International Students

Employment & Taxes

The guidelines listed on this page are for informational purposes only and cannot replace the advice of the staff of the Global Education Center (GEC).

F-1 & J-1 On-campus Employment

F-1 and J-1 students may engage in employment without GEC authorization under the following conditions:

  • The student must be in valid F-1 or J-1 status.
  • Employment meets one of the following conditions:
    • The student is employed by the school in a standard student job such as desk staff or research assistant.
    • The student is employed by an on-campus contractor providing direct student services.
    • The student is employed at an off-campus location affiliated with the university.
  • The student may work no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session.
  • The student may work full-time during school vacations and holidays.

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F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is defined as employment that is an integral part of an established curriculum, including “alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.” 

CPT Workshops

Detailed informational CPT workshops are held periodically in the GEC when school is in session.  It is recommended you attend one of the workshops before applying for CPT.  Contact the GEC for upcoming CPT workshops.

Overview

Students must be authorized by the GEC to participate in CPT.  Students may be authorized to participate in CPT only while enrolled in a program of study.  CPT may be authorized only for a specific employer, location, and period; this information is noted on the I-20 upon receiving authorization for CPT.    

Students may engage in CPT if practical training is "an integral part of an established curriculum."  In practice, this means that a student must be participating in an internship, co-op, or the like either as part of a degree requirement or for academic credit.  Please note that adding an internship, co-op, or practicum course may incur extra tuition or fees.

CPT may be paid or unpaid.  

Eligibility

To be eligible for CPT, a student must:

  • Be in legal F-1 immigration status
  • Have been a full-time student for at least one academic year-- waived if CPT is required immediately for a graduate student's degree program
  • Have a written offer of employment and the recommendation of his or her academic advisor
  • Earn academic credit for the employment

Part-time vs. Full-time CPT

Employment for 20 hours or less per week is considered part-time CPT.  There is no limit on the length of time during which a student may participate in part-time CPT, but CPT must be re-authorized each term, and the student must continue to be enrolled in classes full-time.

Employment for 20 hours or more per week is considered full-time CPT.  There is no limit on the duration of full-time CPT other than the length of the student's degree program.  Please note that participation in 12 months or more of full-time CPT forfeits the student's eligibility for OPT at the same educational level.  A student participating in full-time CPT must continue to make appropriate progress toward his or her degree in order to maintain F-1 status. 

Required Documents

To request CPT, please submit to the GEC the following:

  • Written offer of employment on company/organization letterhead stating:
    • Your name
    • Supervisor's name & contact information
    • Your job title
    • Employment address
    • Number of hours per week to be worked
    • Dates of employment
  • Academic advisor letter of recommendation (sample)
  • Current I-20
  • Most recent I-94

The GEC will:

  • Authorize the CPT in SEVIS
  • Issue the updated I-20

Important Notes

  • The student must be re-authorized for CPT before the terms of the position change (e.g. full time to part time), if the student changes employers, or if the dates of employment are extended.
  • Re-authorization must take place before the new terms of employment take effect.
  • Students should be certain whether the position is full-time or part-time and how long the position will last.
  • Students who participate in full-time CPT for more than 12 months are ineligible for OPT.
  • The student's endorsed I-20 will serve as proof of permission to work in the U.S.
  • Students are encouraged to complete evaluations of their CPT sites for the Career Services Office.

Extensions & Re-authorizations

CPT approvals are authorized for a maximum of one semester at a time.  Students must show proof of enrollment and letters from the employment and academic advisor indicating the necessity of continued employment.

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F-1 Optional Practical Training

OPT is defined as temporary employment directly related to a student's field of study.  During OPT a student remains in F-1 status.  For more information on OPT, please refer to the topics below.

OPT Workshops

Detailed informational OPT workshops are held periodically in the GEC when school is in session.  It is recommended you attend one of the workshops before applying for OPT.  Contact the GEC for upcoming OPT workshops.

