Back to Training and Employment

Off-campus employment is defined as an internship or position (either unpaid or paid) at a non-UNCG affiliated site that is integrally related to your academic degree program objectives as defined within the UNC Greensboro University Catalog. The training can be done concurrently with your academic program or may follow the conclusion of your program.

There are three main types of off-campus employment for F-1 students:

  • Curricular Practical Training (C.P.T.): for eligible currently-enrolled students.
  • Optional Practical Training (O.P.T.): for eligible currently-enrolled students or recent graduates.
  • Work authorization for Severe Economic Hardship.

Note: F-1 visa holders who wish to work off-campus must always have written employment authorization. In most cases, F-1 students must have been in full-time student status for a minimum of one full academic year (at least nine consecutive months).

J-1 students are eligible for employment opportunities in the form of academic training. Please make an appointment with your international student advisor for further guidance on your available employment opportunities.

J-1 international students (degree-seeking or exchange) must have a letter of approval from their international student advisor or the J-1 program sponsor prior to starting employment. Academic training is defined as an internship or position typically off-campus (either unpaid or paid), for students holding a J-1 visa. The training can be done concurrently with your academic exchange program or may follow the conclusion of your program. For J-1 degree-seeking students, the internship must be directly related to academic degree program objectives of their program of study at UNCG. For J-1 exchange students, the internship or position off-campus (either unpaid or paid) must be integrally related to academic degree program objectives at your home institution. Academic training may significantly enhance your exchange experience. For more information, please contact your International Student Advisor (Degree-Seeking Students) or Incoming Exchange Coordinator (Exchange Students).
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) refers to internships, job shadowing experiences, or service-learning (paid or unpaid) related to your major field of study and required for the completion of your degree program. CPT requests are approved by an International Student Advisor/DSO at IPC. CPT can be authorized for part-time (20 hours/week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) internships. Students who accumulate 12 months or more of full-time CPT will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Authorization for CPT is based on an offer of employment or internship and authorization must be received prior to the start of employment. CPT must be renewed each semester you wish to continue the internship (paid or unpaid).

Eligibility and Application Process

If you are interested in receiving approval for CPT, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:
  • Have been lawfully enrolled full-time as an F-1 student for one full academic year (two consecutive terms);
  • Be able to demonstrate that the training experience is directly tied to academic credit. This means that requirement must be shown as part of the degree program description in the UNCG Catalog, or appear in the course syllabus as necessary to fulfill a course requirement.
  • Already have received an official training offer (in the form of a signed letter, not an email)
To apply for CPT, you must complete all requirements included in the “Curricular Practical Training” request on the ISSS Portal. You will be required to provide the following documentation:
  • Copy of job/internship/practicum offer letter
  • Copy of your passport biographical page
  • Copy of your most recent U.S. visa (if you did a Change of Status in the U.S. and do not have a visa, upload a copy of your Approval Notice)

Important Notes on CPT

If you are considering requesting authorization for CPT, please carefully consider the following information:
  • CPT is authorized on a term by term basis. This means that you must limit your training experience to the dates of the term, and you must have another course/program requirement in the following term in order to receive additional CPT authorization.
  • One year (12 months aggregate) of full-time CPT will nullify your OPT benefit
  • The CPT approval process can take up to two weeks.
  • You cannot begin your training opportunity until you receive your updated I-20 showing your CPT authorization
  • Even volunteer opportunities must be authorized for CPT. Participating in an off-campus training opportunity is grounds for termination of your SEVIS record due to unauthorized employment.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment benefit directly related to an F-1 visa holder’s major area of study. This experience is intended to give students real-world work experience in their field. Eligible students can receive up to 12 months of employment authorization in one of two categories: 1) pre-completion OPT, or 2) post-completion OPT. OPT employment may occur anywhere in the United States, and can be either a paid or unpaid position. OPT requests are adjudicated by USCIS.

There are two main categories of OPT:

  1. Pre-Completion Optional Practical is authorized for off-campus employment before the student’s program end date. Students with approved pre-completion OPT may work up to 20 hours per week (unless on thesis or dissertation period before which all coursework has been completed) while school is in session. Students who are enrolled for the next term, and are eligible otherwise, may apply for full-time work authorization when the school is not in session. Any time spent in pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the Post-Completion OPT timeline
  2. Post-Completion Optional Practical is OPT authorized off-campus employment beginning after the student’s program end date. Note: if applying for both pre-completion and post-completion OPT you must complete and submit two separate applications and fee payments. Students may apply for Post Completion OPT prior to graduation or within the 60 day grace period following successful completion of the F-1 program of study.

To be eligible for OPT, you must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis in F-1 status for a full academic year. You have to be physically present in the U.S. to be eligible to apply for OPT, travel outside of the U.S. while the application is pending is highly discouraged.

You can submit your OPT application to USCIS beginning 90 days prior to your graduation date; however, it is suggested that you inquire about the OPT process at the start of your final term at UNCG. For more information on OPT application timelines, visit USCIS’s webpage on OPT.

