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Guidance for Faculty

Differences Between International and Exchange Students

International students are students whose purpose in the U.S. is to pursue a program of study and gain training in that particular field. The government refers to international students as F-1 students. F-1 is their visa classification. Once these students complete their academic programs and training, the government assumes that they will return to their country of origin to use their academic training and acquired skills.

Exchange students are students in the U.S. for a short-time, and who simply intend to experience culture and university life abroad. They typically spend a semester in the U.S., without the expectation of earning a degree from UHCL. The government refers to these exchange students as J-1 students. J-1 is their visa classification. The Department of State regulates these exchange experiences.

Immigration Basics

  • International and exchange students are at UHCL to study and as such are required to attend school full-time during fall and spring semesters. Full-time equates to 12 credits for undergraduate students and 9 credits for graduate students. During the summer, full-time equates to 6 credits for undergraduate students, and 5 credits for graduate students.
  • Each semester, 3 of these credits may be met through online coursework. During his/her last semester, however, a student must enroll in at least one face-to-face course (even in the summer).
  • In some cases, permission to "under load" can be given by an International Student Advisor for certain academic reasons (incorrect course placement, initial difficulty with English or American teaching methods), documented medical reasons, or if it is the students last semester in his/her program of study.
  • International students are allowed to work on campus. Exchange students must receive permission to work.
  • To work off campus, both international and exchange students must get permission from their International Student Advisor.
  • International Student Advisors are the only designated school officials authorized to give immigration advice to students; immigration rules change frequently, so it is vital that only these staff members give advice, regardless of other staff members previous experience.
  • International and exchange students must make academic progress throughout their entire academic program.
  • International and exchange students must seek authorization from their International Student Advisor to participate in an internship or co-op course.
  • At times, international students must receive signatures from their academic advisor on forms from the Office of International Admissions & Student Services in order to substantiate statements related to academics. For example, they may need more time to graduate, or, as required by their academic program, written confirmation of an internship or co-op.

Referring an International Student to an International Student Advisor

International Student Advisors are for international and exchange students who need assistance with the following:

  1. Questions about all immigration concerns
  2. Changes in academic programs or academic levels
  3. Registration problems
  4. Poor academic performance (which can have an impact on the students immigration "status")
  5. Academic suspensions
  6. Withdrawing from courses or from the university
  7. Concurrent enrollment at another institution
  8. Obtaining work authorization

The Basics of Hiring an International Student for an On-Campus Position

Social Security Numbers: Hiring an international student is similar to hiring an American, except the international student who you hire might not have a Social Security Number. International students only qualify for a Social Security Number once they have been hired and received authorization to work on campus. If your department has decided to hire an international student, the student will need an official job offer from the hiring supervisor. After the student receives this letter, he/she can then request a letter from his/her International Student Advisor. Once the student has all of the required documentation (the International Student Advisor will review this), he/she can apply for a Social Security Number. When the student submits his/her application, he/she will receive from the Social Security Administration a receipt, which can be used until his/her official Social Security Card arrives in the mail.

Hours students can work per week: Immigration regulations stipulate that the amount of hours per week an international student can work depends on the academic calendar. Students are eligible for part-time employment (20 hours or less per week) during the fall and spring semesters, and for full-time employment during the summer and academic breaks, such as the December and Spring breaks. International students are subject to all other institutional rules that limit the number of hours students may work. The aforementioned rules are related to immigration limitations only.

International students working off campus or after graduation There are two main types of off-campus employment for F-1 international students. Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, as well as the Optional Practical Training STEM Extension, are types of authorized employment. J-1 exchange students can also receive work authorization.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is legal work that has been authorized by a students International Student Advisor. Typically, it is an internship or co-operative educational experience, which takes place off campus. CPT can be either full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours or less). To gain authorization, international students must complete the same internship and co-op documentation required for domestic students. This documentation can be obtained through students respective departments and/or Career Services. In addition, international students must also complete a CPT Request Form. Students should then submit all of this information to their International Student Advisor. The ISA must approve these documents before a student may being his/her CPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment that has been authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. International students eligibility is based on their student status. OPT is not related to academic credit. It usually occurs after the student has completed his/her academic program, and must directly relate to his/her field of study. Once they have obtained authorization, students must work a minimum of 20 hours per week for up to 12 months. In some rare cases, a student may participate in OPT before graduation, or either part-time (20 hours or less per week) of full-time (more than 20 hours per week) during academic breaks.

OPT STEM Extension is a 24 month extension of the students Post-completion OPT. This can be granted to students with a U.S. degree in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. To qualify for this type of employment authorization, students must meet requirements. The first two requirements are, they must have a STEM major that qualifies them for this extension. Second, they must be employed by a company that participates in E-Verify, a federal government program established to determine the legal eligibility of an employee.

Volunteering Versus Unpaid Work

The U.S. government, under section 29 CFR 553.101, defines a volunteer as an individual who performs services for public agencies. These services are civic, charitable, or humanitarian in nature and are completed without the expectation or receipt of compensation. Unpaid work and volunteering are not always the same thing. Faculty and staff members should be aware of this and encourage students to contact their International Student Advisor to make sure that they have the required authorization (if needed).


  • International Student Services

    Phone: 281-283-2740
    Fax: 281-226-7038

    Bayou Building B2123
    2700 Bay Area Blvd, Box 225
    Houston, TX 77058-1002