Overview

A student must be authorized by both the GEC and U.S. Customs & Immigration Service (USCIS) to participate in OPT.  A student may be authorized for OPT both during his or her course of study and after graduation.

OPT must be directly related to the student's area of study.  The total amount of time a student may spend engaging in OPT is 12 months for each level of education (e.g. 12 months of OPT after a Bachelor's degree and another 12 months for a Master's degree).  Students who have used CPT for one year or more are not eligible for OPT. 

Students are eligible for OPT once they have been enrolled in a U.S. college or university for one year.  There are three basic types of OPT: pre-completion, post-completion, and the STEM OPT extension.  Pre-completion OPT refers to OPT that occurs before the student has completed his or her degree requirements.  Post-completion OPT refers to OPT that occurs after a student has completed his or her degree requirements.  The OPT STEM extension is a 17-month extension of OPT for which students holding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees may be eligible.

A student may submit an application for pre-completion OPT up to 90 days prior to being enrolled for one academic year, provided that the period of employment will not begin until the completion of the academic year.

Eligibility

To be eligible for OPT, a student must:

  • Be in legal F-1 immigration status
  • Have been a full-time student for at least one academic year
  • Not have participated in full-time CPT for a cumulative period of 12 months or more

Pre-completion OPT basics

  • Students are eligible for a maximum of one year of OPT; this total includes pre- and post-completion OPT combined.
  • Student may submit an OPT application within 90 days of being enrolled for one academic year, but employment may not begin until the completion of the academic year.
  • Pre-completion OPT is authorized for a period of the student's choosing, not more than one year; this period will be deducted from available post-completion OPT.
  • Students may work for a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session.
  • Students may work full-time during school vacations, holidays, and upon completion of degree requirements.
  • Part-time OPT (OPT engaged in while school is in session) will be deducted from the 12-month maximum at half-time.

Post-completion OPT basics

  • Students are eligible for a maximum of one year of OPT; this total includes pre- and post-completion OPT combined.
  • Start date must be within 60 days of the academic program completion date.
  • The OPT application must be submitted prior to the completion of the student's academic program.
  • Students may apply for OPT while seeking employment.
  • Employment must be for no less than 20 hours per week.
  • Employment may be paid or unpaid.
  • Students may not be unemployed for more than 90 days during the authorized period; doing so will cause a student to become out-of-status.

Required Documents

  • Legible copies of all current and previous I-20s (excludes dependents)
  • Legible copy of most recent I-94 card (both sides)
  • Legible copy of valid passport and visa
  • Legible copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) (if applicable)
  • Two 2" x 2" full-frontal photographs taken on a white to off-white background, name written in pencil on the back of each.  Photographs may be taken at businesses with in-store photo processing such as pharmacies.
  • Check or money order from a U.S. financial institution, payable in U.S. dollars to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the amount of the filing fee.  Refer to the USCIS website for current filing fees ($380 as of 08/05/2011).
  • Completed academic advisor recommendation form
  • Completed Form I-765 with:
    • Item 16 marked with (c)(3)(a) for pre-completion OPT or marked with (c)(3)(b) for post-completion OPT
    • Item 10 representing your most recent I-94 number
    • A legible signature in the designated location

NOTE: Do not date the I-765 until you are ready to send the OPT application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The Global Education Center will:

  • Update the student's SEVIS record to show the OPT request
  • Review the student's application
  • Issue a new I-20 with the OPT request on the last page
  • Assemble the application in the following order:
  1. Check or money order
  2. Form I-765
  3. Photocopy of the new OPT I-20 and all previous I-20s
  4. Photocopy of I-94 card
  5. Photocopies of the student's photo and visa passport pages
  6. Two 2" x 2" photos

Important Notes

  • If the student transfers to another school, OPT will automatically be terminated.
  • If the student applies for OPT after completing his or her course of study and then departs the U.S., the student must have proof of employment and an I-20 with current travel signature in order to re-enter the U.S.
  • The student's application must be received by USCIS prior to the program end date printed on the student's I-20.
  • Express postage required to meet this deadline will be the student's responsibility.