How to apply for OPT

  1. Initiate the “Optional Practical Training (OPT)” request under the “F-1 Requests” tab via the ISSS Portal. This is required for the issuance of an updated I-20 by a DSO showing that you have applied for OPT.
  2. Complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization AND Form G-1145, E-Notification
  3. Collect all documentation listed in the OPT Application Checklist
  4. Mail your application package to the appropriate Lockbox Facility (please note that IPC cannot send in the application on your behalf)

While on OPT, you must adhere to strict employment reporting requirements whenever you change employers, are not currently employed, or if there are any changes to your employer’s name or address. You will need to report these updates through two different channels to ensure that your I-20 is updated correctly and in a timely fashion:

  1. Report your employment update via the SEVP Portal using your personal email account and password you setup when you were originally approved for OPT.
  2. Submit a request for OPT Employment Update I-20 via the ISSS Portal also using your personal email account as you will no longer be able to access your UNCG email after graduation.

Please allow 5-7 business days for your request to be processed and updated I-20 issued. For more information and troubleshooting advice on the SEVP Portal, visit Study in the States’ SEVP Portal Help page. If you have exhausted all troubleshooting suggestions, contact a DSO for assistance in resetting your account.

Other resources:
Study in the States: How to use the SEVP Portal
SEVP Portal Student User Guide (PDF)
PowerPoint: The SEVP Portal and You

OPT Frequently Asked Questions
(adapted from the University of Washington)

What happens if my EAD card has incorrect information on it?

  1. Wait to receive a job offer so you can show your EAD to your employer. The correction process may require you to mail the incorrect EAD to USCIS. Ideally, you should wait to request the correction after your employer has copied your EAD for hiring purposes.
  2. To correct the EAD, submit a request through the USCIS website to correct a typographic error.

What happens if I move after I mail my OPT application?
The only way to change the address USCIS uses for your OPT-related mail is to submit an official change of address to USCIS using their website tools. The U.S. Postal Service can’t forward official government mail (like OPT cards) to a new address.

I have heard there is a 60-day grace period after I graduate to depart the U.S. Do I have to leave if the government hasn’t finished my OPT processing?
No. The 60-day grace period does not apply to students who are waiting for the government to process their OPT application. As long as your application arrived by the government’s deadlines, you can stay in the U.S. and wait until it is processed.

What is my immigration status while my OPT is being processed?
You are still an F-1 student while your OPT application is being processed.

If I change my mind and decide not to work, can I cancel my OPT authorization?
The answer depends on your situation. If you were issued a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation but have not yet mailed your application to USCIS, you must notify a DSO at UNCG of your change in plans. Our office can cancel the OPT recommendation.

If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a request can be submitted to USCIS to halt processing. Your application fee will not be returned and we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored. Contact an International Student Advisor for assistance. If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel the authorization, Contact an International Student Advisor. A cancellation in this situation is highly unlikely. OPT applications are not meant to be cancelled.

I didn’t submit my OPT application early enough, and I realize I might not get the OPT start date I requested. How do I know what date USCIS will authorize?
Unfortunately it is difficult to estimate. The authorization depends on when the application arrives and the workload at USCIS. If they process your application after your requested start date, they might push back the start date to their day of processing, up to 60 days after your program end date. However, there is no way to predict what date it will be.

How long does it take to get the Receipt Notice/Notice of Action (NOA)?
Approximately two to three weeks after USCIS receives your application. You might verify with your bank whether your check has been cashed. If so, the NOA is likely on the way.

When I receive my EAD card, should I give a copy to ISS?
No, you do not need to provide a copy of your EAD to ISS. Also, ISS does not make copies of EADs if you use the ISS mailing address on the I-765 form. Be sure to make both digital and paper photocopies of your EAD for your own records.

I have heard that I can apply for a “temporary” EAD card. Is this true?
In the past, students were able to apply for a temporary EAD card if their application was pending for more than 90 days. Processes have changed, and the government no longer issues temporary EADs. If your application is pending for more than 90 days, contact your ISS adviser.

What if I lose my EAD card?
If you lose your card, you must apply and pay for a replacement. Complete a new I-765 Form and resubmit it to USCIS with all supporting documents, including the fee. Contact your ISS adviser for an updated I-20. We recommend you keep your EAD at home (not in your wallet) because of the expense and time in applying for a replacement.

I am a graduate student and I’ve completed all required coursework. I only have thesis or dissertation remaining. Can I apply for OPT authorization to begin before I graduate?
You can apply for either pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT. There are advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding which option works best for you. Here is an overview. We recommend you schedule an appointment with an International Student Advisor to further discuss your options.

Pre-completion OPT
Pre-completion OPT is only valid while you are a student finishing your thesis or dissertation. The OPT start and end date must fall before your I-20 expires and before you graduate.

