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Employment & Practical Training Options for F-1 Students

The Department of Homeland Security authorizes on-campus employment and off-campus practical work experience under certain circumstances for international students. All off-campus work must be authorized in advance by the International Center. Working without authorization is a serious violation of F-1 status.

On-Campus Employment

What is on-campus employment?

On-campus employment must be performed on the school's premises, (including on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria), or at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school. Employment with on-site commercial firms, such as a construction company building a school building, which do not provide direct student services is not considered on-campus employment.

How many hours a week can I work on-campus?

You may work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during each academic term, and full-time when school is not in session (summer holidays and official school holidays).

For how long can I work?

You are authorized to work until the end date on your current I-20. Always use your most up-to-date I-20. If your I-20 is shortened or extended you will need to make an appointment with the Payroll Office and Human Resources to update your paperwork.

Do I need permission to begin on-campus employment?

This type of employment does not require authorization from the International Center.

How do I find employment?

UNF has many different kinds of on-campus jobs available. You can apply for student jobs online and check with your academic department or other offices on-campus to see if anyone is hiring. You can also look for jobs with Dining Services and the UNF Bookstore. Please note that international students are ineligible to apply for Federal Work Study (FWS) positions. Once you find employment you will need to apply for a Social Security card and start the paperwork with the Payroll Office and Human Resources.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

What is Curricular Practical Training?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows for training that is required for a degree program or optional but integral to a degree program, such as an elective course. Activities that are 'recommended" are not eligible for CPT approval, nor are Directed Independent Studies (DIS) courses. UNF offers two basic options for CPT: internship/practicum or Co-op, which may be paid or unpaid.

Who is eligible for CPT?

International students must meet the following criteria in order to participate in CPT:

  1. SEVIS eligibility: Students must have been enrolled full-time for a minimum of one academic year. Graduate students who are required to begin CPT in their first year of study are exempted from the one academic year requirement.
  2. Academic eligibility: A student's degree program must include a CPT experience. Students must register for an internship/practicum or Co-op course (typically consisting of one to three credit hours) and pay the appropriate tuition fees. Students should consult the course catalog entry for their program of study and meet with their Academic Advisor to determine if their degree program allows for CPT. Students who wish to undertake training that does not fulfill a degree requirement but is directly related to the major field of study should consult with an International Student Advisor about Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Do I need permission to begin CPT?

Yes. Your internship/practicum/Co-op Advisor or your Academic Advisor must certify that your degree program allows for CPT, that the proposed training experience is appropriate, and that it is relevant to your course of study. Additionally, an International Student Advisor must update your I-20, which authorizes your employment in SEVIS.

How many hours a week can I work during CPT?

Students may train part-time or full-time. USCIS defines part-time as 20 hours or less per week. Full-time is defined as over 20 hours per week. While enrolled in a full course of study, a student may pursue CPT on a part-time basis only. During summer break, a student may pursue CPT full-time. 

How long can I work on CPT?

Because CPT is based on a course, it cannot be authorized beyond the start and end dates of the academic term. Students may NOT begin work before the authorized start date and must stop working by the authorized end date.

Please note: Students who have completed a total of 12 months of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT. Part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT.

Where can I work using my CPT?

Employment is only allowed at the specific site listed on the I-20. Any off-campus employment without prior authorization is a serious violation of F-1 status.

When do I apply for CPT?

Students must make an appointment with an International Student Advisor before classes begin for any semester in which they wish to participate in CPT. Several weeks in advance is suggested. However, students should begin the process of arranging for such a work experience as soon as they know they are eligible for CPT.

How do I apply for CPT?

In order to apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), students must be enrolled in a required internship/practicum/co-op course for credit and bring the following items to the International Center:

  • Offer letter on official letterhead stating the dates and details of the internship/practicum/co-op.
  • CPT Advisor Endorsement form completed by the student and academic advisor.

Do I receive a new I-20 for CPT?

Yes, once your CPT has been approved you will receive a new I-20. You may NOT begin employment until an International Student Advisor updates your I-20 and you have it in hand.

Internship with an International Organization

This is work with an organization covered by the International Organizations Immunities Act. You must have a written offer of employment from a qualifying international organization, must also be enrolled full-time and be maintaining F-1 status. Internships with an international organization must be authorized by USCIS. Please contact your International Student Advisor for more information.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is Optional Practical Training?

