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Office of International Studies and Programs

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Email: intlprog@cwu.edu
Phone: +1-509-963-3612
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Central Washington University
Office of International Studies and Programs
Hebeler Hall 102
400 E. University Way
Ellensburg, WA 98926-7408

Off-Campus Employment

Note for student-athletes: Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) licensing may seem like an efficient way of making a little money on the side while maintaining your busy schedule, but though the NCAA is now allowing it, it is still considered a violation of your immigration status.

Obtaining Permission for an Internship/Curricular Practical Training (CPT):

International students are eligible for Curricular Practical Training as  a benefit of their F-1 status. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is on or off campus employment, usually in the form of an internship, cooperative education, practicum or other work/study experience. CPT can be a paid or non-paid experience. Regulations allow for CPT to be for credit or not for credit, but students must enroll in at least one CPT credit for each new employer. Student can work on CPT full-time during breaks and part-time when school is in session or during breaks. It must be an integral part to the student’s degree program, and with an employer that has a cooperative agreement with the school. Departments or majors with no internship component in the approved curriculum for the major do not need to make special exceptions or provisions for international students.

International students can request CPT as follows:

  1. A student interested in CPT should work with their major advisor to see if an internship for credit is an available option for the major. (BUS 490 for example is the internship course for College of Business students.) The student is responsible for finding their own internship opportunity and must ensure with the major or faculty advisor that it is an integral part of their program. The student must also work with Career Services on the required cooperative education Learning Agreement paperwork.
  2. The student should be in their declared major at least one quarter and meet the minimum GPA requirements set by CWU the academic department. To be eligible for immigration purposes, undergraduate students will need to have been in F-1 status for a minimum of one academic year (time at a previous institution on the same SEVIS ID number will be counted). Twelve or more months of full-time CPT will make students ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) after completion of their program.
  3. CPT approval is for one quarter at a time and must be submitted quarterly. The student must submit a completed Learning Agreement to Career Services who will enroll them in the credit(s). Permission for additional employment time with the same employer can be granted as long as an updated Learning Agreement is submitted to the International Student Advisor prior to the start date. To avoid gaps in employment dates, students should submit extension requests one week prior to the prior employment end date.
  4. Students must have authorization on their I-20 (immigration document) before they can begin working. Failure to have authorization will result in termination of the I-20 for unauthorized employment and there is no reinstatement option for this termination reason.

All Graduate students:

International graduate students intending to work more than 20 hours per week must still be making progress towards completion of the degree.

Computational Science Graduate Students:

For graduate students in Computational Science, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) will be approved only for Summer Quarter.

Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT):

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of the F-1 status as part of the educational experience in the U.S. It allows international students work authorization in their major field of study for up to 12 months. Students are eligible for 12 month OPT for each higher education level they complete. Students in STEM degrees are eligible for a 24-month extension. International students can apply for post-completion OPT 90 days before the last day of their program, and up to 60 days after the last day (the grace period). It can take 3-4 months for USCIS to process an OPT application, which is why we recommend students apply at the start of their last quarter.

In March 2021, USCIS created on online option for submitting the I-765 for OPT application. Both the paper and online version of the application are valid for students to use.

International students may request an OPT application packet from their International Student Advisor.

Am I eligible to apply for OPT?

All F-1 students who are about to graduate and have been enrolled on the same SEVIS record full time for at least three consecutive quarters are eligible to apply for OPT authorization.

F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT, and those 12 months must be taken within the 14 months following the completion of program requirements.
If a student has participated in over 365 days of full-time CPT while earning their degree, they are not eligible to apply for OPT.

What do I need to do to maintain status while on OPT?

After the program end date on an OPT I-20, a student may not work anywhere (on or off campus, paid or unpaid) until they have received their EAD card and the start date on their card is current, even if they were previously authorized to work on campus. At that time, they can resume working on campus only if the work is in your field of study. It is a serious violation of your status to work without authorization. Never work without first receiving authorization.

