F-1 international students may be employed in paid or unpaid opportunities off-campus only after obtaining prior authorization from the Office of Intercultural Program [OIP]. U.S. Immigration only permits off-campus employment through the CPT and OPT programs. CPT requires written permission, in the form a CPT I-20, issued by OIP before any work begins. OPT requires students to apply to USCIS for off-campus employment authorization. To maintain your nonimmigrant student status you must engage only in authorized employment. Failure to comply with regulations may result in loss of your student status and subject you to deportation.
Curricular Practical Training is an opportunity for F-1 students to obtain temporary employment authorization for training that is integral to a student's degree curriculum. Under U.S. Immigration regulations, all off-campus employment must be authorized and must be either (1) required by the student's degree program; or (2) students must enroll in a credit-bearing internship course in their major program of study.
Students interested in off-campus employment must follow the following steps to obtain authorization before beginning work.
Talk to your OIP advisor to confirm that you are eligible to apply for CPT. F-1 students who have been in continuous valid status for one academic year may be eligible to apply.
Set up a meeting with the faculty advisor in your major. Your internship and CPT must be directly related to your major of study. Your faculty advisor can assist you with finding employment opportunities in your field as well as explain the internship process and requirements.
Once you have secured a job please request a job offer letter from your employer that meets the following requirements:
Once you have secured a job and employment letter, arrange to meet with your faculty advisor to complete the Northwest College Internship Form and enroll in the internship course for a minimum of 1 credit.
Set up an appointment with OIP to request CPT authorization. Before requesting authorization you must be enrolled in the internship course. Bring the following documents to your appointment:
The student must not begin working until CPT has been approved by OIP and the student has a new CPT I-20 in hand. Unauthorized employment is a violation of F-1 student status which can result in termination of your I-20. You may also not work before the CPT start date or after the CPT end date list on your I-20.
The CPT is only approved for work with the employer and dates listed on the I-20. If the internship is completed early, or the student wants to change employers or work locations please contact OIP.
CPT authorization may be required for volunteer positions, unpaid internships, or other unpaid employment. Please contact OIP to discuss any paid or unpaid opportunities before beginning to work. Remember unauthorized employment is a serious immigration violation.
CPT is typically done on a part-time basis (up to 20 hours per week) during the academic year and either part-time or full-time during vacation periods. There is no limit on the amount of part-time CPT a student can perform, however excessive amounts of part-time CPT could impact a student's OPT approval. Working over 12 months of full-time CPT (20 hours per week or more), will cancel your opportunity to apply for OPT.
Your employment in the United States is subject to federal, state and local taxes. You will receive a W-2 form from all of your employers and you are required to file taxes to report your earned income for each calendar year you are in the United States. Please see the Filing Taxes page for more information.
Post-completion OPT provides F-1 students an opportunity to gain work experience in the United States after graduation. To find out if you are eligible for OPT please contact the Office of Intercultural Programs (OIP).
You will need to carefully read all OPT instructions. The OPT application is your application. OIP can provide you with information about the OPT process but we cannot approve your application or influence your acceptance.
OIP sponsored workshops are held in September (for students graduating in December) and in February (for students graduating in May) as needed.
Post-completion OPT can be applied for online by creating an account with USCIS and completing form I-765 (c)(3)(B), Application for Employment Authorization. The I-765 application and detailed instructions can be found on the USCIS website here.
It is best to have digital versions of the following required documents ready to upload to the application website:
Your OPT start date is the date you request your work permission to begin. You cannot work earlier than your start date. Your requested start date must be within 60 days after your program completion date. For example, if your final semester of study ends on May 15 your OPT start date must be between May 16 and July 14. Keep in mind that it typically takes 90 days or more to receive your EAD card and you cannot begin working until you receive the EAD card. Choose your start date carefully! It is very difficult to change your start date after you submit your application. Your OIP adviser can help you weigh the pros and cons of early and late start dates.
Obtain a graduation eligibility letter from the NWC Registration and Records Office in ORB 100
Make an appointment to meet with the OIP adviser. Bring a draft of your I-765 application and your graduation eligibility letter to your appointment. At the appointment request an OPT endorsed I-20 from your adviser. Your OIP adviser will also need to know the OPT start date that you have chosen. Your adviser will review your draft application for OPT eligibility and if approved will issue your new OPT endorsed I-20.