The Department of Homeland Security authorizes practical work experience under certain circumstances for international students. Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows for training that is not required as part of a degree program but is related to a student's major and commensurate with the degree level. Students may engage in OPT while pursuing a full course of study (pre-completion OPT) or after graduation (post-completion OPT).

Who is eligible for OPT?

Students who wish to participate in OPT must have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time student in their current degree program for one academic year and must be in valid F-1 status at the time of application. The proposed training experience must also be directly related to the program of study and commensurate with the student's degree level.

Please note: Students who have completed a total of 12 months of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT. Part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT.

Do I need authorization to begin OPT?

Students must apply for and receive permission from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, to begin OPT. An International Student Advisor must recommend OPT in SEVIS and update your I-20. If permission for OPT is granted, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in the mail. You may NOT begin work until the authorized date on your EAD.

When can I apply for OPT?

You may apply for pre-completion OPT no earlier than 90 days prior to completion of one academic year as a full-time student. For post-completion OPT, you may apply up to 90 days before your program end date. USCIS must receive your application before the end of your 60-day grace period. You are advised to begin the application process early.

How many hours a week can I work during OPT?

You may pursue pre-completion OPT part-time (defined as 20 hours or less per week) while continuing to maintain a full course of study. OPT taking place during the summer session may be full-time. Post-completion OPT must be pursued full-time.

How long may I pursue OPT?

A maximum of 12 months of OPT may be authorized at each education level (Bachelor's, Master's, etc.). Students who have been awarded a qualifying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degree may be eligible for a 24-month OPT extension.

Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?

No. However, you must work during the OPT period as indicated on the EAD. Students on post-completion OPT are limited to a maximum of 90 days unemployment.

What counts as employment during OPT?

The following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to your program of study:

  • Regular paid employment in a position directly related to your program of study. For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week.
  • Multiple employers. You may work for more than one employer.
  • Short-term multiple employers. If you are a musician, or other performing artist, you may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). You should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
  • Work for hire. This is employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, you should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. You may start a business and be self-employed. You should be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.
  • Employment through an agency. Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment. You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for a student on post-completion OPT. You must be able to provide evidence from your employer to verify you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

How do I apply for OPT?

Make an appointment with an International Student Advisor. Bring the following to your appointment:

  • Completed Academic Advisor's Verification of Enrollment Form (only if applying for Post-Completion OPT).
  • Completed Form I-765. Please fill this form on your computer and sign in black ink.
  • Check, money order, or cashier's check for the required amount payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. You may also pay by credit card using Form G-1450.
  • Two passport style photos with your name and I-94 number written in pencil on the back of each photo.
  • I-94 card/electronic
  • Copies of previous I-20's.
  • A copy of your passport. Your passport should be valid for the period of OPT if possible, but at least 6 months into the future from the time the application is being reviewed by USCIS. If it is not, you will need to obtain a new passport before applying for OPT. Students who have received an extension of their passport, should include a copy of the biographical page and the page that shows the extension.
  • A copy of your previous EAD (front and back - if applicable).
  • To receive a text message and/or email when your application is received by USCIS, complete Form G-1145.

I have applied for OPT and I recently completed my program of study. I have not received my EAD card. May I travel outside of the United States?

The International Center does not recommend travel to students whose post-completion OPT applications are pending travel outside of the United States. Students who do so risk their application being canceled by USCIS.

I have received my EAD card but have not found a job yet. May I travel outside of the United States?

The International Center does not recommend that you travel. Students who do so risk being denied re-entry into the United States.

I am working under OPT. What documents should I carry with me when I travel internationally?

You must carry your EAD card, your I-20 (endorsed by an International Student Advisor within the past six months), your passport, and your valid student visa. It is also advisable to carry a letter from your employer verifying your employment.

Do I have any reporting requirements while working under OPT?

Yes. You must report any changes in name, physical address, phone number, non-UNF e-mail address, and if you decide not to use OPT and depart the United States You must also report the following information as soon as you've found employment:

  1. Employer name and address.
  2. Job Title.
  3. Supervisor contact information.
  4. Start and end dates of employment.
  5. Number of hours worked per week.
  6. A brief explanation of how the employment relates to the student's degree.

Failure to provide this information will result in an automatic termination of the your SEVIS record.

OPT STEM Degree Extension

What is STEM OPT?

Students with a qualifying STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics), currently on post-completion OPT, may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension.

Who is eligible for STEM OPT?

