Nikki Rosato, Connections, 2012. Hand-cut road map.

SMFA is a diverse community of artists from around the world, with a student body comprised of artists from over 30 countries. The School greatly values its international students, faculty, and administrators who enliven the community and generously share their cultural traditions, perspectives, and interests. 

If you're an international student, our International Student Guide will help answer any questions you may have. For more information, please contact Student Affairs:

International Center

International Student Advising at SMFA

International students may obtain information and advising on immigration matters from the International Student Advisor (ISA) located in the Student Affairs Office. Services and information provided by the International Student Advisor include; I-20 signatures, visa information, employment options, income tax information, as well as many other immigration procedures and policies.

Stay Informed

Immigration information is subject to change without notice and often does. International Students will receive important communications related to their immigration status from the ISA via their school e-mail. It is important that you check your mail regularly in order to stay informed.

Contact Information for the International Student Advisor

International students are welcome to drop by the Student Affairs Office at any time with questions or concerns. However, it is advisable to make an appointment to meet with the International Student Advisor ahead of time.

Don’t wait until the last minute

When you need immigration assistance, please allow proper time for processing.

  • Signature on I-20 for travel – 1-3 days
  • Program Extensions – 1-2 weeks
  • School Transfer – 1-2 weeks
  • Curricular Practical Training – 1 week
  • Optional Practical Training – 3 months or more


Employment, as defined by the USCIS, is any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money or other compensation. International students in F-1 status are permitted entry into the U.S. for specific purposes (study, research, etc.). The USCIS has restrictive employment regulations, particularly for off-campus employment. Any off campus employment, paid or unpaid, must be authorized before engaging in work.


International students may work on-campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and up to 40 hours per week during official school breaks and holidays. On-campus employment encompasses jobs at the SMFA or the Museum of Fine Arts for students in all programs, and also at Tufts University for students enrolled in a degree program. International students may find it difficult to locate on-campus employment because many on-campus jobs are reserved for U.S. students receiving financial aid in the form of federally funded work-study positions. In the past, international students have found on-campus work at SMFA in the Exhibitions department, Computer Lab, printmaking studio, and as teaching or studio assistants. Finding a job on-campus will require you to be pro-active and ask around in individual departments or areas about job availability. The Student Employment Office can also assist you with finding on-campus employment and with completing the necessary paperwork that will allow you to be paid for your work.


Opportunities for authorized off-campus employment are limited and generally must be related to your studies. There are two types of off-campus employment authorization related to field of study available to F-1 students; Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). Certain international students may also be eligible for off-campus employment authorization based on severe economic hardship. To be eligible for any type of off-campus employment authorization the student must have been in legal F-1 status for one full academic year before applying for authorization.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Defined as training that is an integral or important part of your established curriculum. Employment through CPT must be in the form of an internship offered for SMFA credit and approved by the Director of Career Services. Employment authorization for CPT is made through SEVIS by the International Student Advisor. All paperwork must be completed before you begin your internship.

Optional Practical Training (OPT): Defined as temporary employment in the field of study for purposes of gaining practical experience. International students are eligible for twelve months of optional practical training. OPT is available to students both before and/or after completion of their studies. Employment authorization for OPT must be applied for directly to the USCIS. This process can take up to 90 days. You are not permitted to work until you receive your Employment Authorization Document from the USCIS.

Severe Economic Hardship: If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request employment authorization based on severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control. These circumstances may include a loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and /or living costs, or unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses.

Please contact the International Student Advisor for additional information about off-campus employment authorization.

Students with authorized off-campus employment or an on-campus job offer must obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) to be eligible for payment of wages. Social Security Numbers are issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) of the U.S. government and are used by your employer to report your wages to the government. You will need to apply in person at the local Social Security Administration Office. The process usually takes from 2 to 6 weeks. You will receive notification of your SSN in the mail. The number issued to you by the SSA is your number forever. Keep your Social Security Card in a safe place and make a photocopy to keep in another location.

Students with on-campus employment

Students who will be working on campus must secure employment prior to applying for the SSN. Along with your completed application form, you will need to show your passport and visa, your SEVIS Form I-20, a printout of your I-94 (, a verification letter from the International Student Advisor, and a letter from your on-campus employer verifying your job offer. This letter must be written on official School letterhead (The International Student Advisor can supply you or your supervisor with a sample verification letter).

Students with Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Along with your completed application form, take your passport and visa, your Form I-20 showing your authorized CPT, a verification letter from the International Student Advisor, a printout of your I-94 (

Students with Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Along with your completed application form, take your passport and visa, your Form I-20 showing the authorized OPT, a verification letter from the International Student Advisor, a printout of your I-94 (,  and your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

SSN Denial Letter

Only students who are authorized to work off-campus or who have proof of on-campus employment are able to obtain a Social Security Number.  If you are seeking an Social Security Number in order to apply for a driver’s license or Massachusetts State ID, bring your passport, I-20, and a printout of your I-94 (, to the Social Security Office. A denial letter will be written while you wait. Present this letter to the Registry of Motor Vehicles when asked for your Social Security Number.


