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Employment/ Internships/ Experiential Learning

Important Disclaimer: As an international student, the maintenance of your legal status is ultimately your responsibility. It is your responsibility to understand and follow the rules and regulations that govern your status and visa (e.g., 8 CFR § 214.2(f)). The Office of Global Engagement (“GE”) and International Student & Scholar Services provide support and information related to U.S. immigration laws and regulations related to F and J status at Utah State University but are not ultimately responsible for your status and visa. GE and ISSS staff are not attorneys and any information provided by GE and ISSS should not be construed as legal advice. Individuals are welcome to consult a qualified immigration attorney for specific legal advice, particularly in complicated cases.
Check out the International Employment Fall 2022 Workshop PowerPoint here
Do I need anything from ISSS in order to apply for OPT?

Yes! Your Designated School Official (DSO) must first submit the OPT recommendation in SEVIS indicating you are eligible for OPT. You will provide a copy of the Form I-20 showing this recommendation on page 2 as part of your application materials. 

When can I apply for OPT?
  • You can apply up to 90 days before your program end date, and no later than the end of your 60-day grace period. We recommend applying as soon as possible as it takes 90 - 120 days to receive your Employment Authorization Document which authorizes you to work.
    • ​Graduate students' program end date is their completion date
OPT Timeline for ApplicationHow do I fill out item 27 on the Form I-765?
  • Enter (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT
  • Enter (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT
  • Enter (c)(3)(C) for STEM extension OPT

Are there any limits to OPT?
You may have less time or have exhausted your OPT benefit if you participated in full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT), see the CPT request for details, or if you used PRE-completion OPT before completing your program. OPT is permitted for 12 months at each academic level. STEM eligible majors can apply for an OPT STEM extension (24 months additional) up to 90 days prior to the completion of their original OPT request.

Be sure to file your OPT application within 30 days of the date on the I-20 recommending OPT.

How long will it take for my OPT to be approved?
It usually takes DHS between 60 and 100 days to process and approve an OPT, but it can take up to 120 days. We recommend applying as soon as you can. 

Can I request USCIS expedite my OPT application?
Refer to the USCIS webpage How to Make an Expedite Request. This can only be for severe financial loss. Our experience has been a job offer with an upcoming start date does not qualify for the expedited request. We can make an inquiry with USCIS if your OPT application has been processing with USCIS for > 120 days. 

Can I work as an hourly wage employee for my department while waiting for my OPT to be approved?
No. You can only work AFTER receiving the Employment Authorization Document indicating you have been approved for OPT and you are within the time frame for which you are authorized to work.

What should I do if I submitted an error in my application to USCIS or if I move before I receive my EAD card in the mail?
Check online to see the status of your OPT approval and whether the EAD card has already been mailed.  Then contact your immigration advisor as soon as possible.

Should I enroll in the grace semester after applying for OPT?
You do not have to enroll in the grace semester if you apply for OPT. The grace semester is simply a mechanism to maintain your non-immigrant status while working on your thesis/ dissertation edits. Your application for OPT maintains your status while USCIS processes the application.

How do I check the processing status of my OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card? After receiving the I-797 Approval Notice, how long will it take before my EAD card is mailed?
  • It will take roughly 1-2 weeks for your EAD card to arrive after receiving your I-797 notification
  • If you do not receive your EAD card, check the case status on the USCIS Case Status website using your receipt number
  • If it has been mailed but considered lost, call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283 (for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability: TTY 800-767-1833). If you are outside the United States or a U.S. territory, you can call 212-620-3418. 
What if my mailing address changed after I applied for OPT?
  • You must report a change of address when you move at This is especially important if you have a case pending with USCIS.
How is unemployment counted?
  • You must have a position where you work at least 20 hours/ week to be considered employed
  • As per the Study in the States blog
    • “When a student is considered unemployed, every day, including weekends and holidays, counts toward your unemployment limit.” (90 days for standard OPT, 150 days total for STEM OPT) 
How do I report employment?
Complete the OPT Employer Update request in the ISSS Portal. You will need to upload the employment offer letter as part of this process (on employer letterhead, include job title, responsibilities, hours per week, other relevant information).

