• Employment

    Students often inquire as to the possibility for employment while studying in the U.S. Employment is any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food or any other benefit. If you receive no pay or other benefit for work performed, this activity is not defined as employment and is considered to be volunteer work.

    A fundamental eligibility requirement for all types of employment is that you must continuously maintain lawful F-1 status. Maintaining eligibility for most types of F-1 employment means that you must limit your work to no more than twenty (20) hours per week while school is in session. Do not assume that you are eligible to work without first contacting the Director of International Programs

    There are several categories of employment available for students: on-campus employment, off-campus employment, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).

    On-Campus Employment

    You may work on campus provided you are maintaining F-1 status. You cannot work more than a total of twenty (20) hours per week while school is in session. You may be employed full-time (40 hours per week) during holidays and vacation periods, including summer vacations, provided you are eligible and intend to register for the next school term. The twenty-hour-per-week limit on your employment while school is in session applies to all types of on-campus employment discussed in this handbook. A twenty-hour-per-week graduate assistantship, for example, exhausts work eligibility for the term of the assistantship, except for those times when school is not in session.

    Jobs Which Qualify as "On-Campus Employment"  

    Employment by the school: On-campus employment performed for UC is usually acceptable, whether it is employment in the Library, Admissions, Alumni Office, Food Services, Campus Bookstore, Audio Visual, or Residence Life.

    Other employment on the school's premises: Work performed on the University of Charleston’s grounds is "on-campus employment" as long as the employer provides direct services to students. Employment in the school bookstore or with catering, both of which provide direct services to students, is acceptable even if operated by a private commercial firm. Work for a construction company, which is erecting a campus building, is not acceptable since the construction company does not provide direct student services.

    PLEASE NOTE: The following is what you need to do if you work on campus or accept a CPT/OPT position:

    1. You must obtain a Social Security number from the Social Security Administration (see section on Social Security Numbers for details).
    2. You must report your Social Security number to the Business Office, the International Programs Office, and your employer.

    Practical Training

    Practical Training is employment directly related to one's field of study, which serves as training for the profession the student will enter. The Department of Homeland Security allows students to engage in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).

    Curricular Practical Training

    • What is CPT?

      The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines Curricular Practical Training (CPT) as alternate work/study programs

      • A required part of the degree program – If the academic program requires unpaid/paid employment (internship, field experience, student teaching, applied research project- working with a company) in your field of study, you may participate in CPT as long as you are otherwise maintaining lawful F-1 status.
      • An optional but integral part of the degree program – Paid or unpaid employment (internship, field experience, or student teaching) in your field of study may be considered CPT as long as you are otherwise in valid status.

      It is highly recommended that you obtain CPT authorization for unpaid employment as well as paid.

    • Am I eligible?
      • You must be lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis in F-1 visa status at a USCIS-approved school for one full academic year before you will be eligible for CPT. Exceptions exist for graduate students whose programs require immediate curricular practical training.
      • CPT is only available if you are in F-1 status before completion of your degree program.
      • Only part-time CPT during the school year will be approved. Full-time CPT during the summer and winter breaks is also possible, as well as during your final semester before completion of your program. Part-time is anything up to 20 hours per week; full time is anything more than 20 hours per week. Exceptions exist for graduate students.
      • The internship is required to be related to your current field of study. CPT will not be granted for an internship that is related to any previous degrees you may have earned.
      • You are required to register for ENSL-050 International Internship (audit only, no credit, cost $0) before CPT can be granted (see details on next page).
      • If you engage in full-time CPT for 12 months or longer, you will lose your Optional Practical Training (OPT). Any amount of part-time CPT does not have any effect on OPT, nor does any amount of full-time CPT less than one year (cumulatively).
    • What is the procedure?

      1) Student finds the internship
      2) Student submits the following to the Director of International Programs:
      a. Letter from academic advisor explaining that the internship is
      i. An integral part of an established curriculum and
      ii. Directly related to the major area of study
      b. Letter from employer stating
      i. Job title and responsibilities
      ii. Dates of intended employment
      iii. Number of hours per week
      iv. Employer’s address and phone number
      v. Address where the employment will take place
      vi. Signature of hiring manager or supervisor
      c. The Center for Career Development (CCD) Learning Contract  
      3) Director of International Programs determines whether or not the internship is a valid situation for the student’s academic program
      4) If the student IS NOT already receiving academic credit for the internship, the student registers for ENSL-050X International Internship (Audit only, no credit, cost $0). The student then provides Director of International Programs with evidence of enrollment in internship class.

      If the student IS receiving academic credit for the internship, the academic advisor must confirm this in the letter. There is no need to enroll in ENSL-050X.

      5) Director of International Programs issues the student an I-20 with CPT authorization. The student may only participate in the internship during the dates listed on the I-20.

