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Immigration Questions for International Students

Working After You’ve Completed Your Studies

Through an arrangement known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), students who have completed their course of study may be employed full time for one year in their field of study. The year of full-time optional practical training may be reduced if the student has previously been authorized for optional practical training or has spent more than one year in full-time curricular practical training. Students in F-1 status may work in the US for an international organization before or after studies are complete. If you are offered a position with such an organization, you must apply for work authorization from USCIS. Optional practical training and employment with an international organization both require consultation with the international-student advisor and work authorization from the USCIS. Be sure to complete the application process at least three months before you intend to begin working. You may not be employed until you receive the authorization.

Working During the Academic Term

Employment opportunities for international students are limited by USCIS regulations and are available only to students who have maintained their immigration status and academic standing. F-1 students may work on campus without permission from the USCIS or the international-student advisor. To work off campus however, F-1 students must obtain approval from the international-student advisor or the USCIS, depending on the circumstances. Do not work without authorization. International students may not be “self-employed,” that is, they may not provide professional services for a fee or work as “independent contractors.”

F-1 students who are maintaining status may work part time on campus while classes are in session. “Part time” means not more than 20 hours per week. F-1 students do not need special authorization to work on campus. Student assistantships are considered as on-campus employment and are also limited to 20 hours per week. During vacation periods and academic breaks, you may work full time on campus if you are returning to classes the following term. In general, you may not work on campus after completing your course of study, but if you are continuing for another educational program, consult your international-student advisor. The USCIS changes its regulations periodically, you should check with your international-student office before seeking or accepting any employment, including a job at the University.

Curricular Practical Training

CPT must be an integral part of an established curriculum in the student’s field of study. It can be an internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship arranged and approved by the academic department. It can be approved for part-time (no more than 20 hours per week) when the student is considered a full-time student, or it can be full-time (more than 20 hours per week) when the student is on vacation. It may be required or optional. Students will need to first discuss this opportunity with their academic advisor before any approval process can begin.

What is CPT?

CPT is employment that is required for your major or is for internship course credit. Examples: internships, cooperative education, and practical training.

Am I eligible for CPT?

Students must have maintained F-1 status for one academic year.

What’s the difference between full & part time CPT?

Part-time CPT is 20 hours a week or less. If done during school year, must maintain full time status. It has no effect on OPT.

Full-time CPT is more than 20 hours a week. If you do more than 12 months of full-time CPT, you lose your OPT option.

When can I start work?

Before starting work in a CPT position, a student must have authorization from the International Student Advisor. After you receive endorsement, you may begin CPT on the start date indicated.

How can I renew my CPT?

You cannot start CPT until date authorized by the Advisor. You also cannot work past the date authorized by your advisor unless you apply for and are granted an extension of your permission to work. 

If you enroll for additional internship credit, you must renew CPT with the International Student Advisor. 

Academic Changes

International students, like domestic students, sometimes find themselves in unusual situations or develop new interests that require a change of major, degree program, or university. If you are maintaining status, you may make such changes as long as you follow USCIS procedures. If you are unsure of those procedures, consult your international student advisor well in advance of any change. If you do not, you could find yourself in serious trouble with USCIS.

Maintaining Student Status

Your eligibility for opportunities such as employment, school transfers, and program changes depend on maintaining lawful status. When you enter the US, an immigration inspector asks you to read and sign a statement on the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form. Your signature signifies your agreement to abide by the conditions of F-1 status while in the US.

To maintain your student status, you must:

  • Remain enrolled full-time at the institution you are authorized to attend.
  • Hold a valid, current Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20.
  • Maintain a passport that is valid for at least six months into the future (passport agreements between the US and several countries allow for exceptions to this rule).
  • Have appropriate authorization for any work and not be employed for more than 20 hours per week on campus while classes are in session.

F-1 students must possess a Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form, from the institution they are attending. The I-20 form is the form F-1 students use to enter the US and to notify the USCIS of a transfer to a new institution or program. Students must complete their course of study by the end date shown on the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form or request a “program extension” with assistance from the international student advisor.

Students who are maintaining status are permitted an annual vacation period during the year if they intend to enroll the following term.

Changing Status

What happens if your plans change radically and you no longer wish to be a full-time student? Under US law, you cannot remain in the US on a student visa unless you are a student! Before you quit school, learn everything you can about changing to another immigration status; inform yourself about what is and is not possible. If you violate your current status, you will not be allowed to change to any other status. As a first step, get the advice of your international-student advisor. If the advisor does not have the expert information you need, he or she may refer you to an immigration attorney. Whatever you do, do not rush things. Changing to another immigration status usually takes many months. To initiate the process, you must file a petition with the USCIS, and you may not receive a response for several months or over a year. If you are seeking to change to a status in which employment is permitted, you must not begin employment until you receive an approval notice from the USCIS.

If you change your status while in the US and then leave the country, you will have to obtain a new entry visa under the new status before returning to the US. Do not re-enter using your F-1 visa unless you plan to be a full-time student again.

Transferring Between Institutions

If you have maintained your status you may transfer to another college or university as long as you follow the proper procedures, and the new institution is permitted by the USCIS to enroll F-1 students. Plan ahead. Speak with the international-student advisor at the new institution to learn what information and papers may be required from your current institution. Inform your current international-student advisor that you are transferring. Report to your new international-student advisor as soon as you arrive on your new campus. The new international-student advisor will notify USCIS of your transfer. If you plan to leave the US during the transfer, consult your international-student advisor.

Travel and Re-entry

Whenever you leave the US be sure you have all the documents you will need to re-enter. Have your Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status – for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form endorsed by the international-student advisor or responsible officer on your campus. Verify that the information on your Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status – for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form is still accurate.
Check your US entry visa (which is stamped in your passport) to be sure that it is still valid for additional entries. If it is not, you will have to get a new entry visa from a US embassy or consulate while you are abroad. (Special circumstances apply if you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and will not be gone for more than 31 days. Consult your foreign-student advisor.)

When you apply for a new entry visa, the visa officer at the US Consulate will ask to see updated financial documentation. Contact the consulate in advance to find out how long it will take to obtain a visa. If you are traveling to a country other than your home country, you may need an entry visa and should contact that country’s nearest embassy or consulate for information.
For questions or further information, please contact the Office of International Admissions:

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