Northwest College

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Off-Campus Employment & Internships

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an employment benefit for F-1 students. Eligible students may apply for CPT authorization to temporarily work in a paid or unpaid internship that is directly related to their major of study. The purpose of CPT is to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical off-campus work experience. CPT authorization is the only option for F-1 students to obtain legal off-campus employment prior to graduation. 

**Students must obtain a CPT endorsed I-20 BEFORE starting their internship work**

Application Process

Step 1: Confirm eligibility for CPT authorization

You should speak to OIP (Office of Intercultural Programs) to verify that you are eligible for CPT authorization before seeking employment or enrolling in an internship course. 

Students meeting the following requirements may be eligible for CPT:

  1. Currently in valid F-1 status
  2. Completed one academic year of study (2 consecutive semesters) as a full-time degree-seeking student at a U.S. college or university

To apply for CPT authorization students must also:

  1. Secure a job offer for a practical training opportunity directly related to the major listed on the student's I-20
  2. Enroll in an appropriate internship course for at least 1 credit
  3. Complete the CPT application process 
Step 2: Meet with your academic advisor

You may obtain CPT authorization only for internships directly related to the major of study listed on your I-20. For information on internship opportunities please speak with your academic advisor. Your academic advisor will also help you to enroll in the internship course after you have secured employment and obtained a job offer letter. 

Step 3: Secure an employment offer 

Once you are hired for practical training, ask your employer to provide you with a job offer letter that meets all of the following requirements:

  • Job offer addressed to you and printed on the company's letterhead
  • The exact start date of your employment (Important: allow at least 2 weeks for processing of your CPT application.)
  • The exact end date of your employment (Important: an end date is required by SEVIS and will appear on your CPT endorsed I-20. In most cases the end date cannot go beyond the final day of the semester. OIP can help you determine an acceptable end date.)
  • Description of the work duties as related to your major
  • Address of the location where your will be working
  • If the work will be part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week)

Note: CPT authorization cannot be granted if any information is missing from the job offer letter. 

Step 4: Enroll in an internship course

Provide your academic advisor with the job offer letter and discuss the internship course. The internship course must be within your major program of study and you must enroll for a minimum of one (1) credit. To enroll in the internship course your advisor will complete the Northwest College Internship/Practicum Form and the form will be submitted to Academic Affairs. Please check WebAdvisor to verify your enrollment in the internship course before applying for CPT authorization with OIP. The internship course will count toward your full-time enrollment requirement. 

Step 5: Apply for CPT authorization with OIP

To apply for CPT authorization you will need to submit a Statement of Purpose to OIP describing how the internship opportunity is directly related to your academic major of study. The Statement of Purpose should be one-page in length and include a description of the knowledge or skills learned in your major program that are relevant to your job duties in this internship. Also, describe your academic learning objectives and how this training opportunity will benefit your future career or studies in the degree program. 

Step 6: Wait for CPT authorization before starting to work

OIP will evaluated your CPT request and either approve or deny your CPT application. OIP will not review your CPT application until all of the following have been received: completed Northwest College Internship/Practicum Form, internship course learning outcomes, employment offer letter including all required information, and your Statement of Purpose. Once OIP thoroughly reviews your CPT application documents, and verifies your enrollment in an internship course, then you will be notified if your CPT has been approved or denied. 

You may not begin working until OIP has informed you that your CPT authorization has been approved and you have received your new CPT endorsed I-20. Working before CPT has been authorized is a violation of your F-1 status and could result in immediate termination of your I-20 and/or other future immigration consequences. 

Step 7: Receive your CPT I-20 and begin your internship employment

OIP will notify you when your CPT has been approved and will provide you with your new CPT endorsed I-20. The CPT work authorization will appear on page 2 of your I-20. The CPT work authorization is limited to the employer, the start and end dates, and part-time or full-time status that is indicated on your I-20. Be sure to sign and date your CPT I-20 and keep all previously issued I-20s for your permanent records. Once you have your CPT I-20 in hand you may begin your internship work. 


