East Carolina University
Office of International Affairs

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F-1 Employment Overview

The United States has very strict rules regarding the ability of foreign nationals to work in this country. International students in valid F-1 status may work on-campus at the school which they are authorized to attend for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year, and full-time during vacation and holiday breaks. Students in valid F-1 status cannot be employed off-campus without meeting eligibility requirements and obtaining prior written authorization. Students in J-2 status, A status or G status as well as spouses in E-2 or L-2 status must have a work authorization card issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before they can be employed on or off-campus. Students in other statuses are generally prohibited from any kind of employment, either on or off-campus.<

New Federal Regulations that implemented the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) exact heavy penalties for those students in F status who work off-campus without authorization. International Affairs reminds all F students that all off-campus employment must be authorized before it can begin. This includes internships, practicum, and other types of off-campus experiences, whether or not you are receiving University credit for it. Working off-campus without the appropriate authorization is considered illegal employment according to Federal immigration law and is a potentially deportable offense. SEVIS regulations require that all unauthorized employment be reported. So, now more than ever, it's essential for international students to understand the off-campus employment rules that pertain to them.

How is "Employment" Defined?
U.S. Federal Regulations offer the following definition:
"The term employee means an individual who provides services or labor for an employer for wages or other remuneration." 8 CFR 274a.1(f).

Compensation means something is given to you because you provided a service.  It can be a paycheck, a bonus payment, a stipend, or it can be meal vouchers, room and board, or payment of your travel costs.  Any of these would be considered to be compensation under the USCIS regulations.
Simply put, if you receive anything for providing a service you are being compensated.

Volunteering is defined as engaging in an activity that anyone (U.S. citizen or citizen of another country) would engage in without expectation of compensation, monetary or otherwise, for the service provided.

There are different kinds of employment options available to F-1 students in lawful status, and those are described in detail in this section.  Questions about employment eligibility should be directed to an International Affairs advisor.

On-Campus Employment
USCIS has regulations governing on-campus employment for students in F-1 status. An F-1 student may work on campus if: Valid F-1 status is maintained. Employment does not exceed 20 hours per week while school is in session. The employment does not take a job away from a U.S. resident. F-1 students may be employed full time on campus during holidays and vacation periods, provided you intend to register for the next academic semester.

The definition of on-campus employment includes:
  •  Work performed on the ECU campus, including that required by a scholarship, fellowship or assistantship.
  •  Work for an on-campus employer who has a contract to provide services to students; including ECU dining services.
  •  Work at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with ECU. This affiliation must be associated with ECU's established curriculum or be related to a contractually funded graduate level research project which a program or department at ECU has agreed to perform. Such employment must be an integral part of the student's program of study. If all of these conditions are met, the employment will be considered on campus and the student may receive payment directly from the employer.

Students are urged to come to International Affairs to be sure that such on-campus work meets the USCIS definition of on-campus employment.

F-1 students maintaining lawful status who plan to enroll at a new school for the next academic term may continue on-campus employment at ECU until the reporting date to the new school, or may begin employment at the new school provided that the new school has issued a new Form I-20.

In order to verify for on-campus employment, F-1 students should come to International Affairs with a copy of the Verification of Work Authorization Form (I-9 Verification Form).

Curricular Practical Training
The most recent USCIS regulations governing Curricular Practical Training (CPT) took effect on January 1, 2003. These regulations apply to all students in F-1 status; those who were in the United States on or before that date and those who entered the United States after that date.

Q: When do I need authorization for CPT?
A: You must have authorization from International Affairs before you begin a paid or unpaid internship or any other form of CPT. As an F-1 student your employment cannot begin until you receive your SEVIS I-20 with the CPT endorsement.

Beginning CPT without proper authorization is a violation of immigration regulations and will have serious consequences.

Q: What is CPT?
A: USCIS uses a broad definition of employment. The USCIS defines practical training as employment directly related to the student's field of study from which a student benefits, either monetarily or otherwise. Because of the broad definition of employment even unpaid internships require CPT authorization and may require course registration.

CPT must be an integral part of an established curriculum. It can be a paid or unpaid internship, practicum, or other type of employment offered by a sponsoring employer through a cooperative agreement with the school, or arranged with the approval of the student's department. It may take place during the academic year and/or the summer.

Q: When is CPT required and when is it recommended?
A: CPT may be required or recommended. This is decided by the stated requirements of an academic degree. CPT is required when it is a required part of the curriculum; it should be mentioned in the section of the University catalog, which describes the department's requirements and course offerings. All students in that degree program are required to complete an internship or practicum.

