FAQs: Office of International Student Affairs (OISA)

What is the Office of International Student Affairs?

The Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) supports currently enrolled international students and offers an array of services, including:


  • Consultations with students and scholars on immigration and visa matters


  • Specialized programs and events to foster social and cultural adjustment


  • Personal advising and counseling on social issues


  • CPT and OPT Workshops


  • Joint workshops with other campus departments to provide relevant programming


  • Immigration Attorney session at least once a year


  • Referrals to other departments in order to find the right source to help you


  • International Education Week


  • Updates through Facebook, EmConnect, and our webpage


What’s the difference between an I-20 and an F-1 visa?


It’s important to know that the I-20 is not a visa!


Form I-20

When an international student is accepted into Emerson College, the school will issue them Form I-20. The Form I-20 is officially a certificate of eligibility that provides a student nonimmigrant status to study academically within the U.S. for a designated period.

The duration of each student’s program of study is listed on the front of the Form I-20 under “Program End Date.” Note that the end date of your program and the end date of your visa is not the same date; they are independent of one another.

While you are a student, you will need your I-20 to:

  • Pay your  of $200



  • Enter the United States.
    • You will need to show the original copy of your Form I-20, with an ink travel signature, any time you enter the United States. You will present it to S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the port of entry when you arrive.
    • Emerson College has a policy to have your I-20 signed for travel every six months even if you do not plan to travel. This is in case of emergencies.


  • Apply for a driver’s license or Social Security Number.
    • If you need to apply for a driver’s license or Social Security number, you should bring your Form I-20 with you to prove you are a student enrolled in a program of study at Emerson College.

F-1 Visa

Your F-1 visa is a full-page stamp, from the United States, in your passport. It includes your picture and states your F-1 visa status. The name of the college or university you are attending will also be included on your visa.

Your F-1 visa allows you to enter the United States and to register for classes.


What if I am already in the U.S. on another nonimmigrant visa?


If you apply and are accepted into Emerson College and already have a nonimmigrant visa there are a few steps you need to take.

  • Check with your current immigration attorney or USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services) to see if your current visa status allows you to enroll in and take classes for a degree-earning program at an approved college or university.


  • If your visa status does allow you to enroll, please notify the school of your visa status and be aware of the limitations that may come with studying under a visa status other than F-1.


  • If your current visa status does not allow you to pursue an academic program that will result in a degree in the U.S., then you have two options.
    • You can apply for a change of status. A change of status is an application that you file with USCIS requesting for them to change your visa status to F-1. A change of status application can take anywhere from 9-12 months to process, and you must maintain your current visa status during the entire processing time. The Office of International Student Affairs does not advise on change of visa status. We recommend that you obtain the counsel of an immigration attorney.
    • You can leave the country and return home. Once you are home, the school will issue you a new initial I-20. From there, you can use your I-20 (along with other requested documents) to apply for an F-1 visa at the local embassy or consulate in your home country. This way is much faster for students who have this option available to them.


What if I already have a green card?


If you already have a green when you apply to Emerson, then you will not need additional permission to study in the United States. You will also be eligible for federal financial aid options as an eligible noncitizen.

Green card holders are not international students and therefore have no need to access the services provided by OISA. Green card holders are considered domestic students at the college.


Can I work as an international student?

There are a number of way to work legally during your studies. However, the U.S. government takes working illegally very seriously. If Emerson’s Office of International Student Affairs knows you are working without permission, we must report it through SEVIS and your record must be terminated. In that case, you would have to leave the United States immediately, and you might not be allowed to return.

As an international student, if you are approved for work on-campus or off-campus there are hour limitations. If you are approved, you may work 20 hours per week when school is in session and 40 hours a week during summer and winter breaks. All students who are working either on or off campus must also apply for a Social Security Number.

Students who hold an F-1 visa are eligible for the following types of work:

  • On-campus employment.
    • This is specific to work that takes place on campus or at an off-campus location that is affiliated with Emerson College.
    • As long as your F-1 status is active, you are eligible for on campus employment.
    • In order to apply for on-campus employment, a student must have the hiring department print on letterhead and fill in the Certification of F-1 Student On-Campus Employment for Social Security Number Application Form. Once that form is completed by the hiring department, the student must have OISA sign off on the form before a student can begin working.


  • Off-campus employment
    • This is any work that a student engages in outside of the Emerson campus.
    • Off-campus employment is only available to F-1 students who have completed at least one full academic year of their program of study.
    • There are two types of off-campus employment: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).


What’s the difference between Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)? 

The United States allows international students to gain on-the-job experience while studying through the CPT and OPT programs. In order to participate in CPT and/or OPT, a student needs to apply for and receive proper authorization from OISA.



CPT is an alternative work-study program or internship that a sponsoring employer offers through agreements with Emerson College. CPT is only available for F-1 students when it is part their established curriculum. CPT must be integral to your program of study, whether or not you are being paid for your work. This means that any internship done for academic credit is considered CPT.

In order to qualify for CPT, you must be an F-1 student who has completed one full academic year of study at Emerson. Students who complete one year or more of full-time CPT are ineligible to participate in post-completion OPT. To get permission for CPT, you must:

  • Check with your department and make sure they will accept your internship for credit.
  • Visit the career center and fill out a learning agreement.
  • Send your internship offer letter to OISA.
  • Wait one to two weeks until OISA receives your learning agreement from career services and your offer letter. They will authorize your CPT in SEVIS, provided that it meets school policy, and provide you with an updated Form CPT I-20 indicating your authorization for the training opportunity. This I-20 should be used duration of your CPT experience.



OPT is a 12-month form of training, often paid, that directly relates to your program of study. You can also apply for OPT after you finish your program of study; this is known as post-completion OPT.

In order to apply for OPT, F-1 students must request to attend an OPT workshop (held only during academic semesters) and gain approval from OISA. If OISA approves and the application is successful, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will issue a Form I-766, the Employment Authorization Document. You cannot begin working until you receive your authorization from USCIS.

Any positions held while on OPT must directly relate to your program of study. However, there is no cap on the amount of hours a student can work on post-completion OPT, and a student can hold more than one job.

You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT. Students are eligible to apply 90 calendar days (including weekends) before the date of graduation.


Can I stay in the United States after graduation?

If you would like to extend your stay and work in the US after graduating on an F-1 student visa, it is important that you research your options ahead of time and plan for the future.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS) offers an array of visa options including the popular H-1B. Shifting requirements, eligibility and quotas usually mean that the services of an immigration attorney would be required in order to pursue this route.

You may also choose to further your education by applying for another degree program.

You might also choose to apply for a green card. Any student can choose to apply for a green card at any time. There are no restrictions around who can apply for a green card. This path would also require the expertise of an immigration attorney.

Students who wish to start or invest in a business fall into a separate visa category and would require an immigration attorney.

Please note that Emerson College and OISA do not advise on advanced immigration issues or other nonimmigrant visa categories. Students must seek outside counsel when applying for these additional visa types through USCIS.


What if I have more questions?

If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact the Office of International Student Affairs.

You can reach us at internationalstudentaffairs@emerson.edu or by calling 617.824.7858.

You can also come by our office on the 10th floor of the Walker Building (120 Boylston St.), Monday- Friday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.