Global Education & Outreach

Immigration Status Information

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WIU Immigration   Specialist

Ms. Dana Sistko, 
Immigration Specialist
Sherman Hall 116

Phone:  (309) 298-1806



 1.Maintaining your immigration status

 2. Curricular Practical Training/Internship Info

 3. Optional Practical Training

 4. Optional 24-Month Extension

 5. Economic Necessity Employment

 1. Maintaining Your Immigration Status

You must:

  • Possess a valid passport at all times, unless exempt from passport requirements.
  • Possess a valid, unexpired I-20 at all times. This includes correct degree level, major, current funding, and personal data.
  • Enroll in and attend classes. If you plan on taking a semester off other than summer, you must obtain prior approval from the Immigration Specialist.
  • Attend the college/university listed on your I-20. Prior approval is needed if you plan to take classes at Spoon River College. If you dual enroll, you must take the majority of your credits per semester at WIU.
  • Complete a full course of study during normal enrollment periods (fall & spring semester).


  • Full time is defined as 12 credits per semester for undergraduates, 9 credits per semester for graduate students.
  • You are only allowed to count 1 on-line course per semester toward your full time status.
  • You must be enrolled for your courses by the beginning of each semester. The Immigration Specialist is required to report non-enrollment to the (DHS) Department of Homeland Security within 30 days of the end of the registration period. Any student who is not enrolled will be reported and will be considered out of status with immigration.
  • If you will not be enrolled full time, you must receive prior approval from the Immigration Specialist. You and your academic advisor must complete the "Exception from Full Time Enrollment Form" and submit it to the Immigration Specialist prior to dropping below full time status.

Change of Address:

  • You must report any change of address within 10 days of the change.  Please update this in STARS and the Immigration Specialist will update your SEVIS record. 


  • You are allowed to work on campus only up to 20 hours per week when school is in session and full time (40 hours) during vacation periods. Students may be allowed to work off campus, but need permission from the Immigration Specialist prior to beginning employment. 


  • Prior to traveling outside the U. S. make sure your WIU student account is paid and that your I-20 has been endorsed for travel (on page 3) by the Immigration Specialist in the last 6 months.


  • You must apply for an extension of your program of study prior to the expiration date of the I-20. Requests for extension should be submitted 30 days prior to the expiration date of the I-20.

Change of Academic Level:

  • You must obtain a new I-20 if you change your academic level (example: bachelor's to master's), if you change your major, or if your source of funding changes.


  • If you intend to transfer to another college/university, you must first notify the Immigration Specialist in advance of this transfer.

Withdrawal from the University:

  • If you need to withdraw from classes, or are asked to leave the university, you must report this to the Immigration Specialist. You will have 15 calendar days to leave the United States. If you do not report it, your F-1 status ends immediately.

The normal grace period to remain in the U.S. following degree completion is 60 calendar days.


2. Curricular Practical Training / Internship information

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an off-campus job that is directly related to your major and an integral part of your degree program. CPT for F-1 students is intended to provide hands-on practical work experience in situations where the work serves as an integral part of a student's academic program, prior to completion of that program.  There are two types of CPT defined by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service:

  1. Everyone in a degree program must do an internship or they will not receive their degree (must enroll in the internship course)
  2. If the internship is not required, then it must be taken for academic credit (which means you must enroll in an internship course offered by your academic department)

This type of work permission is job- and location-specific, so a job offer is required before authorization can be granted. There is no application fee for this type of work and authorization is granted by the Immigration Specialist.

Students that have been in F-1 status for one academic year (2 semesters) may apply to participate in this type of training. Students who have received one year or more of full time CPT are ineligible for optional practical training (this is practical training immediately after all degree course work has been completed).