You must work at least the following number of hours for your employment to be eligible for your OPT authorization. 
  • Regular Post-Completion OPT: an average of at least 20 hours per week, this could include part-time positions with multiple employers
  • STEM OPT Extension: an average of at least 20 hours per week per employer

Are regular holidays counted into unemployment days?
  • If you are an F-1 student participating in optional practical training (OPT) and your employer closes for an extended period during the winter holidays, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program does not consider this time as unemployment.
I forgot my password for the SEVP Portal. What should I do?
Can I travel while on OPT?
Be sure the travel signature on the Form I-20 will be less than 6 months by the time you return to the USA.

From the ICE FAQ page
  • Can I reenter if my request for OPT is pending?
    • Yes, but traveling during this time should be undertaken with caution. USCIS may send you a request for evidence while you are away, however, so you would want to make sure you have provided a correct U.S. address both to your DSO and on the application and would be able to send in requested documents. Also, if USCIS approves your OPT application, you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to re-enter the United States. Like a request for further information, USCIS can only send the EAD to your U.S. address.
  • Can I reenter if I left while on OPT?
    • If USCIS has approved your OPT you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to re-enter the United States, in addition to your Form I-20, valid passport and visa, and a letter of employment if you have one. If you exceed the limits on unemployment while outside the United States, you will not be eligible to re-enter the United States in F-1 status.

What should I do if I want to end my OPT employment before employment end date noted on my EAD card?
Report your employment end date to your immigration adviser, and let them know if you do not intend to seek additional employment. In this case, you may remain in the USA only until the end of the unemployment period and are ineligible for the 60-day grace period. Otherwise, report the start of your new employment, assuring the start date is before the end of your unemployment period.

Do I get a grace period at the end of my OPT employment dates?
You are only eligible for the 60-day grace period at the end of your OPT if you are working until the employment end date. Otherwise, you are accruing unemployment days and will need to leave the country before the end of the allotted unemployment period or your program end date.

Allotted unemployment days = 90 days total throughout the standard OPT period, 150 for STEM OPT.

What happens to my OPT employment authorization if I start a new program of study?
If starting at a new school: your employment authorization ends on the day your SEVIS record is transferred to the new school (if authorized to that point). 
If starting another program at USU: your employment authorization ends the first day of the semester you begin the new program of study (if authorized to that point).


Check out the International Employment Fall 2022 Workshop PowerPoint here

When can I apply for the STEM OPT Extension?
  • USCIS will only accept the STEM OPT application up to 90 days before, and no later than the end date on your Employment Authorization Document.
How do I know if I am eligible for the STEM OPT Extension?
  • Compare the CIP Code noted next to the majors on your I-20 (in the Program of Study section) to the government's STEM CIP Code list.
  • A qualified student may apply for an extension of OPT while in a valid period of post-completion OPT. The extension will be for 24 additional months, for a total of 36 months of OPT. The following requirements must be met:
    • The student has not previously received a 24-month OPT extension after earning a STEM degree.
    • Student must currently be participating in a standard OPT based on a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree that is listed in the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program.
    • Student must currently be working for, or have a job offer from a U.S. employer for a position that is directly related to the student’s major area of study.
    • The employer must be an E-verify registered company. The employer should provide an E-verify identification number or, if the employer is using a designated agent to perform the E-verify queries, a valid E-verify client company identification number, and the employer is a participant in good standing in the E-verify program, as determined by USCIS.
How do I submit an application?
  • Complete the STEM OPT Extension request on the ISSS Portal to obtain the I-20 recommending you for STEM OPT which needs to be part of the application to USCIS. 
  • A student meeting the eligibility requirement may file for a 24-month extension of employment authorization by filing Form I-765, application for employment authorization (Reason for Applying: Renewal of my permission to accept employment), with the appropriate fee, prior to the expiration date of the student’s current OPT employment authorization. If a student timely and properly files an application for a 24-month OPT extension, but the form I-765, Employment Authorization Document, currently in the student’s possession, expires prior to the decision on the student’s application for 24-month OPT extension, the student’s Form I-765 is extended automatically pursuant to the terms and conditions specified in 8 CFR 274a.12 (b)(6) (iv).
How do I complete the I-983 form?
Instructions are available from the Study in the States page. There are also specific pages about the student's responsibilities for this form. Here is a presentation overview about STEM reporting requirements and the I-983. 

