT applications be sent from within the U.S.

According to the SEVP guidance, “Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Students participating in STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work. However, requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other “Material Changes” remain in effect”.

SEVP has recently provided guidance for students working under OPT work authorization regarding working fewer than 20 hours a week due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. The guidance states that for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT.

Students on post-completion OPT are currently limited to 90 days of unemployment, as per immigration regulations. Someone who exceeds the 90-day limit is violating the terms of their status. The U.S. government (SEVP) has indicated they will Terminate (end) a student’s F-1 SEVIS record after a student has exceeded 90 days of unemployment.  It’s also an issue that is likely to impact future benefits and applications for change of status.

OIE recommends that students report all employment as soon as employment has been secured. Employment must be reported within 10 days of the employment start date, either through their SEVP Portal account or through their MyOIE Portal account. 

If you lose employment during OPT , it is important to determine if you are being laid off or if you are being placed on a temporary leave in accordance with your company's leave policies (usually referred to as “furloughs” or “unpaid leave”).

If you are laid off, this means that you do not have a job to come back to. If you are being laid off, you are required to report this end in employment within 10 days. The time after you end your job will count against your 90-day unemployment clock.

If you are placed on leave – whether paid or unpaid – this means that your workplace is temporarily suspending services, but will keep your position for you and expect you to return when the employer resumes their normal operations. If you are being placed on leave in accordance with an official policy, it is our understanding that the days you are not working will not count as unemployment and will not count against your 90-day maximum period of unemployment (your "unemployment clock").

The 5 month rule is not applicable to individuals in a period of OPT or STEM OPT.

SEVP has recently provided guidance for students working under OPT/STEM OPT work authorization regarding remote work.

The guidance states that the original employer’s address in the OPT/STEM OPT authorization should not be updated to the new remote address.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) FAQs 

Your summer CPT dates are based on CMU summer academic calendar.

We can only change the dates if the academic calendar changes, or if your employer changes their internship dates for ALL the students participating in the internship program (not just you). In this case we will need a letter or an e-mail from the employer, confirming the internship dates for ALL interns.

International students who will be conducting their internships outside the U.S. do not need U.S. work authorization (CPT or OPT). That being said, OIE recommends that your employment offer letter and/or additional employer email(s) should mention that you will be working remotely from outside the U.S. You should save this information for your immigration records, so that if you are ever asked questions regarding this internship, you can explain the situation and provide documentation.

However, if at any point during your internship you decide to return to the U.S. and continue working while you are physically in the U.S., you MUST obtain a valid U.S. work authorization in advance. Also, make sure to obtain a proper employment authorization in the country where you are planning to work, if it’s not your home country. 

NOTE:  Government guidance on many issues continues to evolve so it’s important to note that this information may change if new guidance is provided.

There is currently no specific government guidance regarding employment address for remote CPT authorization.

  • Make sure to check with your employer what address they require to be listed on your CPT I-20 BEFORE you apply for CPT. This information may be important for your employer’s hiring and payroll process. If your employer does not have a policy regarding what employment address they require on your CPT I-20, we recommend that you use your employer's address, until there is further government guidance. 
  • Make sure that the employment address that you request for your CPT I-20 is also listed in your employment letter.

SEVP has recently provided guidance for students working under OPT work authorization regarding remote work. The guidance states that the original employer’s address in the OPT authorization should not be updated to the new remote address. 

NOTE: this information may change if there is additional government guidance regarding remote work while on CPT.

Social Security Number (SSN) and Other FAQs 

  • You do not need a travel signature to exit the US – you only need a valid travel signature for re-entry into the US.
  • For an updated travel signature you should send an e-mail to OIE (oie@andrew.cmu.edu) and attach completed  OIE Request for Services Request Form.  You will receive a new I-20 (with a new travel signature) by e-mail. The current government guidance allows the use of electronic I-20s for travel. You can find government guidanceon the SEVP website.

  • J-1 students who need a new travel signature will need to arrange for the shipping (with eShip Global) of their new DS-2019 Form, since electronic distribution of DS-2019s is prohibited by law.

It is our understanding that students do not need an SSN to start working (although they will need to apply for an SSN when it is possible to do so). Please see the following government information:

Check with your employer to clarify their internal policy regarding SSN (when you will be required to provide your SSN or proof of your SSN application to the employer).  Please share the U.S. federal guidance posted here with your employer.

At this time, each individual SSN office has its own specific procedures for processing SSN applications for international students.  You should contact the SSA nearest you to find out their process. You can use the SSN Office locator tool: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp or call the national SSA line at 1-800-772-1213 to obtain the local SSA office number.

Some offices may require that you mail your original documents to them. OIE does NOT recommend students mailing in original immigration documents to the Social Security Administration in order to obtain an SSN.  There is a risk that the immigration documents will not be returned to you in a timely manner or that they may be lost in the mail and difficult to replace. If you decide that you want to take the risk of mailing your documents, we strongly recommend that you mail the documents by a trackable method (you receive a tracking number that can be used to make sure your documents are delivered).

If there is an option to make an in-person appointment with your local SSA office, we recommend that option. When you make an appointment, check if it is possible for you to use a printed version of your scanned CPT I-20.  Please share with the SSA representative that CMU is operating remotely and the ability to send the original CPT I-20 is severely impaired.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance allowing colleges in the U.S. to email signed scanned copies of the I-20 during the Coronavirus outbreak. 

For students on OPT: If you applied for OPT and requested an SSN on your Form I-765, you should receive your SSN card in the mail after your OPT is approved. 

Please note: This FAQ only applies to students in the Pittsburgh area.  Students located outside of the Pittsburgh area will need to consult with their local SSN office concerning the procedure for obtaining an SSN denial letter.

Step 1: Student completes an SS-5 form: https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf, and includes a brief cover letter or note stating this is ‘requesting an SSN denial letter for a Pennsylvania driver’s license’

Step 2: Student includes a copy of their passport picture page and student visa sticker.

Step 3: Student mails the cover letter, SS-5, and copies of their passport and visa together to: Social Security, 6117 Station St., Pittsburgh, PA 15206.  Do NOT mail original immigration documents.

Step 4: The SSN office processes the request and the SSN Denial letter is mailed to the student.

SEVP has provided guidance regarding electronic issuance and signing of Forms I-20 for the duration of COVID-19 emergency. SEVP has confirmed that both U.S. Department of State (in charge of U.S. consulates and visa issuance) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (in charge of admission into the U.S.) are in support of the use of electronic I-20 Forms.  Please feel free to use SEVP guidance when communicating with either of these agencies, if the question of your electronic I-20 Form comes up.