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 (CPT)

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

What is Curricular Practical Training?

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.

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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 an opportunity for you to gain work experience before returning to your home country to pursue more permanent employment.

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); it may take up to 90 days for a decision to be made regarding your application. 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 the online OPT application checklist before making your appointment with International Affairs 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 issue a new I-20 in SEVIS with your requested OPT application dates, review the application with you and submit the application to USCIS by mail for processing.

What happens to my application after it is sent to USCIS? Can I track the status of my OPT application?

Upon receipt,you will receive notice  from USCIS with a "receipt number" you can use to track your case status as the application moves through the review process. Once approved, you will receive what is called an "Employment Authorization Document" (EAD), also known as your OPT card. This card is like a Social Security card or Passport—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 cancel my OPT application after I send it to USCIS?

If your OPT application has not yet been reviewed,you may send a letter to USCIS requesting that the application be cancelled, however, your filing fee will not be refunded.  If you need to cancel your OPT application, visit International Affairs for assistance.

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 there are any problems with your application, USCIS may send a RFE (Request for Evidence) which requires a response which may require you to be in the United States to respond. If you are required to travel internationally while your application is pending, please speak to International Affairs prior to finalizing your plans. 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 and any 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 reported 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, and does the work have to be paid?

All work or employment must be related to the program of study listed on line #5 of your I-20. For most SAIC students, jobs related to the arts would be appropriate.  Please speak with an International Affairs advisor if you have any questions. 

Types of acceptable paid employment:

  • Multiple employers: You may work for one or more employer, but all jobs must be related to your field of study.
  • Short-term multiple employers: You are permitted to have multiple short-term jobs or gigs (e.g., performances, exhibitions, etc.). Keep a list and evidence of all jobs, exhibitions, gigs, including the employer and duration of each.
  • Work for hire: Commonly referred to as 1099 or Independent Contractor Employment—keep evidence of the duration of contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner: You may start a business or be self-employed while on OPT. You should be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and that the business is related to your field of study.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm is also allowed.

Unpaid Employment:

  • You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate US labor laws.

How many hours a week do I have to work to be considered employed?

OPT regulations require you work on average 20+ hours a week. This may include combining the hours worked between two or more employers.

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 only work between 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 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 within 10 days. 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 using the OPT Employment Reporting web form.

What sort of documentation do I need to keep of my employment?

International Affairs recommends that you document all work completed while on OPT.  Examples of documentation include; job offer letters printed on company letterhead, pay stubs, timesheets, exhibition promo materials, residency offers, etc. Documentation is for your personal records and should not be submitted to International Affairs. Employment documentation is important because it can facilitate international travel and support an application to change to another visa status after OPT.

How many days can I be unemployed while on OPT?

You are permitted up to 90 days of unemployment throughout the 12 months of OPT listed on your EAD/OPT Card, or a maximum of 90 days where the average hours worked falls below 20 hours per week. If you reach 91 days total (within your 12 month OPT period), your OPT ends and you are expected to depart the United States immediately. If you are coming close to 90 days of unemployment, contact International Affairs to discuss your options.

What if I decide to transfer to another institution, what happens to my OPT?

If you plan to start a new program either during or after you complete your OPT,request to have your SEVIS record transferred to the other institution by International Affairs. This can be done up to 60 days after your OPT end date. Please note that if you transfer your SEVIS record while on OPT, your work authorization ends the day that your record is transferred, regardless of the end date indicated on your EAD/OPT Card.

What if my visa expires while I’m on OPT, do I need to depart the U.S. and apply for a new one?

You can remain in the United States if your F-1 visa has expired; you do not need to depart and apply for a new one. Only if you plan to travel outside the United States and return while on OPT, do you need to have a valid F-1 visa. If you travel outside the United States and your F-1 visa will expire before you re-enter, you must apply for a new visa at a US Consulate or Embassy abroad PRIOR to your return.    

If I need to travel outside the United States during OPT, what documents do I need?

If you plan to travel outside the United States while on OPT and re-enter, you should have the following documents:

Note: Students re-entering the United States after their program end date but before their OPT start date must travel with their EAD/OPT Card and the items above.

I have lost my EAD/OPT Card, how can I get a replacement card?

If you lose or misplace your EAD/OPT Card, you will need to apply for a replacement. The process for applying for OPT and applying for a replacement EAD/OPT card is nearly the same; you simply check a different box on the I-765 form. For the replacement card, you will have to submit an entirely new application with required support documentation, pay the $380 fee, and wait for your application to be processed and approved. If you need to apply for a replacement card, contact International Affairs for assistance.

When are the mandatory OPT workshops held?

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

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