The EAD Card

Once the student's application is approved, USCIS will issue the student an Employment Authorization Document card.  The student may not begin working until this card is in his or her possession and the begin date listed on the card has been reached.  The student is allowed to stay in the U.S. while searching for employment.

Cancelling OPT is almost impossible once it has been approved.  The amount of time listed on the EAD card will be counted regardless of the student's actual employment.  Requests to cancel should be made to the GEC as soon as possible.

Traveling Outside of the U.S. on OPT

Students who leave the U.S. while authorized for OPT must have the following documents in order to be granted re-entry:

  • I-20, signed for travel within the last six months
  • EAD card
  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Proof of employment or job offer

Failure to carry these items may result in the student being denied entry.  Please consult with the GEC before travel during the OPT-authorization period.

For important information on travel during OPT, please refer to the USCIS Travel Advisory.

Termination of OPT

Students will forfeit their OPT authorization in any of the following scenarios:

  • Change of education level (e.g. starting a master's degree): the EAD is terminated when the student is registered in SEVIS by the new institution.
  • Transfer to another U.S. institution.  The student's OPT authorization ends on the transfer release date.  Authorization for OPT is not transferable.  If you wish to complete OPT, set the transfer release date after OPT ends. 

Students in either of the above situations are advised to contact the GEC for further guidance.

Change of Status While on OPT

Students who change immigration status (e.g. from F-1 to H-1B) during the period of their OPT are required to notify the GEC.  To officially record your new status, the GEC will need a copy of the USCIS approval notice.  Please send a copy by mail to:

Director of International Student and Faculty Scholar Services
Global Education Center
2375 Campus Box
Elon, NC 27244

DHS Address Notification Requirement

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires students to report any change of address while on OPT within ten days.  The student should log in to OnTrack to update his or her address.

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J-1 Academic Training

J-1 academic training is defined as training related to a student's field of study.  Academic training must be authorized by the GEC.  During academic training a student remains in J-1 status.  Academic training activities will vary based on discipline but may involve either paid or unpaid work.  The most common academic training activity is a business internship.

A student may begin academic training during his or her program of study or within thirty days following.  Academic training is authorized either for the duration of the student's exchange program or for the amount of time required to satisfy mandatory degree requirements while in the U.S., whichever is less.

Required Documents

  • Official offer of employment on company/organization letterhead showing:
    • Student's name
    • Supervisor's name & contact information
    • Student's job title
    • Employment address
    • Number of hours per week to be worked
    • Dates of employment
  • Official letter from student's home-school academic advisor on official letterhead showing:
    • Student's name
    • Proposed academic training opportunity
    • Requirement fulfilled by proposed academic training opportunity
    • Advisor's name & contact information
  • Most recent DS-2019 & I-94 card

The GEC will:

  • Authorize the academic training in SEVIS
  • Issue an updated DS-2019

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Other Forms of Employment

Under certain circumstances students experiencing economic hardship may be authorized to seek employment other than the options listed here.  Students should consult with the GEC to see if other options may be available to them.

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Taxes

All international students are required to file a tax return regardless of income earned during the previous year.  A tax return is simply a declaration of earned income; in most cases a student will not be liable for additional taxes as a student's employer will have automatically withheld the required tax amount.  Students are responsible for filing their own tax returns and should do so by the federal filing deadline of April 17, 2012.  

Elon has purchased a software package from CINTAX to help students file their tax returns.  Students will receive an e-mail during the spring semester with an individual access code and instructions for logging in.  The software is user-friendly and will help students prepare the required documents based on their individual responses.

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Information on this page was adapted from the NAFSA Adviser's Manual, retrieved 8/8/2011.