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International Student Survival Kit

Dear Friend,
If you are reading this, you are probably on the same boat as I am right now.
In the past four years, this special identity played as a double-bladed sword
on my job-searching path, and to be honest, more negative functions than
positive ones. Your dear international student advisors will not automatically
tell you the full story when you first come here, so you need to be strong and
smart enough to figure out the hidden mines out so as to protect yourself and
maximize the utilization of your F-1 visa. Here I will discuss several things:
doing an internship as an international student in the States, applying for OPT
and H1B visa around your graduation date, and things to stay away from as
an international student.
1. International Intern
First of all, international students are allowed to do internships.
However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind before you step
in the office and work.
1). You can only work during the school sessions
Using the UCLA 2015 2016 academic calendar as an example. The
periods you can work are 9/21/2015 12/11/2015, 1/4/2016
3/18/2016, 3/23/2016 6/10/2016, and as for the summer, 6/20/2016
9/9/2016. You can work no more than 20 hours in fall, winter, and
spring, and you can work full-time in summer.
To be more general, in fall, winter, and spring, you can only work from
the date that the quarter begins (first day of week 1) to the date that
the quarter ends (last day of the finals week). In summer, you can only
work from the first day of Summer Session A to the last day of Summer
Session C. A lot of students doing the summer internships for bulge
brackets will face the problem that they cant work in the awkward
summer week the week after the finals week but before the start of
Summer Session A. In my year and the year before my class, Dashew
made exceptions and allowed us to work during that week as well.
However, Ive noticed that Dashew is enforcing stricter rules, so
starting this year it will be tough to ask for exceptions from Dashew.
Therefore, you need to negotiate with your employer to see if they can
push back your start date and allow you to stay for a week or two after
the others have finished their internships so that you still have a
complete experience in the firm.
Note that if you are working for a bulge bracket, the one-week training
is also considered as employment. Worse still, it is considered as fulltime employment, so if the training takes place while the spring

quarter is still in session, theres actually no work authorization that

you can use to attend the training. (Will Xiao and I have tried CPT and
pre-completion OPT, and neither of them actually worked). You have to
let your HR know in advance if this is the case (even though
sometimes they may ignore). This is to protect your legal status,
especially if you are thinking of applying for the Green Card in the
future (because they will inspect all your past records to make sure you
are not employed when you dont have any work authorizations. If
they figured out that you were employed full-time in that week, this
may result your Green Card application revoked).
2). You need some kinds of work authorizations to work
Before you graduate, there are two kinds of authorizations you can
use: CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and pre-completion OPT
(Optional Practical Training).
CPT is the one more frequently used. Here I will give a real-life case to
illustrate how to obtain it.
Case: Fall quarter, junior standing, me wanting to work for McCafferty
& Co. on an unpaid internship
I got the offer from McCafferty and this was the middle of week 1. The
company was fine with me starting immediately, but at that moment I
still hadnt applied for my CPT at Dashew. Thus, I emailed them saying
that I need to get my CPT I-20 first and then I can start working and it
takes about a week to process. They said no problem.
I then requested an offer letter from McCafferty indicating my position,
hours, duties, together with the address and contact info of my
supervisor on the letter head paper. In the meantime, I visited UCLA
Center for Community Learning and asked to enroll in Sociology 195,
and internship class. I needed to schedule an appointment with a
coordinator there and fill out a contract online so as to enroll. This
took me a half a week as I begged the sociology department to
expedite it a bit.
After enrolling in the class, I took the offer letter and the CPT
application form (available at Dashew) to the Dashew Center. Oh,
dont forget to schedule an appointment earlier before your actual
visit. I gave my counselor the letter and the form and then he checked
the system and happily saw that I was enrolled in Sociology 195. He
told me to pick up the new I-20 a week later, but said that I could begin
my work on a date slightly earlier than I could actually receive the
paper copy of my I-20.

