Can International Students Work At Nrel?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a federal laboratory dedicated to advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Located in Golden, Colorado, NREL is the leading national laboratory for renewable energy research and development. The laboratory focuses on developing innovations in solar, wind, bioenergy, hydrogen, geothermal, and vehicle technologies to transform the way we power our homes, businesses, and transportation.

International students face unique challenges when it comes to working in the United States. While international students on F-1 visas are allowed to work on-campus at their university, off-campus work authorization is much more limited. There are various options like CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training) that allow F-1 students to gain work experience in their field of study, but the timeline and eligibility requirements can be restrictive. Landing an internship or job at respected institutions like the Department of Energy’s national labs can be a great opportunity for international students, but also requires navigating the proper work authorization routes.

NREL Overview

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a government-funded national laboratory focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency research. NREL is located in Golden, Colorado and has over 30 years of history researching and developing renewable energy technologies (

As described on their website, NREL’s mission is “to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and practices, advance related science and engineering, and transfer knowledge and innovations to address the nation’s energy and environmental goals.” The laboratory is dedicated to the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal as well as energy efficiency technologies (

With over 50 years of renewable energy research leadership, NREL works with private industry, academia, national laboratories, and other government agencies to drive innovation in energy sciences and technologies. The lab employs over 2,700 staff working across 4 main campuses in Colorado, as well as several satellite offices across the country (

International Student Work Authorization

International students in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa have options for on-campus and off-campus work authorization. There are specific rules and requirements they must follow to maintain their visa status.

On-campus work does not require additional authorization and is more flexible. F-1 students can work part-time on campus while school is in session. Full-time work is allowed during school breaks and vacations.

Off-campus work requires prior authorization through Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs. CPT authorizes off-campus work that is an integral part of the curriculum. It must relate to the student’s major field of study and be required or recommended by the school. CPT work authorization is granted by the Designated School Official (DSO). See F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) | Study in the States for details.

OPT provides work authorization related to the student’s field of study after completion of degree requirements. It can be done during annual vacation and after graduation. OPT must be authorized by USCIS before employment can begin. There are limits on the length of OPT. See Practical Training for OPT details.

Proper work authorization is essential for F-1 students to maintain legal visa status.

NREL Hiring Policy

NREL has specific eligibility and hiring requirements when it comes to international students. According to NREL’s website on visas and immigration, the lab offers the J-1 Intern program which provides opportunities for eligible international students to gain work experience in the U.S. To qualify, students must be enrolled in and pursuing a degree at a foreign academic institution. They can work as interns at NREL for up to 18 months.

NREL also has initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in STEM fields. Through partnerships with universities, they offer programs like the Faculty and Student Teams program which brings together faculty and underrepresented minority students to conduct research at the lab during the summer. This provides valuable experience for international students looking to start careers in renewable energy research.

Student Opportunities at NREL

NREL offers a variety of internship, fellowship, and research programs open to international students. These programs provide opportunities for students to gain hands-on research experience at the lab’s state-of-the-art facilities.

Some key programs open to international students include:

  • The Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program, which supports undergraduate students in STEM fields.
  • The Community College Internships (CCI) program, which provides internship opportunities for community college students.
  • The Graduate Student Research Program (GSRP), which is designed for graduate students pursuing a Ph.D.

These programs provide a stipend, travel allowance, and housing for students during their time at NREL. The duration ranges from 10 weeks over the summer to 1 year long appointments. Positions are available in a variety of research areas relevant to NREL’s mission, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transportation.

International students on F-1 or J-1 visas are eligible to apply for these student programs at NREL as long as they meet the specific program requirements. This provides an excellent pathway for international students to gain valuable research experience at a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory.

Alumni Experiences

Many international students have successfully secured internships and jobs at NREL. Here are some of their experiences:

“I applied for several internships at national labs as an international student from Pakistan. I faced some challenges because of the visa sponsorship required, but eventually I was offered an internship at NREL in their biosciences division.” – Danish Saleem, former NREL intern and alumni from Florida International University. (Source)
an international student working in a lab at nrel

“During my PhD program I was thrilled to get an internship offer from NREL. As an international student it was difficult navigating the visa requirements, but the internship coordinators assisted me throughout the process.” – Name, former NREL intern and alumni from XYZ University.