  • You are not subject to the 90-day unemployment limit.
  • Your I-20 can be extended if you need more time to complete your thesis/dissertation.
  • When you graduate, you must submit a separate post-completion OPT application and another application fee.
  • There is the risk of a gap in employment authorization if you must submit a second OPT application and the timing is not perfect.
  • It is challenging to take advantage of the full 12 months of OPT allotted to you because of the dual applications.
  • You must continue to register full-time (which may or may not be a requirement from your department depending on your funding and/or defense term.)

Post-completion OPT
Post-completion OPT can begin either while you complete your thesis/dissertation or after you graduate. Procedurally, however, the OPT start date can only fall after the I-20 end date, so your I-20 will be shortened to the end of the term in which you submit the OPT application.

  • You will only submit one application and fee.
  • You are not required to register for the purpose of maintaining F1 status (though you must consult with your department about Graduate School registration requirements depending on your funding, defense term, and ability to apply for on-leave status).
  • You are subject to the 90-day unemployment limit, an added pressure if you still need to focus on your thesis/dissertation.
  • The I-20 cannot be extended. If you do not complete your thesis/dissertation within the OPT year, your F-1 status ends when the OPT expires, and you must travel and reenter with a new I-20 to continue your studies.

An additional 24-month period of OPT is available to students who received a degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field and meets other minimum requirements. This is known as a STEM OPT extension and requires an additional application process. Eligibility for the 24-month STEM OPT extension is determined based on meeting one of two requirements:

  • The STEM degree you earned as an F-1 student that serves as the basis for your current period of standard 12-month post-completion OPT. Click here for eligible programs of study.
  • If you previously completed a STEM Degree (regardless of whether he or she earned that prior degree as an F-1 student) within 10 years preceding the date of application for a STEM OPT Extension.

STEM OPT comes with a series of its own timelines, regulations, and requirements that applicants should be aware of:

  • Students in post-completion OPT must submit a formal Mentoring and Training Plan (Form I-983) to the International Student Adviser (DSO) at IPC before the STEM OPT application can be processed by USCIS. This document will be completed by the student and signed by both the student and employer.
  • Prohibits volunteering, self-employment, and in most cases, temporary agency and contract work.
  • Student must be employed by an E-Verify employer.
  • Employment must be at least 20 hours per week.
  • Students on STEM OPT are subject to specific reporting requirements that are slightly different than while on standard OPT, including an annual check in with a DSO at UNCG.
  • Requires F-1 visa holder to be paid and salary must be commensurate to that of U.S. workers in similar positions.
  • Unemployment is allowed for 60 calendar days while engaged in the STEM OPT extension.
  • Retains the current “Cap Gap” benefit for students with expiring OPT and STEM OPT extensions and selected H-1B petitions.

More resources on the STEM OPT extension can be found on Study in the States’ webpage.

The interim F-1 OPT rule published on April 8, 2008 provides an automatic, temporary extension of duration of status and employment authorization for eligible F-1 students. These provisions apply to F-1 students who are the beneficiaries of an H­1B petition who, due to the cap on the number of H-1B petitions accepted in a given year, cannot start employment until the beginning of the next fiscal (October 1st).

The Cap Gap extension is a period in which an eligible F-1 student’s status is automatically extended to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and the start of H-1B status with employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. If the student is in a period of authorized post-completion OPT on or after the date the student becomes eligible for the extension, the student’s post-completion OPT is also automatically extended.

Should you receive a change of status from F-1 to H1B, the new final OPT rule allows you to extend your F-1 status to cover the gap between the end of your OPT authorization and the effective date of your H1B.

Eligibility Requirements

Student must be in F-1 status, and must be the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that:

  • has been timely filed;
  • requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year;
  • requests a change of status.

Procedures to request proof of GAP extension:

Submit your application for a CAP GAP extension within 3 months from the end date of your OPT period.

Bring to the front desk or mail to the International Programs Center the following documents:

  • Copy of the USCIS receipt/approval notice (Form I-797) of your H1B status or a copy of the USCIS “wait list” letter to the employer
  • Copy of your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
  • Copies of your student (F-1) visa, I-94 card and passport

Request a new I-20 form showing the period of extension

For further information, please make an appointment to speak with the International Student Advisor at the International Programs Center.

As an F-1 student, you may be eligible to apply through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship. Once authorized, this program allows you to work in any kind of job off-campus. You are limited to part-time employment (a maximum of 20 hours per week) during the fall and spring semesters. You must also maintain a full course of study during the fall and spring semesters. You can work full-time during the summer or officially recognized school breaks.

Eligible students must prove severe economic hardship due to a change in circumstances beyond their control. To qualify, you must have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time student for at least nine consecutive months. Authorization is usually granted for one year at a time. If authorized, you will receive an Employment Authorization Card (EAD) from the USCIS. Be aware that there is an application fee for this authorization, and processing times for the application is two to three months.

If you believe you qualify for severe economic hardship work authorization, please make an appointment to talk with an International Student Advisor.