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1. Maintaining your immigration status

  • You must possess a valid passport at all times, unless exempt from passport requirements.
  • You must possess a valid, unexpired I-20 at all times.  This includes correct degree level, major, current funding, and personal data.
  • You must enroll in and attend classes.  If you plan on taking a semester off other than summer, you must obtain prior approval from the Immigration/Visa Specialist.
  • You must attend the college/university listed on your I-20.  Prior approval is needed if you plan to take classes at classes at Spoon River College.  If you dual enroll, you must take the majority of your credits per semester at WIU.
  • You must 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 Center for International Studies 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/Visa Specialist.  You and your academic advisor must complete the "Exception from full time enrollment form" and submit it to the Immigration/Visa Specialist prior to dropping below full time status.
  • You must report any change of address, to the Immigration/Visa Specialist, within 5 days of the change.  This information is sent electronically to DHS.
  •  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.
  •  You must obtain a new I-20 if you change your academic level (example: bachelor's to master's), or if you change your major, or if your source of funding changes.
  •  Prior to travelling 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/Visa Specialist in the last 6 months.
  •  You are allowed to work on campus only up to 20 hours per week when school is in session and full time during vacation periods.  Students may be allowed to work off campus, but need permission from immigration prior to beginning employment.  The Immigration/Visa Specialist can provide you with more information about these employment options.
  •  If you intend to transfer to another college/university, you must first notify the Immigration/Visa Specialist in advance of this transfer.
  •  If you need to withdraw from classes, or are asked to leave the university, you must report this to the Immigration/Visa Specialist.  You will have 15 calendar days to leave the United States.  If you do not report, 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
  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/Visa 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. Meet with the Immigration/Visa Specialist to receive specific information
  2. Present your passport, I-94 card, and form I-20
  3. Complete the CPT application
  4. CPT recommendation form completed and signed by your academic advisor
  5. Present a letter from 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/Visa Specialist.  The Form I-20 will be endorsed by the Immigration/Visa 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.
  3. Full-time after completion of course of study.

When can I apply for Optional Practical Training?

Apply early, because it takes 90-120 days to process.  Students can apply for OPT 90 days before graduation

How many times can I apply for Optional Practical Training?

Students are allowed only one year of full-time OPT during their time as an F-1 student after each level of study, and they may become eligible for another twelve months of OPT after those rights have once been used if:

  •  They spend at leave five months outside the U.S. and then return in F-1 status to begin a new program; or
  • They change from F-1 to another status, spend at leave five months in the other status, and then return to F-1 status to begin a new academic program.

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 the 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 signed by international advisor
  • 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 Center for International Studies at 298-2426 to set up a 30-minute appointment with Megan Bennett.

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 $380.00 made payable to: U.S. Department of Homeland Security No Cash
  • Two photographs may be taken in the WIU Visual Production Center, Tillman Hall 207; 2 pictures will cost approximately $8
  • Current I-20
  • Valid passport and I-94 card
  • Email from your academic advisor to Megan Bennett (This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) indicating your graduation date.

How and when is my application sent?

We will process and help you prepare your application at your appointment.  The packet will be given to the student ready to main to USCIS.

What happens after my application is mailed?

When your application is received at the Nebraska Service Center, a Form I-797 (Notice of Action) will be sent.  The I-797 form includes a telephone number to call for information regarding your application status.  WIU will send the original Form I-797 to you.  You may check the online status by accessing the U.S.C.I.S. website at https://egov.immigration.gov/cris/jsps/index.jsp 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 formsfor F-1 employment are listed under the Nebraska Service Center.

When will I receive information about my application?

If your application is approved, your EAD will be mailed to the Center for International 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 the Center for International Studies?

When your card arrives, you will be contacted by email.  YOUR STUDENT ACCOUNT MUST HAVE A ZERO BALANCE BEFORE THE CARD IS RELEASED TO YOU.  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.

Note: If you leave Macomb before you have received your EAD card, you may make arrangements for a friend to express mail it to you when it arrives.

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 17 Month Extension

Who is eligible for the 17-month OPT 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
  • Who are working for an employer that is enrolled in the US Government’s E-Verify program.

Please note: all four of the above criteria must be met in order for a student to be eligible for the 17-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: www.dhs.gov/e-verify.

When should one apply for the 17-month OPT extension?

Students must apply for this extension 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 17-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 180 days have passed, whichever is sooner.

Limitations on Unemployment:

  • Students approved for the 17-month OPT extension may not accrue more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-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 17-month OPT extension.
  • 17-Month Extension Available Once:
  • This extension is only available to each qualifying student one time. A student who is approved for a 17-month OPT extension can never apply for it again.
  • Starting and Ending Dates:
  • The start date of the 17-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 17 months later. It is not possible to request smaller increments of time for this extension.
  • You must contact the Immigration/Visa Specialist, at 298-2501, in the Center for International Studies to apply for the 17-month OPT extension.
  • H-1B cap-gap is solved...
  • 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, 2007 to June 30, 2008 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

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.

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.
  • Employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session but may be full-time during vacations or holidays.
  • The application requires a SEVIS recommendation from the Immigration/Visa Specialist.  The student's record will be updated indicating that off-campus employment has been recommended.
  • If approved, U.S. Immigration will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and update the SEVIS student record
  • Approvals are granted in one-year intervals.
  • Authorization ends upon the completion date of the degree program or school transfer.

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 $340.00 (money order or personal check) made payable to: Department of Homeland Security.
  6. Form I-94 (photocopy of both sides)


When all items have been assembled, make an appointment with the Immigration/Visa Specialist by calling 298-2501.  Bring your passport, I-20, I-94 card, and previous work permits to the appointment.  All necessary forms will be completed during the appointment.  The appointment should only take 30 minutes.