There can be some variations in the case above. First, you can use any
of these classes for your CPT:
The 195 classes offered by UCLA Center for Community Learning
(Sociology 195, History 195, English 195, Poli-Sci 195). Dont
worry even though these classes sound to have nothing to do
with your job, you can pass the class easily by writing weekly
reports or reflections on readings and submitting a final paper in
the end. By the way, 195 is only available for junior standing
and above, and you can only take those 195 classes for a certain
number of units (I remember the maximum number of units are
32 or something else. Check with them when you enroll)

The 99/199 classes offered by any departments. These are

undergraduate research classes. 99 is for standings below junior
and 199 is for junior standings and above. I used Econ 99 for
my first internship when my standing was still sophomore at that

Other 195 classes (e.g. Stats 195 and MGMT 195). Any majors
can enroll in Stats 195, but only accounting minors can enroll in
MGMT 195

*Warning: whether it is paid or unpaid, you have to have

the CPT. Some people will tell you that unpaid internships do not
require CPT. I highly discourage that because unpaid internships
are still considered as a form of labor, and for the same reason I
stated in 1), dont risk yourself in this sketchy area.
If you are working in the summer, you only need to enroll in one
internship class in one of the summer sessions during which you are
working. For example, I worked for CREO Capital Advisors from
summer session A to C, but my internship class only took place in
session C, which was enough for me to obtain the CPT covering the
entire period of my work.
The pre-completion OPT is seldom used, and Dashew doesnt even
have a form for it. Well, pre-completion OPT is a solution for your
awkward summer week, but then this thing comes with a cost.
For each day on the pre-completion OPT, it will reduce your postcompletion OPT (i.e. the normal OPT) by half of a day. So unless
this is your last resort, do not use it. During the non-summer school
sessions, pre-completion OPT can only allow you to work for no
more than 20 hours per week, so essentially it is the same as CPT.
However, in that awkward summer week, it allows you to work

You dont need to enroll in a class for pre-completion OPT. The

application process of pre-completion OPT is almost the same as
the normal OPT, i.e. you have to pay $380 for it and it takes at least
three months to actually get the authorization. So if you are
considering using it for that awkward week in June, you need to
take action now, but I guess Dashew will be unwilling to process it
3) You may need an SSN
If you are to receive salary from the firms payroll you have to have
an SSN. The funny thing is even without being paid, you may still
get one. Someone told me that he/she took the offer letter and
his/her I-20, I-94, and passport to the Social Security Office and
they actually processed it even though the job is unpaid. In the
normal process, Dashew will tell you that you must have a paid job
and then obtain a letter from Dashew to apply for the SSN. My own
research showed that SSN is used to receive POTENTIAL payments
and social security benefits from the firm, so even with an unpaid
job, you can still say potentially my employer will pay me, so I
need this number. I am not sure whether that persons practice is
against the rule or not, so if you dont want to risk it but you still
need the number, you can try to apply for an ITIN (something like
the tax-payers ID) and in most cases it is equivalent to the power
of an SSN.
2. International Full-Time Employee
1). OPT
OPT is the one less difficult to understand and there are a lot of guides
online already. I will just point out some key facts here:
Starting from 90 days before you graduate, you can apply for
Your OPT start date has to be within the range from 1 day after
you graduate to 60 days after you graduate
You dont have to have a job to apply for OPT. You can be
unemployed on your OPT for at most 90 days (including
weekends and holidays)
It takes three months to process the application. You must have
your EAD card before you actually start working
If you want to travel internationally, you must have your EAD
card first before you step out of the States. Otherwise there are
chances that you cant return here
Your major has to be relevant to your work. A way to tell
whether it is relevant or not is to see whether the classes
requested in this major match the requirements posted in the