      Please do not engage in any type of unauthorized internship. You could put your F-1 status in jeopardy. ASK FIRST before starting a job! Starting to work before your CPT has been approved is ILLEGAL and could subject you to deportation or denial of future benefits such as a change of status to H1-B or Permanent Resident.

      Remember that the primary purpose of an internship is to gain practical training in your field of study and NOT to make money. CPT is intended to provide practical experience, not an income.

    Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    Optional practical training is designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain actual employment experience in your chosen profession for a maximum of one year.

    The work must be directly related to your major field of study, and it must be appropriate for someone having your level of education. The work may be part-time or full-time and may occur anywhere in the United States. In order for you to be eligible to apply for optional practical training directly related to your major area of study, you need to have achieved lawful student status for nine consecutive months. Students enrolled in English language training programs are not eligible for practical training after completion of studies.

    Importance of the Actual Date of Completion of the Program of Study

    Government regulations refer to the date you complete requirements for a program of study, not the completion date in #5 of the I-20, not the date you participate in graduation ceremonies, and not the date which is the end of the academic term. These regulations ignore these dates because many students, especially graduate students in thesis or dissertation programs, may complete program requirements any day during the year.

    As an F-1 student, you may only work off campus in the U.S. if you have received written work authorization by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This section explains the twelve month period of USCIS-approved off-campus work authorization called, “Optional Practical Training” or “OPT.”

    • Conditions and Limitations
      1. The work you do must be directly related to your major field of study and it must be appropriate for someone having your level of education. However, you do not need to have a specific job offer at the time of application.
      2. You must have been enrolled as a full-time student in legal immigration status for at least one academic year (two semesters) before your OPT begins.
      3. You must submit your OPT application to USCIS within 30 days of the Director of International Programs' OPT recommendation in SEVIS (check the date your OPT-endorsed I-20 was issued)  
      4. Additionally, for post-completion OPT, you must file the application:
        • No earlier than 90 days prior to completion of your degree requirements and
        • No later than 60 days after the completion of your degree requirements. USCIS will reject applications received after the deadline.
        • OPT must begin no later than 60 days after the completion date indicated in Item 5 on the I20 and end no later than 14 months after the completion date. The International Advisor will change the end date of your I-20 to the proposed completion date, and this date must be accurate.
        • OPT authorization is limited to a total of 12 months per each higher degree level (12 months each for Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D.).
        • Certain students in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) may be eligible to apply for a 17-month extension of OPT. See IA for details.
        • You cannot work off-campus under any circumstances until you have been recommended by the Director of International Programs and authorized by USCIS.
    • Application Process

      Your application must be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before you can begin employment. The process is estimated to take anywhere from 45 – 90 days from the date of receipt by USCIS (note that 90 days for processing is the norm during busy times of the year). Approval from USCIS comes in the form of a small photo ID card called an “Employment Authorization Document” or “EAD” card. To apply, follow these steps:

      STEP 1: Be Informed

      Read these instructions thoroughly and carefully.

      STEP 2: Obtain Your Department’s Recommendation

      Provide a letter from your academic advisor indicating your current status (i.e. whether you have completed all requirements for the degree), and the expected date of completion of studies. (NOTE: Graduation is not viewed as the completion of studies; completion of studies means completion of course work for non-thesis majors or the date the final thesis is submitted.). You must e-mail or bring this letter to the Director of International Programs in order to receive OPT authorization.

      STEP 3: Set an Appointment to Meet with the Director of International Programs

      Begin the process of collecting your documents 2 – 3 months prior to the anticipated completion of your program. You will need your passport, I-20, I-94, and the department recommendation when you go to the meeting. Please look over the I-765 form leaving blank any field about which you have questions. This form can be found online at: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/I-765.pdf.

      STEP 4: Complete the USCIS Application Materials

      Once you have received the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation, you will need to complete the application materials, make photocopies of all of the paperwork for your files, and send the entire application to USCIS to complete the authorization procedure. You cannot file this online; a hard copy must be mailed.


      • Original I-765 form completed by you with your original signature (in blue ink). Note that the address you use must be valid for at least 3 months from the time you send the application. The U.S. Postal Service will not forward the EAD card even if you leave a forwarding address.
        • If you choose to use UC as your mailing address, use 2300 MacCorkle Avenue SE, International Programs, Charleston, WV 25304  
        • Enter the correct code on the I-765 form:
          • Pre-completion OPT (c) (3) (A)
          • Post-completion OPT (c) (3) (B) 
      • Two “passport” photos (NOTE: details about the photos can be found at: www.travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotos/index.html); print your name and admission / I-94 number IN PENCIL on the back of each photo)
      • New SEVIS I-20 with the OPT recommendation from the Director of International Programs on page 2
      • A $380 check or money order payable to “Department of Homeland Security”
      • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20 documents dating back to the beginning of your F-1 status
      • Photocopy or print-out of I-94 (front and back)
      • Photocopy of the most recent I.D. page(s) of your passport (pages which include your photo, passport number, and expiration date)
      • Photocopy of the most recent U.S. visa stamp (on a page in your passport)
      • Photocopy of previously issued EAD card, if applicable