Can I participate in CPT more than once?

You may be approved for CPT multiple times during your degree program. Each approval will require that you complete the CPT application process, enroll in an internship course, and receive new CPT authorization from OIP before you begin working. Each CPT request will be evaluated separately to ensure that it is integral to your program of study, and not for employment purposes. 

Does CPT impact my ability to apply for OPT?

If you are authorized for 12 months or more of full-time CPT you will not be eligible for Post-Completion OPT at the associate degree level.

Part-time CPT typically does not affect your eligibility to apply for OPT. As part of the OPT approval process, USCIS will review all CPT authorizations and excessive use of CPT may result in additional scrutiny of your OPT application. 

Can I change employers?

CPT is authorized for employment with a specific employer and the employer is listed on page 2 of your I-20. To change employers students must submit a new CPT application and wait for approval from OIP before beginning work with a different employer.

Can I extend my current CPT?

Students are authorized for specific dates of employment on their I-20. You may not begin before the start date or continue working after the end date. You will need a new CPT authorized I-20 before continuing employment beyond the end date. You are advised to contact OIP as early as possible if you plan to extend your CPT. Most likely, you will also need to work with your academic advisor to set up a new internship course so please allow at least 2 weeks for processing. Remember, CPT can only be authorized for one semester at a time. 

Do I need to keep any records of my employment or file taxes?

Yes. You should keep records of all employment in the U.S. including documents such as time sheets, pay stubs, job offer letters, and W-2 forms. All income earned in the U.S. is subject to applicable federal, state, and local taxes. ALL students must file a tax return on or before April 15th of each year that they are present in the U.S. Visit Filing Taxes for more information.

Can I do CPT during the summer after I graduate?

No. CPT cannot be granted to students who have completed their program requirements and are eligible to graduate. For students participating in CPT during their final semester, CPT will not be authorized beyond the last day of the semester. Students also may not delay graduation in order to participate in CPT. Students who wish to continue practical training in the U.S. after graduation will need to apply for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). 

Do I need to apply for CPT to do unpaid volunteer work?

CPT is not required if the volunteer work is in a "traditional volunteer position," meaning that no one else performing the same work is receiving compensation. CPT is required for any paid work experience or for unpaid work with job duties similar to a paid position. The U.S. Department of Labor should be consulted for more information concerning unpaid positions.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

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.

How To Apply for OPT

Step 1: Attend an OPT Workshop

OIP sponsored workshops are held in September (for students graduating in December) and in January (for students graduating in May).  

Step 2: Gather Your Documents

An OPT application must include all of the following documents:

  1. I-765 Form: make sure you are using the current version of the form
  2. Photocopies of your valid passport photo page, latest F-1 visa, most recent I-94, and all previously issued I-20's
  3. Graduation eligibility letter: request the letter from the NWC Registration and Records Office in ORB 100
  4. Form I-765 filing fee paid by money order or cashier's check for $410 and payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 
  5. 2 identical color passport photos of yourself taken within the last 30 days. Photos must be 2 x 2 inches, contain a white or off-white background, and be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish. Full photo requirements can be found on the Instructions for Form I-765. Passport photos can be taken at Sunlight Photo (Powell), U.S. Post Office (Ralston), and Walgreens (Cody). 

Tips for Completing the I-765 Form

  • Type your I-765 Form or clearly print in black ink
  • Sign the I-765 Form in black ink. Typed signatures will not be accepted. Make sure your signature fits in the box.
  • Answer all questions. If a question does not apply to you write "NA" unless otherwise directed. If a question that asks for a numerical response does not apply to you write "none".
  • Date and place of your last arrival into the Unites States can be found on your I-94 record under Travel History
  • Eligibility category (Part 2: Item 27) is (c)(3)(B) 
  • You must include all pages of the Form I-765, even pages that do not apply to you, when you submit your application to USCIS
  • Send single-sided copies of all documents and the I-765 form
  • If you make a mistake on the I-765 form you will need to start over
Step 3: Choose Your OPT Start Date

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. 