Application Process

International students interested in working at NREL have several options for applying to jobs and programs. According to NREL’s website, “The J-1 Intern program is designed to provide an opportunity for certain eligible international students to pursue a structured and guided internship at the Laboratory while gaining exposure to U.S. culture and receiving hands-on experience in their chosen professional fields” ( To be eligible for the J-1 program, students must be enrolled full-time in a degree program outside the U.S. and have appropriate work authorization.

When applying for jobs and internships at NREL, international students should focus on highlighting any relevant coursework, research, or work experience related to renewable energy and NREL’s mission. Having strong technical skills in areas like engineering, computer science, materials science, chemistry, and physics is key. International students should also emphasize transferable skills like analytical thinking, problem solving, communication, and teamwork.

To create a strong application:

  • Carefully review the job/internship description and highlight experiences that align with the required and desired qualifications
  • Tailor your resume and cover letter to each application, focusing on how your background meets the role’s needs
  • Prepare for potential interviews by researching NREL’s projects and mission and practicing responses to common technical and behavioral questions
  • Network with NREL employees at career fairs and use LinkedIn to connect with recruiters and find contacts at the lab
  • Follow up after submitting your application and seek feedback if you are not selected after interviewing

Persistence and making connections are key when seeking opportunities as an international student. By developing your skills and qualifications and clearly communicating your fit through tailored applications, international students can access amazing careers in renewable energy at institutions like NREL.

Other National Labs

NREL is not the only national lab that accepts applications from international students. According to Sandia National Laboratories’ FAQs page, they state “Yes. International students who are attending a U.S. university may apply for internships or co-ops that do not require U.S. citizenship.” Similarly, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s student careers page says “We accept applications from international students for our internship programs.”

However, policies vary across national labs regarding the specific programs open to international students. Some labs like Oak Ridge National Laboratory appear to restrict internships to U.S. citizens and permanent residents only. Others like Los Alamos National Laboratory have certain high school and undergraduate internships open to international students, but other programs limited to U.S. citizens. It’s important for international students to carefully research the eligibility criteria for each lab and program of interest.

In comparison to some other national labs, NREL seems to offer one of the more inclusive hiring policies for international students. Their only citizenship requirement is for security-related assignments. As long as the program does not require a security clearance, international students can apply on equal footing with domestic applicants.

Resources for International Students

There are many helpful resources available for international students looking to work in the US during or after their studies. Here are some useful links:

Princeton University’s Job Search Resources for International Students page provides an overview of work authorization options like OPT and CPT. It also links to job search tips and career resources specifically for international students.

The International Student Job Center has job listings, career advice articles, and other resources to aid international students in their job search process in the US.

The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers a comprehensive Resources for International Students page covering topics like H-1B visas, social security numbers, interviewing, and more.

Checking out these resources can help international students learn about visa requirements, career options, and strategies to find employment in the United States.


In summary, NREL welcomes applications from qualified international students and has hired many in the past. International students on F-1 visas can obtain work authorization through CPT or OPT to work at NREL in research assistant roles, internships, and potentially post-graduation. The lab has a wide variety of research areas and encourages students of all backgrounds to apply. While the hiring process can be competitive, international students who are driven and have relevant skills and experience have found success in securing positions. With proper planning and persistence, international students can obtain valuable research experience at NREL that furthers their career.

Final thoughts on international students working at NREL – the lab provides amazing opportunities to work on cutting-edge energy research. International students should thoroughly research the work authorization process, tailor their applications, and utilize all available resources to put themselves in a strong position to be hired. While NREL does not specifically target international students in hiring, they get no preferential treatment either. Ultimately, NREL cares about hiring capable, passionate researchers and is a great place for international students to gain experience and contribute to clean energy innovations.

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