employers job listing (e.g. Citi says they want someone with
knowledge in finance and accounting; my major asks me to
complete MGMT 1A & 1B and MATH 174E Financial
Mathematics). Im not sure what will happen if you have an
irrelevant major but a relevant minor. Consult Dashew to see
whats the consequence
If you are a STEM major, you are qualified for the 24-month extension
in addition to your normal 12-month OPT. Theres a list issued by the
USCIS indicating which majors are qualified. You should take out your
I-20, find the name of your major on THAT, and check whether it is on
the list or not. Also, your employer needs to be E-verified so that you
can actually use the extension. You can find it out by asking your
firms HR.
2). H1B Visa
We all know that H1B visa is the path to long-term residency in the
United States. Im not asking all of you to immigrate but Id like to
show you how to maximize your chance of extending your stay here
under the unfair lottery system.
First of all, you dont need to have an OPT to apply for the H1B visa. As
long as you have a degree (Bachelors and above) and that your
employer is willing to apply that for you, you should be fine. If you are
smart enough, you can see that you dont even have to be in the
United States to apply for the H1B visa. Thats why every year there
are so many applicants and they have to do a lottery to select the
lucky ones.
The deadline to apply is April 1st every year. Say that you graduate at
the end of the spring quarter in June, 2016. In that case, if you are a
non-STEM major student, while you remain on your OPT, you get one
chance to apply in April, 2017. If you are a STEM major, you get three
chances: April 2017, 2018, and 2019. This is the plain-vanilla case.
Now you say I want more chances. Luckily, at UCLA, you can. You can
choose to graduate in winter quarter (only winter quarter) because
your degree completion date in that case will be before April 1 st.
Again, I will use my own case to illustrate how to make it happen.

Case: Winter Quarter 2016, quarter ends on 3/18/2016

I declared my graduation quarter to be winter 2016 earlier in
December 2015. I was reminded by these things in advance:

Your degree will not be posted until after 3/18/2016 even though
you may have already completed all the coursework before this
However, once all of your final grades are captured by the UCLA
registrar, you can request a letter called Certificate of
Completion of Work, which suffices for applying the H1B visa
even though your degree hasnt been posted
Citi wants me to send them that certificate before 3/15/2016

Given all the information, I planned my last quarter in this way:

I enrolled in three classes: Italian 1 (so that I have 12 units at

least using this one and my two major requisites), Math 131A,
and Math 172C. All of those classes have finals really early
(Saturday 3/12/2016, Monday 3/14/2016, and Tuesday
I talked to the professors and begged them to grade the finals
as soon as possible. I get some stubborn ones (Math
professors are really unwilling to do this) but in the end they
promised me that they can get the class graded before
I negotiated with Citi to see if they can maneuver the cut-off
date on their end a little bit for me. The HR said no, and I turned
to my attorney directly. The attorneys are the ones who actually
handle the case, so they actually have the final say of whether
its possible or not. I told my attorney that I should have
everything ready by 3/21/2016, and he agreed to wait for me to
turn those in once I had them. Still, the sooner the better
because they usually need a week to process everything

Heres the current progress:

I have all of my final grades in the registrars system on the

morning of 3/17/2016. I dashed to the registrar and requested a
Certificate of Completion of Work and got it on the spot
I scanned it and sent to soft copy to my attorney. I was informed
by him that the letter is enough for my application this year

Im still waiting to see if theres any further updates from Citi.

The key to success lies in when you can get all your final grades by the
UCLA registrar. Apparently, Im lucky because this year the quarter
ends really early. Next year the quarter ends on 3/24/2017, so it will
be definitely tougher for this class to play around using my trick.
What you can try is as follows:

Choose your classes with early final dates, small class sizes, and
understanding professors who grade the finals fast. I havent tried all
of them out but per my knowledge, elementary foreign language
classes have pretty understanding instructors. Some Econ professors
are also willing to help you out, and your last resort can be internship
classes I will explain the reason later.
Once you are in those classes, try to negotiate with them to see if they
can let you take early finals and then report your grade using the
Academic Revision Form. Essentially, starting from the first day of
week 10, your instructor can file the final grade for the students. If you
need the grade earlier than others, your professor can write a letter
indicating XYZ student will receive an A/B/ in my class on a letter
head paper with his/her signature and phone number in a sealed
envelope signed on the seams. The instructor then needs to bring this
letter to the registrar, and the registrar can issue the Certificate of
Completion of Work to you while your final grades are still not posted
to your transcript at that moment.
So thats why I listed the classes above since these are the ones whose
professors/instructors may be willing to process your final grades
Talking about the functions of H1B visa if you want to change your
employer, you can ask your HR to transfer your H1B quota with you to
the new firm. Also, if you decide to pursue a graduate degree, you can
suspend you H1B visa for a while and reactivate it after you graduate.
In both cases, you dont have to do the lottery again. In total, H1B visa
gives you six years to work here.
3). L1 Visa
Lets say someone has bad luck and doesnt win any of the lotteries.
Usually, large, established international firms can relocate you to other
markets, but what if you still want to come back?
In some rare cases, when you are actually facing such kind of
situations, you can discuss with your employer about the possibility of
sponsoring you using the L1 visa. What will happen is your firm
relocate you to its oversea branch for at least a year and the HR in that
branch file an L1 visa application for you to transfer you back to the
U.S. branch as an administration level employee or an employee with
specialized techniques. Unlike H1B visas, L1 visas do not have quota,
so you dont have to worry about the lottery thing. However, once you
are on the L1 visa, you are tied to the company that sponsored you as
long as you remain on the visa.

I havent seen too many cases on this thing, and I would recommend
that you hold back from discussing this with your staffer/HR the first
day in your office. Be a good employee so that you have the power to
negotiate later in your career.
3. Dangerous Things to Avoid
I will list a couple of things to avoid here.

Working without CPT/OPT/H1B even though it is an unpaid job

Charge service fees for work performed that is not granted to
your F1 visa. As an F1 visa holder, you are only allowed to
perform work relevant to your academic development, and
thats why they ask you to get a CPT for a job and have a job
relevant to your major when you are on OPT. Lets say you are
tutoring others and they pay you under the table. This is
actually against the rule and if discovered, you will have to reenter the States with a new I-20. You cant work on CPT or OPT
until a year after your new I-20
Randomly take a gap year. When planned, this is fine.
However, as I mentioned above, after you suspend a quarter and
re-enter the country, you will have to wait for a year before you
can use your CPT or OPT
Travel outside the States without an EAD card
Travel outside the States when you are applying for the H1B visa
if your attorney filed your case using the Change of Status (COS)
option. There are two options for applying the H1B visa:
Change of Status and Consular Notification. The first one
requires you to remain in the United States before your F1 visa
is converted to the H1B visa. Therefore, dont go outside the
States before you know your lottery result in this case. The first
option has more limitations but somehow is viewed as a safer
and more conservative choice. The second one works as
bellows: you can travel outside the States but if you win the
lottery, you will have to return to your home country and talk to
the consular there to activate your new visa. Keep in mind that
this is not risk-free
You cant work in your 60-day grace period

Finally, I want to remind you that I am not a legal advisor and a lot of the
discussion above is based on the experience of myself and my friends. If
there are special cases or confusions, please consult Dashew or professional
legal advisors.
In the process of obtaining those visas and authorizations, there will definitely
be frustrating moments. Ive been told by Dashew that if I am not satisfied
with the schools quarter system, feel free to transfer to other schools. Ive

been told by the registrar that I am just one person and they refused to check
the old requests I placed there before. Ive been shouted at in an email
from my professor that he would never ever give me an early grade given my
poor performance in a quiz. Ive been told by the Math Department that this
should be pretty common for international students to maneuver with their
employers and attorney and I told her this is not common AT ALL and she
doesnt have the right to assume so. Ive broken down in tears in front of the
Honors Research department because I couldnt find a coordinator who could
let me do the 99 research class so that I could legally work here as a
sophomore. Among all of them, some unwillingly processed my requests,
and very few told me that they understood how I felt and wanted to help me
out. Now looking at those moments, Im glad that everything still works out.
Im pretty sure that more and more of us will be able to find a job here and
will have to go through these tough processes. So be proud of yourself.
Dont violate the rules but also dont let the ignorant people take advantage
of you because of your special case. You pay a higher tuition to the school,
and all the staff and professors here have the obligations to extend standard
services to you. And finally, dont forget to say thank you to those who
have helped you. Karma.