10 Basic Rules for Legal Status in the United States

  1. Must be Full-time: To be full-time at Wartburg College, you must enroll in 3 credits during the Fall and Winter terms, and 1 credit in the May term.  There are very limited circumstances where you can be enrolled as a part-time student, and you must be authorized by the Director of International Student Services.  Contact the Office if you are considering enrolling part-time.
  2. Keep your Documents Valid and Up-to-date: If your passport will expire in less than 6 months, you need to contact your embassy to get a new passport. 
  3. Visit the International Student Services Office before Traveling:  If you plan to leave the United States during a break or during the summer, you need to bring your I-20 to the Office before you travel to be signed, and your passport needs to be valid at least 6 months when you re-enter the United States. 
  4. Work Only as Allowed and with the Required Proper Authorization:  You are allowed to work on campus for 20 hours per week during school and 40 hours during breaks. 
  5. File Federal Forms Every Year:  You must file a tax return or a Form 8843 every year that you are in the United States.  Pay attention to emails from the Director during the winter term, there will be information and assistance provided by the Office.
  6. Notify the International Student Programs Office if you Leave Wartburg College permanently or temporarily:  If you plan to study abroad, take a leave of absence, withdraw, graduate early, or transfer to another school, contact the Office.
  7. Keep the International Student Programs Office Informed:  If your address changes, or if there are changes in your name, citizenship, degree level, major, sources of funding, or anticipated graduation date, contact the Director of International Student Services within 10 days of the change. 
  8. Make a Timely Application for Program Extension: Look at your I-20, section 5.  If you will graduate or finish at Wartburg after the date listed there, you need to ask the Director of International Student Services for a program extension.  The Director cannot extend your program once that date passes.
  9. Ask for a Referral:  If you are arrested in the United States, this can jeopardize your ability to remain in the United States.  Contact the Office for a referral to an immigration attorney who specializes in representing F-1 students. 
  10. Pay your Bill:  In order to enroll in classes at Wartburg College, you need to keep your student balance low.  If you cannot enroll in classes then you will be out of status and the Director may be required to terminate your SEVIS record.  If this becomes an issue, contact the Director frequently about your plans after leaving Wartburg to ensure your record is handled appropriately.   

What is F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?  

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows a student to have a job that is an integral part of an established curriculum where academic credit is awarded, such as an independent study or internship course.  CPT is done during and as a part of the academic program.   The employment must correspond to a credit-bearing course (.25cr, .5cr, 1cr) that appears in the academic catalog for their major. Students must register for this course and the training for which they are being paid must be done within the academic semester for which they are registered for the course.  CPT must fit with the degree that the student is seeking to obtain: either a requirement of the program or to enhance the student’s understanding of their chosen field.  Some departments may have requirements for internships or CPT, so be sure to contact your department to find out more about your major requirements. 

What are the eligibility requirements for F-1 CPT?
To be eligible to apply for CPT, you must

  • Have been in full-time student status for at least one full academic year,
  • Be maintaining valid F-1 status at the time of the application,
  • Have a job offer for an internship or field experience that is related to your major field of study, and
  • Have a completed learning contract specific for the job offer. 

When I should apply?
You should start by meeting with Jo Dorrance to discuss how to do an internship or field experience for credit at Wartburg.  CPT authorization will not be issued without an approved, for-credit internship or field experience done through the Center for Community Engagement.  It is never too early to start thinking about how this could fit into your four year academic plan. 

If I do CPT, does that affect my ability to do post-completion OPT?
Generally, no.  Part-time CPT does not reduce or limit your eligibility for post-completion OPT.  If you work full-time CPT, meaning more than 20 hours per week, for more than 12 months, that will reduce the amount of post-completion OPT you can apply for.  However, be aware that once your OPT application is filed, the Director will not authorize any additional CPT. 

Do I need to have a job to apply for CPT?
Yes.  You need to meet with Jo Dorrance and discuss your options for an internship or field experience.  Once you know how to sign up for a for-credit internship or field experience, then you can search for a job.  You must complete the learning contract to get CPT authorization, and CPT authorization is specific to that employer. 

