USCIS PROCESSING TIME: 8-14 WEEKS
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary work authorization, for a job related to the field of study, available to international students in F-1 status who are studying in the United States. Any student in F-1 status must receive approval by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services in order to work off-campus. Unauthorized paid employment may result in loss of student status and deportation. Unpaid employment does not require authorization.
Students in F-1 status are eligible to apply for up to 12 months of Practical Training. Practical Training is NOT renewable.
Eligibility requires that you are in good academic standing at the Fletcher School and that you have been in F-1 visa status for at least one academic year. If you take a leave of absence for any reason during the academic year and leave the U.S. for five months or more, you will then lose your eligibility for practical training until you have again maintained F-1 status in the U.S. for at least one academic year. You DO NOT need a job offer in order to apply for Practical Training. The exception to these rules is when you obtain employment with an international organization (see below).
EMPLOYMENT WITH AN INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION
If you obtain an internship with an international organization, such as the World Bank or the UN, you must still apply for work authorization with the USCIS. However, it does not apply towards your 12-month practical training period and you need not be in F-1 status for at least one academic year. In other words, if you begin your degree program in January, you may apply for a summer internship with an international organization, and, at the end of the internship you would still have a 12-month practical training period. Please note that you must have a job offer (in writing) from the international organization in order to apply to work authorization from the INS. A copy of that written job offer must be filed with your application to USCIS.
WHEN TO APPLY FOR PRE/POST-COMPLETION OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING
You may apply for Pre-completion Practical Training (before completing degree requirements) at any time after you have been in F-1 status for one academic year. With pre-completion practical training you may work full-time during school vacations if you intend to continue as a full-time student in the next semester. While school is in session, however, you may not work more than a total of 20 hours per week. The USCIS SEVIS system will monitor the number of hours per week that a student works and if a student works more than the allowed 20 hours per week, they will be considered in violation of their student status. The policy of the USCIS with regard to Post Completion Practical Training (after completion of degree requirements) is that you can apply up to 90 days prior to your graduation date, and up to 60 days after graduation. Once employment authorization has been granted by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, it cannot be cancelled or changed for another time period. Practical training time lost as a consequence of delayed completion of studies or not being employed may not be recovered.
LIMITS ON PERIOD OF UNEMPLOYMENT
Students on post-completion OPT may have up to 90 days of unemployment. Students who have OPT extended due to the cap gap provisions continue to accrue unemployment time and are subject to the 90 limitation on unemployment. However, students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. The student must be able to provide evidence that they worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of unemployment.
CAP GAP EXTENSION
A student who is the beneficiary of a receipted H-1B petition will have his or her OPT and F-1 status extended to September 30. Students are responsible for checking with their International Student Advisor and verifying that their SEVIS record has been updated with the extension.
VERIFICATION OF EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION
Once you are approved for Practical Training, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services will issue an “Employment Authorization Document” (E.A.D. card), which will bear your photograph, signature, and dates of authorized employment. Your E.A.D. card will be verification of your authorization to work.
CURRICULAR PRACTICAL TRAINING
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a type of employment opportunity for international students who hold an F-1 student visa. This particular category does not require approval by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), but must be approved by Carol Murphy, the International Student Advisor and Designated School Official. Students must meet certain requirements in order to be approved for CPT.
To qualify for curricular practical training,
- you must have been a full-time student in the United States for at least one academic year,
- you must have a specific job offer at the time of your application,
- the work must be an integral part of the established curriculum in your course of study,
- you must complete the Professional Development Program,
- you must register for IR CSPT: Practicum in International Relations,
- you must be making reasonable progress towards fulfillment of your degree requirements, and
- you must be enrolled in a full course of study at Fletcher.
- Register for the “IR CSPT: Practicum in International Relations” course
- Participate in and complete the Professional Development Program
- Obtain a job offer letter from your prospective employer. The letter must be on the employer’s letterhead and must include the following:
- Begin and end dates of employment (must be specific)
- Number of hours of work per week
- Name and address of the workplace
- Amount of compensation
- Job Description
- Supervisor’s name
- Complete Section A of From I-538
- Schedule an appointment with Reiko Morris, International Student Advisor by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 617-627-3055.
When arriving for your appointment you must bring the following:
- Employment offer letter
- Form I-538, top portion completed and signed
- Originals of your current Form I-20 and all previously issued I-20’s
- Valid passport with I-94 card
Your application will be reviewed by Reiko Morris (email@example.com) and a new form I-20 will be prepared noting authorization for Curricular Practical Training. You may not accept any employment prior to obtaining the authorization.
