Summer Internship 101

It’s nearing the end of the semester and you’re tired, stressed, and want nothing more than to sit on a beach.  So why should you care about summer internships?

Well, as you’ve probably heard, summer internships are a fantastic way to learn more about a potential field as well as corporate culture.  But enough of why you SHOULD get an internship, we’re going to lay out the important steps that international students must consider before applying.

Before we get started, we must state that if you hold a student visa, you’ll need to look at unpaid internships exclusively.  Accepting compensation in any form can be defined as violating the terms of your visa.  Of course, there are ways around this law and for further information check here: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10181.html#a0=0 (don’t worry, we’ll touch on this a bit more later on).

Now, let’s look at a few more criteria to help you narrow down your search:

1.       Look for your dream internship

Start by thinking about the industry that best fits your major or where you’ve always thought about working.  By starting with this as your focus, it can help you nail down the start to an exciting career or narrow down a specific field.

While your school may be a great place to look for local internships, also check what’s available on the internet.  Both Internqueen or Indeed Jobs can be quite useful.

For those that are looking for a career within international organizations, the United Nations or World Bank have extensive career portals you can check out.

2.       Inquire about the expectations for your internship

There’s nothing worse than getting excited for an internship only to realize that your only responsibilities are making coffee and photocopies.  To avoid this letdown, remember to ask specific questions during your interviews to determine if that workplace is best for you. Will the job help you narrow down your job search after graduation?  What specific skills will you learn in that position?  Remember, employment is always a two-way street, so spend your summer doing something you’ll enjoy!

3.       Apply for work authorization…if you need it

For those of you with a student visa who have your eyes set on a paid internship, here are a few more details:

  • With your F1 visa you are authorized to work on campus but an Employment Eligibility Verification from USCIS (Form I-9) is required for off campus paid employment.  Note that you must be enrolled in your academic program for one full-academic year in order to be able to apply.
  • Depending on the type of internship you choose, there are two different types of employment authorization you have to apply for:  Curricular Practice Training (CPT) or Optional Practice Training (OPT).
  • In order to be elidible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) work experience must be a required or integral component of your academic program. Note that you can only intern under this type of program before the completion of your studies. There are no restrictions in terms of time, but if you spend more than 12 months on CPT you can no longer apply for OPT.
  • For Optional Practical Training (OPT), F1 students are eligible for a maximum of twelve months of OPT per educational level either before or after completion of your program.  Either way, you cannot apply for an OPT after completion of your studies and the OPT start date must not be later than 2 months after its completion. A relationship between the major field of study and the employment opportunity must be proven and, contrary to the CPT, a job offer is not required.

As always, it’s best to talk to your school’s ISO to review your eligibility and put the wheels in motion to acquire any additional paperwork that you may need (such as a new I-20).  Assuming all goes well, the entire process should last 1-3 months.

4.       Get your Social Security Number

A valid Social Security Number (SSN) is required to work in the US, primarily for tax purposes. You will be able to issue your SSN at any SSN office after receiving both your work authorization and job offer.

Readers, have you had to apply for a visa?  What are some of your tips?

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