CPT is recommended when it is a good thing for the individual student to do but is not necessary for them to complete their degree. The student who is going to do a recommended CPT is required by current immigration regulations to register for a minimum of 1 college credit that must be granted by their department or training cannot be authorized.

Q: Who is eligible to do CPT?
A: Students in F-1 status must have been lawfully enrolled in school on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year before becoming eligible for practical training. CPT must be undertaken prior to the completion of a course of study.

Q: How much CPT can I do and still am eligible for OPT?
Students who complete 12 or more months of full-time CPT will be ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). The academic year in-status requirement is waived for students enrolled in graduate studies which require immediate participation in CPT.

Q: Is there a fee for CPT?
A: There is no fee to apply for Curricular Practical Training. Processing is done in the International Student Advisor’s office. Once you have submitted all the required documents, it takes 2-5 business days to complete the processing of the new SEVIS I-20.

Q: What paperwork is required?
A: At least, the following items are needed to process an application for CPT. Consult with the International Student Advisor BEFORE beginning your application process:

1. Completed Academic Advisor's recommendation for CPT.
2. Offer letter from employer on their official letterhead. The letter needs to include the starting and ending dates of the placement, number of hours per week, and a brief description of duties to be performed.

Once the CPT application is complete, International Affairs will update the SEVIS record and print a copy of the student's SEVIS I-20, authorizing CPT with that employer only. The SEVIS I-20 will be given to the student. You must have the SEVIS I-20 in hand prior to commencing the employment.

Q: If I get a new position, or I need to work an additional period of time do I need to do a new CPT application?
A: A new application will be required if there is a change of employers or if the employment needs to be extended beyond the current ending date.

Optional Practical Training and Travel


On April 08, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued updated guidance on F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) and travel. This guidance is different from previous practices regarding travel, and applies to those who are traveling but are not currently employed or do not have a job offer, or who are applicants for an 17-month OPT STEM Extension.

Travel Outside the United States When Your OPT Application Is Pending (including 17-Month STEM OPT)
An F-1 student who has timely filed an application for initial OPT post-completion of study may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending, provided that the F-1 student can present the USCIS Processing Center Receipt, proving that the application has been filed. However, a person who has applied for a 17-month OPT STEM extension, whose current EAD card has expired, cannot travel outside the United States, even if employed, until the new EAD card is received.

Travel Outside the United States Once the EAD Card is Issued
Once the EAD card for OPT is issued to the F-1 student, and the student decides to travel abroad, the student can only re-enter the United States to resume employment . DHS has clarified that the F-1 student does not need to have already begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer to which to return.

Have a Valid I-20 When You Travel
When traveling, be sure that the travel signature on page 3 of your most recent I-20, endorsed for initial OPT (or the 17-Month OPT STEM Extension) will be less than six months old on the date that you will re-enter the United States. If you will need an updated travel signature, please contact the OIA prior to your travel date.

Travel Outside the United States and Days of Unemployment
If a student whose approved period of OPT as indicated on their EAD card has started then travels outside of the United States while unemployed, the time spent outside the United States will count as unemployment against the 90/120-day limits.

If a student travels while employed either during a period of leave authorized by an employer or as part of their employment, the time spent outside the United States will not count as unemployment.

OPT and Applying for a New F-1 Visa Abroad
If you will need to renew your F-1 visa, you must have your I-20 endorsed for OPT, an official transcript from East Carolina University (and proof of your degree if you have graduated) your EAD card (or receipt notice) and proof of a job or job offer as minimum documentation requirements. If the EAD application is still pending, some consular officials will accept the receipt notice in lieu of the EAD card, but this can be risky.

Travel Abroad When A Petition for a Different Visa Has Been Filed
Students on OPT who have a pending or approved petition for a different non-immigrant or immigrant visa (for example, H-1B) are urged to consult with the individual filing their petition (such as an attorney) for advice on travel. A pending application for H-1B, that has not yet been approved, will be considered to have been abandoned if the beneficiary travels abroad. A pending application for permanent residency will also be considered to have been abandoned unless the beneficiary has a valid advance parole document. If a petition has been approved, it is essential to consult with the individual who has filed the petition for advice on travel and documentation.

General Advice
The best general advice is that a F-1 student on OPT, who has received the EAD card, and has to travel abroad should make sure that there is documentation from his or her employer confirming the employment or their job offer. Otherwise the student assumes a risk that he/she may not be allowed to re-enter the United States.