Step 4: Request an OPT Endorsed I-20 

Bring all of the documents in Step 1 to your OIP adviser and request an OPT endorsed I-20. Your OIP adviser will also need to know the OPT start date that you have chosen. Your adviser will review your application for OPT eligibility and if approved will issue your new OPT endorsed I-20.

Step 5: Pick-up Your Application and Mail to USCIS

Your OIP adviser will contact you when your OPT application is ready to pick up. Please allow 3 business days for processing. To prepare your application for mailing follow this checklist:

  1. Sign and date your OPT-endorsed I-20 before making a photocopy of it. A copy of the new OPT endorsed I-20 must be included with your application packet.
  2. Review your application to make sure the I-765 is complete and all required documents are included. We recommend that you make a copy of the entire application packet for your records before mailing it. 
  3. Mail your application. USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the new OPT endorsed I-20 being issued. The application must also be received within 60 days of your I-20 program end date. Late applications will be denied.
  4. Do NOT mail your original passport or original I-20's.
  5. Send your OPT application from the U.S. Post Office via Certified Mail to: 
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680
Please note this mailing address is only for applications sent via USPS (United States Postal Service). Applications mailed using FedEx, UPS, or DHL will not be accepted at this address. Always verify the mailing address before mailing your OPT application on the USCIS website

Waiting For Your OPT Approval

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.

Employment & Unemployment While on OPT

Employment Requirements
  • You should be employed at least 20 hours per week with work directly related to your Northwest College major. 
  • You can work for multiple employers as long as all work is directly related to your major.
  • Volunteering or working in an unpaid internship position is permitted as long as the work directly relates to your major and does not violate any labor laws.
  • It is your responsibility to determine if the job relates to your major. If USCIS questions the relationship between your job and your major of study the burden of proof will be on you to demonstrate the relationship. OIP will not be able to advise you on whether your job does or does not relate to your major. If you need assistance determining the fit of your job offer, we recommend contacting your academic adviser or other professionals in your field. 
  • It is a violation of your F-1 status to work in a job that is not directly related to your major. USCIS can terminate your OPT work authorization and your I-20 record if your employment does not relate to your studies. 
  • For your records, you should keep documentation of all paid or unpaid employment while on OPT. This will be important if USCIS challenges your employment or you apply for a change of status in the future. Examples of documentation to keep include:
    • offer letter or contracts from your employer with start and end dates
    • copy of job description including job title, duties, location, and pay rate
    • time sheets, pay stubs, and/or bank statements that show deposits from your employer
    • W-2 tax forms
    • screenshot of information entered into SEVP portal
    • letter from your supervisor explaining how your employment relates to your major if the connection is not obvious
    • for unpaid employment keep copies of attendance records that document your daily tasks and evidence of projects you worked on
Reporting Requirements

The following information must be reported to OIP as soon as you begin working:

  • Employer's name
  • Employer's address
  • Supervisor's name, email address, and phone number
  • Job title
  • Start date of employment
  • Part-time (less than 20 hours per week) or full-time (20 hours per week or more)
  • Description of how your job relates to your major of study at Northwest College 

The following information must be reported to OIP within 10 days of a change:

  • Residential address, phone number, or email address change
  • Start and end dates of employment 
  • Change between part-time (less than 20 hours per week) and full-time (20 hours per week or more) employment status 
  • Change in job title, employer's address, or a change in the description of how your job relates to your major of study at Northwest College

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. 

Unemployment Limits

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. 

Taxes & Health Insurance

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.

Travel & OPT

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. 

Ending or Completing OPT

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. 


Amanda Enriquez
Intercultural Program Manager
(1) 307-754-6424


Kara Ryf
Intercultural Program Coordinator
(1) 307-754-6429