Social Security Administration’s Boston Office:

O’Neil Federal Building         
Room 148, First Floor
10 Causeway Street, Boston

The Office is accessible by public transportation: take the Orange or Green Line train to North Station. The O’Neil Federal Building is located next to the Fleet Center.

Office hours are 9 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday.

Change to a New Program

When a student changes programs within the institution, the School must indicate the change in the student’s SEVIS record and create an updated I-20 to reflect the new program and date of completion of the new program. For example, if you start your studies at the SMFA in the studio diploma program and then change to the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program you will need to obtain a new Form I-20 with the new program information. You are also required to provide new financial documentation for the new program. If you are changing programs at the School, you should notify the International Student Advisor as soon as you know about the change. Failure to do so may result in a loss of student status.

Program Extension

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires that you finish your program of study by the completion date on your I-20. The end date on the I-20 (Item #5) is established by the admissions office to reflect the average length of time it should take a student to complete the program requirements.  If, during the course of your studies, it becomes necessary to extend your I-20, the International Student Advisor can provide I-20 extensions to those who are eligible and apply in a timely fashion.

Eligibility Criteria for Program Extension

Extension of stay can be granted only for documented academic or medical reasons. You may be eligible for an I-20 extension if the following criteria are met:

  • the delay was caused by documented academic or medical circumstances,
  • you have sufficient financial resources to fund your studies and living expenses, and
  • the extension is requested in a timely manner, with sufficient time for processing before the current I-20 expires.

An expired I-20 cannot be extended. If your program end date (I-20, section #5) has expired or you do not meet the eligibility requirements to apply for a program extension, it will be necessary to file for reinstatement to F-1 status with USCIS, for which you will have to pay a substantial fee. In addition, failure to apply for an extension of stay in a timely manner is a violation of F-1 regulations, which can carry heavy penalties.

The following are not valid reasons for I-20 extensions:

  • To enroll in extra courses for personal/academic interest or to improve one’s GPA
  • To finish pending coursework for an incomplete grade
  • To repeat a course for a better grade
  • To engage in non-required Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • To enroll in course work delayed by participation in CPT

To request a program extension, please schedule an appointment to meet with the International Student Advisor.

Reduced Course Load Authorization

In very rare circumstances an international student may receive authorization to drop below a full-time course load. You must obtain authorization through the International Student Advisor before dropping below full-time enrollment.  A reduced course load may be considered in instances of extreme academic difficulty, medical conditions, or during your last semester of study when less than a full-time course load would be required to complete the program requirements. There are limits to how many semesters may be spent in less than full-time enrollment. Please schedule an appointment to meet with the International Student Advisor if you think you may qualify for a reduced course load authorization.

Reinstatement to Student Status

A student who has violated status may be reinstated to lawful F-1 status at the discretion of an USCIS district director, but only under limited conditions. The district director may consider granting the request if the student:

Has not been out of status for more than 5 months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement (or demonstrates that the failure to file within the 5 month period was the result of exceptional circumstances and that the student filed the request for reinstatement as promptly as possible under these exceptional circumstances):

  • Does not have a record of repeated or willful violations of Service regulations;
  • Is currently pursuing, or intending to pursue, a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the form I-20;
  • Has not engaged in unauthorized employment; and
  • Is not deportable on any other grounds; and
  • Establishes to the satisfaction of the Service by a detailed showing, either that:

The violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student's control. Such circumstances might include serious illness, closure of the institution, a natural disaster; or

The violation related to a reduction in the student's course load that would have been within a DSO's power to authorize and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student.

Alternately, students who have fallen out of status may opt to depart the U.S. and seek re-entry with a new initial status I-20. Upon re-entry into the U.S., the student will gain a new F-1 status that is separate from the previous status. This means that the student will have to maintain that status for one full academic year before being eligible for any F-1 student benefits such as CPT and/or OPT.

If you feel you may have violated your status, please discuss your situation with the International Student Advisor as soon as possible.

Visa Renewal

Your visa may expire while you are in the U.S. without affecting your immigration status. However, you must always have a valid visa to re-enter the U.S. after travel abroad.

Renewing your visa is similar to obtaining your first visa. To obtain a new visa, you must visit a U.S. Consular Office abroad, preferably in your home country, and apply for the visa. (If you apply in a country other than your home country there is a greater risk of having your application denied.) New visas cannot be issued within the U.S. See the Department of State website for a list of U.S. consulates abroad and for visa application information:

At your visa interview, you will need to present to the Consular Official the following items in addition to your visa application and visa fees: your authorized I-20; new financial documentation showing proof of funds to cover the amount listed at item #8 on the I-20; a letter from the International Student Advisor stating that you are a registered student and making progress toward your program of study; your official SMFA and/or Tufts University transcripts; and your passport. You may also be asked to prove non-immigrant intent; that you intend to return to your home country after completing your studies. Read more about establishing non-immigrant intent on the Bureau of Consular Affairs webpage: