Working in the U.S. & OPT Regulations
Employment for International Students can be designated as either On-Campus or Off-Campus. On-Campus employment must be either performed on the premises or at a location which is educationally connected with FIDM. Off-Campus work authorization can be defined as either CPT, OPT, or necessary due to severe economic circumstances.
See the definitions of each below:
- Students are permitted to work part-time on the premises of the school that issues their I-20 while attending school.
- Students are limited to working 20 hours a week while school in session; work can be full-time during official school breaks.
- Students can work in any position that does not displace a U.S. worker (this does not mean that a domestic student must be considered first; it means that a domestic student cannot be fired specifically to permit the hiring of an F-1 student).
- Employment is incident to status and does not require approval.
- On-Campus employment can include working for commercial firms which provide services to FIDM unless the job is not on FIDM premises and not for FIDM educational purposes (if a business is in a FIDM building, or located directly next to it you cannot work for that company unless they are specifically affiliated with the educational process of FIDM and are specifically affiliated with FIDM).
- On-campus employment may include work at off-campus locations so long as it is educationally affiliated with the school.
- Initial entry students cannot begin to work sooner than 30 days before classes start. Otherwise students may pursue on-campus employment as early as their first quarter at FIDM.
- Severe Circumstances: Unforeseen economic necessity.
- Students must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year.
- Students must show employment necessary due to severe economic hardship caused by circumstances beyond his/her control.
- Employment can last for up to one year.
- Employment is limited to 20 hours per week while the student is attending classes. During official school breaks, employment can be full-time.
- Students must apply for EAD (Employment Authorization Document) from USCIS after they are recommended for employment.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): The regulations state that Curricular Practical Training must be "an integral part of an established curriculum." They define CPT as "alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school." (8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(i))
- Students must have been enrolled at FIDM for one-full academic year (a full year is 12 months).
- Students must be in the last or second to last quarter of their program.
- Students must have a cumulative grade point average of a 3.0 or higher.
- Students must have an offer from an employer, and the job must be with that specific employer, location, and time period originally arranged.
- Work must be an integral part of an established curriculum.
- Work must be a maximum of 20 hours for a paid CPT position and a maximum of 10 hours for a non-paid CPT position.
- FIDM authorizes only part-time CPT, which has no effect on OPT eligibility unless done for two years or more.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT): Optional Practical Training is defined in the regulations as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study." (8 C.F.R.§ )214.2(f)(10)(ii))
- Student must have completed one academic year and earned a degree.
- OPT lasts a maximum of 12 months. Standard OPT can be authorized for a maximum aggregate period of 12 months per educational level. A student becomes eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level.
- OPT can be full-time or part-time employment.
- OPT must be related to field of study.
- Students may apply as early as 90 days prior to their program end date and as late as 60 days after. The application must be received by the USCIS within 60 days of the program end date.
- Student’s select an OPT start date within their 60 day grace period when making their OPT request to FIDM’s International Student’s Office.
- Currently the average application time for OPT is three months from the day the application is received.
PLEASE NOTE: Students often receive the EAD well after the OPT start date they were given. The student cannot start working until the EAD is received. The EAD will expire within one year of the OPT start date, regardless of when the student actually receives the EAD. For example: If the student's OPT start date is June 1, and the EAD is received on August 1, the EAD will expire on June 1 (12 months from the OPT start date).
Work done for OPT must be directly related to the student's major area of study. Unlike curricular practical training, the work done for OPT does not have to be an integral part of an established curriculum. The optional nature of OPT allows it to be used for any employment that is directly related to the major area of study.
A student cannot begin OPT employment until they are in possession of their EAD card and the start date indicated on the EAD issued by USCIS has occurred.
Activity that constitute employment while on 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 the student's program of study. While a student engages in such activity during a period of post-completion OPT, he or she is not considered unemployed:
- Regular paid employment - a position directly related to the student's program of study. For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week. Students may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to the student's program of study.
- Payment by multiple short-term employers - Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
- Work for hire - this is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students 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 - Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her 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.
- Volunteers or unpaid interns - Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. Note that a volunteer position or unpaid internship would be a valid option for someone who otherwise might not meet the minimum employment requirement.
Periods of unemployment during post-completion OPT
During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment. Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization. Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. A student may be denied future immigration benefits that rely on the student's valid F-1 status if DHS determines that the student exceeded the limitations on authorized unemployment. Additionally, ICE/SEVP may examine SEVIS data for an individual, a selected group, or all students on post-completion OPT and terminate a student's record if it fails to show the student maintained the proper period of employment. In such cases, the student will be given an opportunity to show that he or she complied with all OPT requirements, including maintaining employment.
Complying with the OPT employment requirement
Students are encouraged to report changes in employment to their DSO as soon as possible. SEVP recommends that students report the changes within 10 business days of the change to avoid situations where a DHS official may determine the student is out of status.
Students should also keep documentation that their OPT employment is directly related to their degree program. Specifically, SEVP recommends that students maintain evidence - for each job - of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student's supervisor or manager and a description of the work. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student's degree, SEVP highly recommends that the student obtain a signed letter from the student's supervisor or manager or the employer's hiring official stating how the student's degree is related to the work performed. The same evidence could also be used to establish that the limit on unemployment has not been exceeded.
For more information regarding OPT you may refer to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy guideline.