Helping you understand and comply with US immigration law.
The University of Charleston prides itself on being a welcoming, diverse, international community.
As an international student, you do have responsibilities to understand and comply with US immigration law. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Study in the States websites are excellent resources for future and current UC international students.
The following section provides general immigration information. If you have specific questions, contact our Director of International Admissions/Enrollment.
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) involves computerized processes to collect, maintain, and manage information about international students and exchange visitors during their stay in the United States. SEVIS enables schools and exchange programs to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the Internet to the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and the Department of State throughout the student’s or exchange visitor’s stay in the United States.
The SEVIS system ensures that all legitimate foreign students be able to enter the United States and reduces the exploitation of immigration laws by those attempting to enter our country for reasons other than attending schools here. All schools that accept international students must be SEVIS approved schools. All new F-1 students are issued an immigration document (an I-20) through the SEVIS system.
Full-Time Status and Reporting
International students in F-1 immigration status are required by to be full-time students for two consecutive terms each year. Generally, students register full-time for fall and spring terms.
Full-time undergraduate status is defined as enrollment for a minimum of 12 credits each term. Students who wish to take online courses may do so provided that they are taken in addition to a minimum of 9 credit hours of in-seat coursework. Full-time graduate status varies by program.
There are exceptions to this regulation made for students who fit into certain classifications.
- Students in the final term of their academic program who need less than the minimum full-time load to complete their program.
- Master’s degree students who have completed all course work and are enrolled only for 1 to 3 credits or continuous registration per term for thesis/dissertation work. In this case, international students must be certain to enroll for the 1-3 credits or continuous registration each of the two terms to retain “active” status as per immigration regulations.
- Students who encounter serious health, academic, or personal problems, which must be verified with the Director of International Programs for permission to withdraw or drop below full-time status.
Extending your Program of Study
You may apply for an extension of your study program if you meet all of the following requirements:
- You have not yet exceeded the time limitation placed upon your study by the expected completion of studies date in item #5 on your I-20.
- You have continuously maintained lawful F-1 status.
- The delay in completing program requirements has been caused by compelling academic reasons such as changes in major field of study or research topics, unexpected research problems, or documented medical reasons. Delays in completing program requirements, which are caused by academic probation or suspension, are not acceptable reasons for extension of a program of study.
If your completion of studies date has expired or if you do not meet the eligibility requirements to apply for program extension, you may need to apply for reinstatement to lawful F-1 status. Reinstatement is at the discretion of DHS.
You must apply for an extension of a study program within the thirty (30) day period before the completion date on your I-20. Contact the Director of International Programs to complete your extension. You will need:
- Academic Advisor’s Recommendation. A recommendation letter from your academic advisor must verify the reason(s) for the delay in your completion of study requirements, and recommend an extension for your program with a new expected completion date.
- Financial Verification. You are required to provide updated financial support documents before the new document can be prepared.
- New Documents. You will be given a new I-20 that will replace your previous I-20 but, remember all previous I-20s must be kept.
If you fail to comply with your responsibilities, you may not be eligible to continue any type of employment (even on-campus employment) or to apply for school transfer, practical training, or other F-1 benefits without a reinstatement.
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).
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 That 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:
- You must obtain a Social Security number from the Social Security Administration.
- You must report your Social Security number to the Business Office, the International Programs Office, and your employer.
Practical Training is employment directly related to one’s field of study, which serves as training for the profession the student will enter. There are two types of Practical Training allowed for students by the Department of Homeland Security: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Curricular Practical Training
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is defined 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Student finds the internship
- Student submits the following to the Director of International Programs:
- Letter from academic advisor explaining that the internship is
- An integral part of an established curriculum and
- Directly related to the major area of study
- Letter from employer stating
- Job title and responsibilities
- Dates of intended employment
- Number of hours per week
- Employer’s address and phone number
- Address where the employment will take place
- Signature of hiring manager or supervisor
- Letter from academic advisor explaining that the internship is
The Center for Career Development (CCD) Learning Contract
- The Director of International Programs determines whether or not the internship is a valid situation for the student’s academic program
- If the student IS NOT already receiving academic credit for the internship, the student registers for ENSL-050X International Internship (Audit only, no credit, no cost). The student then provides the 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.
- The 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.
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).
We have created an Application Guide that provides an overview of the process and what you need to know about OPT here