      STEP 5: Mail the Application Package to USCIS

      When you have completed the entire application, make a complete set of photocopies for your files, organize the materials neatly as possible, and send all of the above items to the appropriate USCIS Service Center having jurisdiction over the address you have used on the I-765. Remember to mail the application so that USCIS receives it before the application deadlines:

      • Within 30 days of the Director of International Programs' recommendation (date in item 10 on the I-20) AND
      • For post-completion OPT, no earlier than 90 days prior to program completion and no later than 60 days after program completion.

      Mailing Address

      We recommend that you send the application via an express mail carrier or via U.S. registered mail “return-receipt requested” so that you have proof of delivery. Your permission to begin Optional Practical Training is not finalized until you have received an “Employment Authorization Document (EAD)” from USCIS.

      • For those using a return address in West Virginia on the I-765 and sending the application via U.S. Postal Service (there is a USPS on the first floor of Riggleman Hall), the Service Center’s address is:

      P.O. Box 660867
      Dallas, TX 75266

      • For those using a return address in West Virginia on the I-765 and sending the application via FedEx or UPS, the Service Center’s address is:

      USCIS attn. AOS
      2501 S. State Highway 121 Business Suite 400
      Lewisville, TX 75067

      STEP 6: Wait for the EAD

      Within one month of sending the application to USCIS, you should get a standard receipt notice. If you do not get this letter within 6 weeks, contact the international advisor for more information. The “Receipt Number” in the top left corner of this receipt notice can be used to check the status of your case on the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov or by calling the phone number indicated on the receipt.


    • Reporting Requirements and Limitations on Unemployment
      • F-1 regulations REQUIRE you to report address or name changes, and any interruption in employment, within 10 days to the Director of International Programs. This information will be reported to the Department of Homeland Security as required by immigration regulations. As regulations may change, we must also have your current email address in order to contact you quickly.
      • You must report your employer's name and contact information to the Director of International Programs as soon as you become employed. During standard post-completion OPT, a student may not be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days.  
      • You must report status changes to the Director of International Programs while you are on OPT. For instance, if you apply for and are granted a change of status from F-1 to H-1B or any other immigration status. Also, if you leave the U.S. permanently before the end date of your EAD, you must notify the Director of International Programs. If you plan to return to UC as a student or continue studies elsewhere after OPT, you must also contact the Director of International Programs.
      • Change of employer after OPT has been authorized. You may change employers after you have begun authorized employment provided the new job is (1) directly related to your major field of study and (2) appropriate for someone with your level of education.
      • Your lawful F-1 status expires sixty (60) days after the date you complete degree requirements and you are expected to leave the U.S., by that date unless you file a timely application for practical training or make other arrangements to lawfully remain in the U.S.
      • OPT STEM Extension - Recipients of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields can apply to USCIS for a one-time 17-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 29 months). To be eligible for the extension, the student's employer must be registered in E-Verify and agree to report to the DSO when the student is terminated or leaves employment. The student must also agree to make periodic reports to the DSO. For more details on eligibility requirements or how to apply for this extension, see the International Advisor.

      Other Important Information

      • Only one 12 month period of OPT per higher degree level is available during your U.S. studies. For instance, if you complete a Master’s degree in the U.S. and participate in 12 months of OPT following that degree program, you may receive a new 12 month period of OPT if you go on to complete a Ph.D., but not if you complete a second Master’s degree.
      • Periods of “unemployment” are limited to 90 days while on OPT.
      • Once authorization to engage in OPT is granted, it may not be rescinded or canceled. This means that after OPT is authorized by the USCIS, inability to find an appropriate job, loss of job, or failure to complete requirements for a degree may result in a loss of otherwise eligible time to work. Once the card has been issued and permission to work has been granted, it is impossible to have it canceled or restored at a later date.

    Reentry after Travel Outside of the U.S.

    Reentry provisions of the regulations require that students engaged in authorized optional practical training must present the following documents to reenter the U.S.:

    • SEVIS I-20 signed on page 3 by the IA within the last 6 months
    • “Employment Authorization Document" (EAD)
    • Valid Passport
    • Valid F-1 Visa Stamp
    • Job Offer Letter

    Travel at any time while in F-1 status carries some risk. This risk increases for individuals on OPT, especially if the F-1 visa has expired or if the F-1 student has been unemployed for more than 90 days. If you have completed your program and you do not yet have your EAD, you should not travel out of the country or you risk not being able to reenter to participate in OPT.