You may apply for a STEM OPT extension if you:

  • Have successfully completed a bachelor's or higher degree in an eligible STEM field based on the STEM Designated Degree Program list
  • Are currently authorized for post-completion OPT
  • Are employed in a paid job directly related to your STEM degree working at least 20 hours per week
  • Your employer is enrolled in E-Verify

When can I apply for STEM OPT?

The earliest you can apply is 90 days prior to the end date of your current OPT. USCIS must receive your STEM OPT application before you current OPT expires.

My current EAD has expired. Can I work while my application is pending?

A student who has timely filed an application for a 24-month STEM OPT extension with USCIS may work for the STEM OPT employer while the STEM extension application is pending, for up to 180 days beyond the expiration of their prior post-completion OPT EAD.

What counts as employment on STEM OPT?

  • The job must be directly related to the degree that qualifies the student for the STEM OPT extension and assist the student in reaching his or her training goals
  • Must be a paid job (unpaid or volunteer positions are not permitted)
  • Any job undertaken must be for at least 20 hours per week
  • Employer is e-verified. Self-employment does not constitute a qualifying job for purposes of a 24-month STEM OPT extension

How do I apply for STEM OPT?

Here are the items that must be submitted to USCIS for your STEM extension:

  • Completed Form I-765. Please fill this form on your computer and sign in black ink.
  • Check, money order, or cashier's check for the required amount payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. You may also pay by credit card using Form G-1450.
  • I-94 card/electronic
  • A copy of your passport. Your passport should be valid for the period of OPT if possible, but at least 6 months into the future from the time the application is being reviewed by USCIS. If it is not, you will need to obtain a new passport before applying for OPT. Students who have received an extension of their passport, should include a copy of the biographical page and the page that shows the extension.
  • A copy of your previous EAD(s) (front and back)
  • Copy of Diploma
  • Official Transcript(s)
  • Two passport style photos with your name and I-94 number written in pencil on the back of each photo.
  • Copy of current and previous I-20s
  • A new I-20 with the STEM extension request
  • To receive a text message and/or email when your application is received by USCIS, complete Form G-1145.

Do I have any reporting requirements while working under STEM OPT?

Yes. Students on STEM OPT have the following reporting requirements:

  • Validating SEVIS Information. Every six months you must confirm that your record in SEVIS accurately reflects your current information.
  • Annual Self-Evaluations. You must complete and submit an annual self-evaluation (page 5 of Form I-983) describing the progress of the training experience.
  • Changes to an existing Form I-983 Training Plan. You must report any changes to, or deviations from, your formal training plan.
  • Changing Employers. When you change employers, the new employer must be enrolled in E-Verify. You must also submit a new Form I-983 within 10 days of starting employment.
  • Unemployment. You must report the termination your employment within 10 days. You may not exceed more than 150 days of unemployment.
  • Employer Noncompliance. If you believe that your employer is not complying with the terms and conditions of the 24-month STEM OPT extension regulations, the Form I-983 instructions, and the completed Form I-983 on file with your DSO, you may:
    • Contact the Student and Exchange Visitor Program at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by following the ICE instructions.
    • Report violations through this Homeland Security Investigations tip submission form.

Cap-Gap Extension

What is Cap-Gap Extension?

A cap-gap extension is a provision which provides an extension of work authorization or legal stay for eligible students on post-completion OPT or STEM OPT, who filed a timely application for an H-1B requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1. Cap-gap extensions are terminated if the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or revoked.

How do I know if I qualify for a cap-gap extension?

To qualify for the cap-gap extension you must be the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that meets the following conditions:

  • The petition has been timely filed with USCIS
  • The petition is subject to the H-1B cap count, i.e., cap-gap benefits are not available if the petition is exempt from the H-1B cap count
  • The petition requests an employment start date of October 1 (i.e., the first day of the fiscal year from which the H-1B cap number will be drawn)
  • The petition requests a change of status for the beneficiary from F-1 to H-1B; and
  • You must not have violated the terms or conditions of your F-1 status.

Do I need a new I-20 with the cap-gap extension?

If you qualify for a cap-gap extension your employer may ask you to request an updated I-20 verifying your work eligibility. You may contact your International Student Advisor to request an I-20 showing the cap-gap notation.

Severe Economic Hardship Employment

If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request off-campus employment work authorization based upon severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control. These circumstances may include 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, unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses. Please contact your International Student Advisor for more information.
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