While a student is authorized for OPT, they are required to report all of the following to the SEVP Portal (which you will gain access to once your OPT is approved) within 10 days of the occurrence:

  • Name or address change
  • Interruption of employment or periods of unemployment
  • New employer (even if you are just adding a new employer)

Students on 12 month OPT can accrue no more than 90 days of unemployment. For the 2021/2022 academic year, USCIS has made an exception due to Covid-19, so that as long as a student is working in their field of study, they will not accrue days of unemployment. SEVP will automatically terminate SEVIS records for students on OPT who have 90 days of unemployment or who have failed to report employment. Termination of a student’s SEVIS record also ends their OPT authorization. Which is why it is important that students keep their SEVP Portal information up-to-date. Students can contact our office at SEVIS@cwu.edu if they are having trouble accessing their SEVP Portal account.

Travel while on OPT

  • While on OPT students will need the following documents to re-enter the U.S.:
  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Travel signature dated no more than 6 months from when the student enters the U.S.
  • OPT/EAD card
    • Supplemental (not required, but good to have) document: Proof of employment, such as an offer letter

Due to Covid-19, before a student departs from the U.S., we also recommend they research Covid-19 travel requirements of the country they will be traveling to, and the CDC regulations on entering the U.S. from their desired travel destination.

We do not recommend travel outside the U.S. while an OPT application is pending, but if a student must travel please contact SEVIS@cwu.edu for more information.

STEM Extension

If a student earned a degree in a STEM field, they are eligible to apply for a 24 month extension of the 12 month OPT. USCIS needs to receive the STEM application before the end date listed on the 12 month OPT card. Students can apply for STEM OPT as early as 90 days before the end date of the 12 month OPT. In order to apply a student must have a STEM employer, and the employer must be enrolled in E-Verify and have an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN). Applying for STEM OPT is much the same as applying for 12 month OPT, please contact your international adviser to start the process.

If a timely application for an extension is filed, a student will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending with USCIS, until it is approved or denied, or for 180 days, whichever comes first.

While on STEM OPT, a student need to complete the I-983 form with each employer. Any updates or changes in employment will need a new I-983 submitted to our office. Additionally, students on STEM OPT have to complete a 6 and 18 month validation, as well as a 12 month evaluation (page 5 of the I-983 form). Once a student has completed STEM OPT, or if they change employers they will need to complete the Final Evaluation on page 5 of the I-983 form.  Students can submit the I-983 form to SEVIS@cwu.edu.

Students are allowed a total of 150 days of unemployment during your 36-month period of OPT.

If a student completes all course requirements for another qualifying STEM degree at a higher degree level than the first STEM qualifying degree, the student may apply for a second 24-month STEM OPT extension while in a valid period of standard post-completion OPT. A student may not be authorized for more than two lifetime STEM OPT extensions.

Graduate Students Applying for OPT:

International graduate students looking to participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT), will need to receive their department’s approval as part of the OPT application. Students should be in their last quarter, have submitted their request for a folder check, and be on track for completion of their thesis. For Graduate submission deadlines, please see the School of Graduate Studies and Research Graduation Procedures and Deadlines page.

Pre-Employment Tax Forms for CPT and OPT:

An off-campus employer might not be prepared to for nonresident pre-employment tax paperwork. If a student is a nonresident for tax purposes and their employer does not have the system that they use for these purposes, the student can bring their own paperwork. The one provider we know of that does this is Sprintax TDS.

Volunteer Work for CPT and OPT

Volunteering can be tricky in regards to the F-1 regulations. A student should contact our office before they complete the volunteer work, if there is an opportunity they would like to partake in.  Students need to be careful not to “volunteer” without pay in positions for which U.S. citizens would be paid. This rule is designed to protect students, the employer, and other workers.

If the “volunteer” work is related to a student’s field of study, they will need to apply for CPT/OPT for work authorization. Typically, a good rule of thumb, is if a student would add the “volunteer” work to their resume/CV, they should have CPT/OPT authorization for the work.

Examples of acceptable volunteer activities include, stocking shelves at a food pantry, environmental clean-ups, walking dogs at a nearby animal shelter.

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