Application Procedure
  1. Contact the Immigration Specialist to receive specific information
  2. Complete the CPT application
  3. Return the CPT recommendation form completed and signed by your academic advisor
  4. Present a letter from your employer (on company letterhead) giving the following information:
    • Job title
    • Beginning and ending dates of employment
    • Wage/salary being paid
    • Number of hours per week to be worked
    • Place of employment
    • Brief description of work

You must be registered for an internship course prior to receiving permission from the Immigration Specialist. The Form I-20 will be endorsed by the Immigration Specialist indicating full-time or part-time CPT has been authorized and list the employer name, location, and employment beginning and ending dates.


3. Optional Practical Training Information

What Is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of immigration employment for payment that is directly related to your major and appropriate level of study.

What Are the Qualifications to be eligible for OPT?

Students must have been in school and registered full-time for at least one academic year. The student must be in good academic standing.

How long can I work in Optional Practical Training?

Students are eligible for up to 12 months of full-time OPT (or 24 months of part-time OPT) in any combination of the following:

  1. Part-time or full-time during the student's annual vacation (summer)
  2. Part-time or full-time after completion of course work, but before completion of thesis or dissertation.  Please note:  Students MUST complete their degree, including thesis or dissertation, prior to the end of post-completion OPT.  If the degree is not completed, the student is not eligible for a program extension.
  3. Full-time after completion of course of study.
When can I apply for Optional Practical Training?

Apply early, because it takes at least 90 days to process. Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to their program end date.

Can I change my mind after applying for OPT?

Authorization for OPT may not be rescinded or deferred once permission has been granted and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been issued. Students are strongly encouraged to apply for a full 12 months of OPT following graduation.

When can I begin working?

Students may begin work only after they have received the EAD (Employment Authorization Document) from  USCIS and the beginning date on the EAD has been reached.

Can I change jobs in Optional Practical Training?

Students may change employers at any time during OPT as long as the employment is always directly related to their major and appropriate for their level of study; no job offer is required when you apply for OPT.

Can I travel while in Optional Practical Training, and can I travel outside the U. S. while waiting for my EAD card?

Students planning to travel outside the U. S. between completion of studies and the end of OPT will need the following items to re-enter the U.S.:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Valid I-20 with travel endorsement
  • EAD card
  • Letter from their employer indicating that they either have a job offer or have already begun employment and that the company expects the student to return to complete the terms of their contract.
  • Students may have difficulty returning to the U. S., especially if they have not obtained a job.
How do I apply for Optional Practical Training?

When ready to apply for OPT, students should call the Immigration Specialist at (309) 298-1806 (or email) to set up an appointment.  The appointment may take up to 30 minutes.

What do I bring to my appointment when applying for OPT?
  • A personal check which has your name/address and bank account number printed on it or a money order for $410.00 made payable to: U. S. Department of Homeland Security.  Cash payments are not acceptable.
  • Two passport-style photographs which may be obtained from the WIU Visual Production Center, Tillman Hall 207;  2 pictures will cost approximately $8.  Pictures must be recent. 
  • Current I-20
  • Valid passport and I-94 
  • Either know or bring your Social Security Number if you have one
  • Completed I-765 
How and when is my application sent?

We will process and help you prepare your application at your appointment.   You are responsible for mailing your packet to USCIS.

What happens after my application is mailed?

When your application is received at the Potomac Service Center, a Form I-797 (Notice of Action) will be sent. WIU will send the original Form I-797 to you. You may check the online status by accessing the USCIS website at https://egov. where you can type in your LIN# and find the status of your application, or call (and have your LIN# ready to give them). Processing dates for I-765 forms for F-1 employment are listed under the Potomac Service Center.

When will I receive information about my application?

If your application is approved, your EAD will be mailed to the School of Graduate Studies. In the very unlikely event that your application cannot be granted, you will receive an explanation for the denial.

How will I be notified that my EAD card has arrived at tWIU?

When your card arrives, you will be contacted by email. You will be required to show ID when you come to the office to pick up your EAD card. The card will only be given to someone else if you have made prior arrangements with the office to do so.

What happens on the first day of my job?

Students will need to prove both identity and permission to work on the first day of employment. The I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification form) is used for that purpose and the EAD card provides proof of both identity and work permission. (However, many companies may not realize that the EAD meets both requirements and may also want to see your passport or driver's license for proof of identity.)