After obtaining your OPT endorsed I-20 from your OIP advisor you must remember to sign it and then upload it to your I-765 application. Finally, review and submit the I-765 online application. You must submit the application within 30 days of the new OPT endorsed I-20 being issued. The application must also be submitted within 60 days of your I-20 program end date. Late applications will be denied.
USCIS will send you the I-797 Notice of Action confirming receipt of your OPT application and assigning you a personal receipt number. You can use this receipt number to check the status of your application on the USCIS website.
You will receive your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card within 2.5 to 5 months from the date on the receipt. Typically EAD cards arrive within 90 days but it depends on the timing of your application. To ensure that you receive your EAD card it is not recommended that you move while waiting for your OPT approval.
Do NOT begin working until you have received your EAD card and the date on the card has been reached.
When your EAD card arrives check it closely to make sure all information is correct. If there are any errors on your card contact OIP as soon as possible.
Travel outside of the United States after your program end date and before your EAD card arrives is not recommended. If you must travel consult with your OIP adviser.
The following information must be reported to OIP as soon as you begin working:
The following information must be reported to OIP within 10 days of a change:
OIP will update your SEVIS record with the information that you provide. You are required to report all employment information to OIP even if you are also updating the information in your SEVP Portal.
You cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment between the start and end date of your OPT authorization (the dates on your EAD card). Each day that you do not have qualifying employment listed in SEVIS counts as a day of unemployment. Therefore, you could exceed your unemployment limit by having more than 90 days that you are not working, or by failing to report your employment to OIP. USCIS counts the days of unemployment that you accrue and will automatically terminate your F-1 SEVIS record after 90 days. If your SEVIS record is terminated your OPT is cancelled and you must leave the U.S.
If you are reaching your unemployment limit and cannot find a job, USCIS recommends that you prepare to transfer to another school, change education levels, depart the United States, or change to a different immigration status before your 90 day unemployment limit is reached. If you are nearing your 90 day limit contact your OIP adviser.
Your employment in the United States is subject to federal, state and local taxes. You will receive a W-2 form from all of your employers and you are required to file taxes to report your earned income for each calendar year you are in the United States. You can use Sprintax to file your taxes and can log into the same account you used when you were a Northwest College student. However, you will have to pay to use Sprintax as payment codes are only provided to current students. Remember, that if you use another tax software or work with a tax professional you will need to first verify that the tax advice you are receiving is for nonresident F-1 students. TurboTax, which is a popular tax program used by Americans, does not prepare nonresident taxes. Visit Filing Taxes for more information.
Healthcare in the United States is very expensive so we strongly recommend that you have insurance coverage. If your employer does not provide you with health insurance, or the coverage is not adequate, you should purchase your own plan. Many companies offer health insurance to international students on OPT including International Student Insurance, which is the company that most current Northwest College students use for coverage. Visit Health Insurance & Healthcare for more information.
Whether traveling outside of the U.S. during your OPT period is recommended will depend on your specific situation. If you need to travel contact your OIP adviser before making your travel plans. In general, traveling before you have received your EAD card is not recommended. Travel after you have your EAD card, and you are employed, is permitted. To travel you will need your OPT endorsed I-20 with a recent travel signature from OIP, letter from your employer verifying proof of your continuing employment upon your return, EAD card, valid passport, and unexpired F-1 visa.
Leaving the U.S.: If you decide to leave the United States before the end date on your EAD card you must inform OIP of the date you will depart the U.S.
Transferring: If you plan to transfer to another college or university within the U.S. before your EAD card expires you will need to work with OIP to arrange the transfer of your SEVIS record. Transferring your SEVIS record to another school will cancel your employment authorization and you must immediately stop working. Visit Graduation & Transfer for more information.
Completing OPT: You are authorized to work only until the end date on your EAD card. Working past the end date is a violation of your immigration status. After your EAD card end date is reached you have a 60-day grace period to leave the United States or have your I-20 SEVIS record transferred to another college or university. Contact OIP before your OPT expires to discuss your plans.