LEAVING THE U.S. AND RETURNING DURING PRACTICAL TRAINING
The Fletcher School strongly advises against leaving the United States after receiving your EAD card, but before securing a job or job offer in writing. Even if you have received your EAD card for Optional Practical Training, if you have not gotten a job or job offer in writing and travel outside the U.S., you will be considered to have abandoned your Optional Practical Training (OPT) and will not be permitted to enter the United States in order to look for a job. However, an F-1 student who has timely applied for Optional Practical Training following completion of his or her course of study may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending. However, I would recommend caution, as this may also be risky, you should only travel outside the U.S. if absolutely necessary. The student should, however, carry the I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) to prove the application has been filed and is pending approval. You still need a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport and a travel signature on the third page of your I-20. Do not enter the U.S. in any status but F-1; otherwise you will lose your practical training authorization status.
SOCIAL SECURITY TAX AND NUMBERS
If you are employed in the United States, you must have a Social Security Number WHEN YOU BEGIN WORKING. Application is made to the local Social Security Administration (SSA) Office, which is located at 10 Fawcett Street, First Floor, Cambridge, MA. Please Note: The SSA office will not issue a social security number to international students without either proof of a job offer, and letter of eligibility from the International Student Advisor. Therefore, when you apply to the SSA office, you must bring your passport, your I-20 form, your white I-94 admissions card, AND a letter from your employer indicating your job offer, AND a letter of eligibility from the International Student Advisor.Foreign students who have F-1 visa status do not pay Social Security Tax (FICA) but still need a Social Security Number for tax filing purposes. If Fletcher assigned you a temporary school I.D. number (starting with 999 or 991), you cannot use this number outside of Fletcher or in place of a Social Security Number.
FORM I-9, “EMPLOYMENT ELIGIBILITY VERIFICATION”
Upon starting your job, you will be asked to complete a Form I-9, which requires you to document your identity and your work authorization. The best document to produce in order to comply is the E.A.D. card. Copies of your E.A.D. card will be made and kept on file at your place of employment.
FEDERAL AND STATE INCOME TAX
In most cases, foreign students and scholars are subject to all federal and state taxes if employed in the U.S. Tax treaties exist between the U.S. government and some foreign countries that may affect the amount of tax you are required to pay. You will be required to file both federal and state income tax forms by April 15th of each year for any work completed during the previous calendar year. Tax forms are usually available from January through April at local post offices, public libraries, banks and Internal Revenue Service offices. As a non-resident, taxation is extremely complicated. When filing your tax returns, it is best to consult with someone at your place of employment who is knowledgeable, or visit an office of the Internal Revenue Service. Fletcher, in conjunction with Tufts University now offers CINTAX, an on-line tax service to assist you in preparing your tax returns. You will be sent an email at the beginning of each tax year with instructions on how to use the software by the International Student Advisor.
PROCEDURE FOR PRACTICAL TRAINING APPLICATION
STEP 1: GET the appropriate forms to apply for an EAD card at the Registrar's Office (I-765 form)
STEP 2: YOU WILL NEED two color photos of yourself. Photo requirements: Photos must be on a white background, taken no earlier than 30 days before submission to U.S.C.I.S. Be sure they are unmounted, printed on thin paper, glossy, and unretouched. A copy of the photo requirements and sample can be obtained in the Registrar’s Office. (Errico Studios, 259 Elm St., Davis Square will process these photos for approximately $8 - $10.00)
STEP 3: Bring completed application forms, the photos, your current I-20, all previous I-20’s and passport to the Registrar’s Office for approval and endorsements.
STEP 4: SEND THE FOLLOWING:
- Check for $380.00 (Made payable to Department of Homeland Security)
- Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization)
- Your two photos
WITH COPY ONLY OF: (International Student Advisor will make copies)
- Form 1-20 (front & back)(endorsed by International Student Advisor)
- All previously issued I-20’s from Fletcher and/or previously attended institution
- I-94 white Admissions card from passport (front & back)
- Visa page in your passport
- Last EAD card if you have one
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
FOR EXPRESS MAIL AND COURIER DELIVERIES:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
PLEASE NOTE: ALL EAD CARDS WILL BE MAILED DIRECTLY TO REIKO MORRIS (firstname.lastname@example.org), INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR. IT WILL THEN BE MAILED TO YOU AT THE ADDRESS YOU HAVE PROVIDED WITHIN THE U.S.