What do I do about Income Taxes while in OPT?

Students in F-1 status who have been in the U. S. for fewer than 5 years are not to have Medicare and Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks; however, they are to have income tax withheld in accordance with tax treaties. Students must complete federal and state income tax forms which are due on April 15 of each year. Students must keep former employers updated as to new addresses so that they can send W-2s (the form employers send to employees indicating the total wages paid and taxes withheld) to students.


4. OPT 24-Month STEM Extension

Who is eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension?
  • Students who have been approved for 12 months of post-completion OPT; and
  • Who have earned a degree in a field included on the US Government’s list of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields; and
  • Who are employed in a job directly related to his/her field of study; and

Please note: all four of the above criteria must be met in order for a student to be eligible for the 24-month OPT extension.

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is a database system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly-hired employees. E-Verify is currently voluntary in most states. For more information visit:

When should one apply for the 24-month OPT STEM extension?

Students may apply for this extension 90 days prior to the expiration of the first 12 months of regular OPT. The application must be received by USCIS prior to the expiration date of the first OPT period in order to be properly filed.

What happens while the application is pending?

If the application for the 24-month OPT extension is successfully received prior to the expiration of the first OPT period, students may continue employment until the application is processed or until 150 days have passed, whichever is sooner.

Limitations on Unemployment:
  • Students approved for the 24-month OPT extension may not accrue more than 150 days of unemployment during the total 36-month period of OPT. Employment must be paid and must be related to the field of study in order to qualify. Self-employment and volunteer positions will not qualify as valid employment for OPT purposes during the special 24-month OPT extension.
Starting and Ending Dates:
  • The start date of the 24-month OPT extension will be automatically set to the day after the expiration of the current 12-month OPT authorization. The end date will be 24 months later. It is not possible to request smaller increments of time for this extension.
  • You must contact the Immigration Specialist, at (309) 298-1806 to apply for the 24-month OPT extension.
  • Effective April 8, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security published an interim final rule in the Federal Register/Vol 73, No. 68 Tuesday, April 8, 2008, that students currently on OPT, working for an employer who filed a timely H-1B in April with a start date of October 1, can continue working for the employer until October 1, even when the current EAD expires.
  • The DHS not only extended your duration of status until October 1, but also your work authorization. You do not have to complete any paperwork for the extension of your current OPT EAD card; it happens automatically when the current EAD expires. This new rule eliminates the need for students to leave the US or enroll in a degree program to maintain their status.

EXAMPLE: you are on OPT from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 and your current employer filed an H-1B in April with an October 1 start date, you can continue working for the employer who filed the H-1B until October 1 without applying for additional time on your OPT EAD card.

Remember, that only students who have an October 1 H1-B start date can take advantage of this new rule.


5. Economic Necessity Employment

The student must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year (2 semesters), be in good academic and legal standing, and be enrolled full-time.

The student must demonstrate that there is an unforeseen severe economic necessity beyond the student's control and that other employment opportunities are not available or insufficient.

    • Establish that the employment will not interfere with full-time study.
Items needed for application:
  1. Letter from student detailing coming year's expenses and any amount of guaranteed support. Explain where you are in the progress of your degree and what efforts have been made to find work on campus.
  2. Have your financial supporter send a statement with details about how much they are able to provide for you in the coming year and why they are unable to finance your educational expenses.
  3. Any previous work permit cards issued to you.
  4. Two (2) color photos with a white background. Photos can be taken in WIU's Visual Production Center, 207 Tillman Hall for $8.
  5. Fee of $410.00 (money order or personal check) made payable to: Department of Homeland Security.
  6. Form I-94.

When all items have been assembled, make an appointment with the Immigration Specialist by calling (309) 298-1806. Bring your passport, I-20, I-94, and previous work permits to the appointment. All necessary forms will be completed during the appointment. The appointment should only take 30 minutes.