When can I start working?
You cannot start working until you have a new I-20 that shows you are authorized to work for that employer, and the date on the I-20 has passed.  There will be specific dates and a specific employer where you are permitted to work. 

Do I have to pay taxes on my earnings from an internship?
Yes, you are subject to federal taxes for any employment you do in the United States.  You will also need a social security number to complete your employment paperwork.  Contact the Director if you do not yet have a social security number.  In January of the following year, you will get a W-2 from your internship or field experience employer that shows the amount of federal and state taxes that were withheld from your paychecks and you will need to use that document to complete your tax returns.

What if my internship or field experience employer is registered with E-Verify? 
If your employer puts your name into the E-Verify system, it will show that you need further confirmation that you are eligible to work in the United States.  You will need to contact the Director to ensure that the business name on your I-20 is correct, and then call the Department of Homeland Security to speak with an agent.  They will investigate to ensure you have the legal authorization to work in the United States.  CPT authorization is specific to an employer and a period of time, it will always trigger more investigation if your employer uses E-Verify. 

What if my internship or field experience is not paid?  Do I still need CPT authorization?
This is a difficult question.  Generally, it is recommended that even unpaid internships or field experiences get CPT authorization.  It does not cost you anything, and if you have already completed a learning contract, then a new I-20 will be issued.  This will protect you in case the United States Department of Labor decides that your unpaid internship should have been paid. 

What is F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional practical training (OPT) is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience off campus. OPT is authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This authorization can take up to 120 days to obtain. The maximum amount of time granted to work in F-1 OPT status is 12 months for an undergraduate degree and an additional 12 months for a graduate degree. You may use some or all of the available 12 months of OPT during your course of study or save the full twelve months to use after you graduate.

What are the eligibility requirements for F-1 OPT?
To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must

  • Have been in full-time student status for at least one full academic year
  • Be maintaining valid F-1 status at the time of the application, and
  • Intend to work in a position directly related to your major field of study.

If I complete a degree program, take 12 months of OPT, and then begin a second course of study, am I eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT?
An F-1 student may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when he or she moves to a higher education level. For example, this benefits a student who has used 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree and is now completing a master’s program.

When I should apply?
You may not apply until 90 days prior to the end of your last term of study. It is important that you apply for the authorization well in advance of the date you wish to commence employment as average processing time is now 90 days. USCIS must receive the application within 60 days after your program end date (last day of your final term of study).

Which dates should I request for the beginning and ending of my OPT?
The earliest date you can request for the beginning of the OPT is the day after your degree. However, you may request that your OPT officially begins anytime in the 60 days following your program end date. The end date of your OPT authorization is 12 months after the beginning date.

Do I need to have a job to apply for OPT?
You do not need to have a job offer to apply for OPT. However, you cannot be unemployed for more than 90 days cumulative during your OPT authorization period. Once you obtain employment, it is your responsibility to notify the International Student Services Office so we can update this information in SEVIS.  If you do not notify the International Student Services Office of your updated employer information and your SEVIS record has not been updated for more than 90 days, it will automatically terminate and you will need to leave the United States. 

Can I begin working before I receive the Employment Authorization Document? (EAD)
No. You may not begin employment before you receive your EAD from USCIS. Working before OPT has been authorized by USCIS constitutes illegal employment and may jeopardize your legal status in the U.S.

Is there a fee for applying for OPT?
Yes. The current application cost is $380.00

What is STEM OPT? 
If you have a job directly related to your major field of study, and your field of study is science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, then you may be able to extend your OPT an additional 24 months.  This application would be made no later than 30 days before the end of your OPT, so if you are interested you need to contact the Director at least 120 days before the end of your OPT.  You may discuss this in greater detail with the Director during your OPT application meeting. 

How do I start the OPT application process?
If you would like to apply for OPT, be sure to attend one of the OPT workshops scheduled each semester to learn more about the process.   

Consequences

Consequences of Engaging in Unauthorized Employment

Accepting illegal employment can directly hinder your ability to legally live, work, or visit the United States now and in the future. A proven incident of unauthorized employment will make you ineligible for reinstatement to lawful F-1 status.

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Attend a CPT and OPT workshop with the Director for the OPT workshop.