Employment Basics

What is Employment?

Employment is any type of work performed, or services provided, in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, lodging, or for any other benefit. You may not be employed off-campus unless authorized by an international student advisor (this includes unpaid and volunteer employment). Working or being employed off-campus without authorization is a serious violation of your immigration status.

On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment does not require authorization from International Affairs; it is an automatic benefit of the F-1 or J-1 (degree seeking) status. Art Institute employment does not have to be related to your major and can include jobs at the school, in the museum, and TA positions for graduate students. Jobs are available in many departments at SAIC, and positions are available at all skill levels. Most on-campus jobs during the fall and spring semesters are reserved for students with Work-Study earning eligibility and international students. Check job listings on SAIC Launch and contact departments directly about job opportunities. SAIC employment cannot exceed 20 hours per week when school is in session. This amount includes all other authorized employment. International students may work more than 20 hours per week during official SAIC breaks only.

Volunteer Work

Engaging in volunteer work can be viewed by USCIS as unauthorized employment and a serious violation of your immigration status. Always consult with an international student advisor in International Affairs before considering or engaging in opportunities like volunteer work. Walk-in hours are a great time to stop by International Affairs and ask to speak with an advisor regarding your questions about employment or unpaid volunteer opportunities.

Curricular Practical Training

You must be registered full-time before considering a Co-op internship or any other work experience.

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

CPT is a type of work authorization awarded through International Affairs that allows eligible F-1 students to gain practical work experience in their program through approved off-campus internships if the practical training is “an integral part of an established curriculum” [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)]. Approved off-campus internships are for SAIC credit and may be required for graduation. Examples include Co-op internships or a graduate program requirement such as fieldwork or internship and can include both paid and unpaid opportunities.

Who is Eligible?

Students who have been in F-1 status for one academic year are eligible to apply for CPT. Limited exceptions to the one-year eligibility requirement include specific Master of Arts program students who have internships required as part of their first year curriculum.

When should I apply?

You must request CPT authorization via a formal process through International Affairs before starting work. CPT authorizations must be requested five business days before the start of your proposed employment. Approved CPT students will receive a new I-20 with the authorized location and dates of employment printed on the third page. You may not work until you have been authorized for CPT, and CPT is employer-specific. This means that if you change your employer, or dates of employment, you must request new CPT authorization from International Affairs. Working even one day without required CPT authorization is a serious violation of your F-1 status and will jeopardize your immigration status.

Do I need to register for a full course load while I search for a Co-op? 

Yes. International students are required at all times to be full-time students. If you have not secured your Co-op internship when classes begin, register for and attend another course to maintain your full-time status. If you do secure a Co-op internship during the add/drop period, you will be able add the Co-op credit and drop the other course without penalty.

How should I apply?

Co-op Students

  1. Complete your International Student Co-op Orientation and submit your application and résumé online to the Career + Co-op Center.
  2. Schedule an appointment with your Co-op Advisor.
  3. Follow up on leads provided by your Co-op Advisor and receive an internship offer.
  4. After an offer is secured, visit the Co-op office to register for Co-op credit and to complete the Student and Co-op portion of the CPT Application Form. Note that the Co-op advisor must provide a copy of your job description as part of the completed CPT Application Form for International Affairs.
  5. Request a copy of your Registration Statement from the Registrar.
  6. Submit your completed CPT Application form along with your job description in-person to International Affairs at least five business days before you hope to begin your internship.
  7. Pick up your CPT-authorized I-20 from International Affairs when notified via email and before beginning your CPT-authorized Co-op internship.

Graduate Students with Required Fieldwork or Internships

  1. Upon securing placement at a fieldwork site, complete the student portion of the CPT Application Form (link to form) for fieldwork/internships.
  2. Make an appointment with your placement coordinator or appropriate departmental staff to complete the advisor portion of the form. Note that you or your placement coordinator must provide or attach a copy of your placement/job description to the completed CPT authorization form.
  3. Submit your completed CPT Application Form in person to International Affairs along with your registration statement showing that you are registered for the fieldwork or internship course listed on your CPT Application form at least five business days before you begin your fieldwork.
  4. Pick up your CPT-authorized I-20 from International Affairs when notified and before beginning your CPT-authorized fieldwork or internship.


Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is OPT?

OPT is work authorization which allows eligible F-1 students to work in the United States for up to 12 months AFTER the completion of their degree. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to gain work experience before returning to your home country to pursue employment there.

Am I eligible for to apply for OPT?

To be eligible, you must:

Do I need to have a job in order to apply for OPT?

Unlike CPT, you are not required to have a job before you submit your OPT application. You are permitted to apply for OPT while you are still searching for a job.

How do I apply for OPT?

Authorization is granted by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through an application process that takes two to three months. 

The steps you must complete to apply for OPT are:

  1. Attend a mandatory OPT workshop early in your final semester of study. 
  2. Complete OPT application checklist given to you at the OPT workshop in preparation for your International Affairs appointment to file your OPT application.
  3. Schedule a half-hour OPT appointment with your International Affairs Advisor.
  4. With International Affairs, review your final OPT application documents for submission.
  5. International Affairs will generate a new I-20 with your requested OPT application dates and submit the application to USCIS for processing. 

What happens to my application after it is sent to USCIS?

Once your application is received by USCIS, you will receive a receipt from USCIS that has a "receipt number" with which you can track your case status as the application moves through the review process with USCIS. You can track your USCIS case status here. Once approved, you will receive what is called "Employment Authorization Document" (EAD), which we also like to call your OPT card. This card is like a Social Security card—it is unique to you and very important to keep safe and secure. It lists the exact dates of your authorized OPT period and is presented to employers as evidence of your work eligibility once you are hired.

Can I travel outside the United States while my OPT application is pending?

Traveling outside the United States is discouraged while your OPT application is pending. If you must travel during this period of time, please speak to International Affairs prior to doing so. You are free to travel within the United States while your application is pending.

What happens after I receive my Employment Authorization Document (EAD)/OPT Card?

Once your OPT period begins, you are expected to work. Work may be part-time or full-time, and can be paid or unpaid. You are required to report your employment or changes to your employment to International Affairs, as this information is recorded in SEVIS. Details are collected in an online OPT Employment Reporting web form. Changes and updates must be made within 10 days in order to maintain your immigration status.

What type of work or employment can I accept after I receive my EAD/OPT Card?

All work or employment must be related to the program of study listed on your I-20. Work may be paid or unpaid, but it must be related to your program of study.

I received a job offer and they want me to start right away, but I don’t have my EAD/OPT Card yet, may I begin working?

You may NOT begin working until you receive your EAD/OPT Card and you may not work outside the dates listed on your EAD/OPT Card. Your employer will likely ask for a copy of your OPT Card to determine employment eligibility, so it is important that you do not agree to begin working before you receive your OPT card or agree to work on any dates outside the dates listed on your OPT Card.

What information am I required to report to International Affairs while on OPT?

You are required to report any changes in your address, name, or employment status while on OPT. Additionally, if you change your immigration status or decide to permanently depart the United States during your OPT period, you are required to report this to International Affairs.

When are the mandatory OPT workshops held?

OPT Workshops are held every Tuesday from 12:10–12:50 p.m. at the International Affairs office. Contact International Affairs for special evening workshop dates and times or with any questions.

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