Students must also submit a final evaluation on the I-983 Training Plan if they end employment before the 24-month STEM OPT end date.  Final reports must be submitted to SEVIS "no later than 10 days following the conclusion of the reporting period or conclusion of his or her practical training opportunity."

What if I do not receive my new Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by the end date of my current OPT EAD?
  • If you file your STEM OPT extension application on time and your OPT period expires while your extension application is pending, USCIS will automatically extend your employment authorization for 180 days. This automatic 180-day extension ceases once USCIS adjudicates your STEM OPT extension application.

My employer is asking for proof of my extension and I do not have my new EAD card.
  • We suggest providing your employer with the notification of receipt for your STEM OPT application and refer them to the USCIS website with information about the 180-day extension. 

What should I report on my Form I-765 if I have more than one employer?
  • Provide one of your employer's information in Part 2 questions 28.b. and c., and provide the other employer's information in Part 6: Additional Information.

Additional Information I Should Know
Employment Authorization period of the 24-month OPT extension begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization and ends 24 months thereafter, regardless of the date of the actual extension is approved.

Periods of Unemployment during post-completion OPT 214.2 (f)(10)(ii)(E)
Students granted a 24-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT period comprising any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization and the subsequent 24-month extension period.

Do I need to complete the entire Form I-983 when submitting my 12-month and final reports if nothing has changed with my employment?
Neither the Form I-983 instructions nor the Study in the States website (also see the employer's responsibility site) indicate the need to complete the entire Form I-983 as part of the evaluation process. We do require you to upload the entire Form I-983 with the completed evaluation in the ISSS Portal to have a complete record of the Form I-983, which we upload into SEVIS as part of our report. 

Find more answers to FAQs on the Study in the States STEM OPT FAQ page

Cap-Gap FAQs

What is the OPT Cap Gap Extension?
A Cap-Gap Extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F-1 student's status to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the US during the "gap".

The Cap-Gap Extension is available to students who, as of April 1st (the beginning of each fiscal year), are either on approved OPT or in their 60-day grace period and have a pending or approved change-of-status H-1B petition for an October 1st start date with USCIS.  The H-1B petition must have been filed prior to the expiration of their OPT or 60-day grace period. 

NOTE: Mention of OPT includes the 12-month OPT and the 24-Month STEM OPT.

If the H-1B was filed via consular processing, you DO NOT qualify for the Cap-Gap Extension.  Confirm with your employer if the H-1B was/will be filed as a change-of status or via consular processing. You may be eligible for one of two Cap-Gap Extension benefits:If the employer filed your H-1B (change of status) petition and it is received by USCIS prior to your post-completion OPT expiration date, you qualify for an extension of your OPT employment authorization.
If the employer filed your H-1B (change of status) petition and it is received by USCIS after your post-completion OPT expires but during your 60 day grace period following OPT, your F-1 status and permission to remain in the US are extended but not your eligibility to work.

How is the Cap-Gap I-20 endorsed to indicate employment authorization?
ISSS will process an I-20 that takes into account the different stages of the H-1B filing, selection and adjudication process. The Cap-Gap Extension I-20 will contain an endorsement that F-1 status and employment authorization have been automatically extended to [the applicable date will be inserted].

USCIS will note an expiration date on the Cap-Gap Form I-20 as follows:
  • Qualifying H-1B petition properly filed but not yet receipted by USCIS: Preliminary extension of OPT to June 1.
  • H-1B petition (1) receipted by USCIS (i.e., it has been selected by USCIS), or (2) approved by USCIS: OPT and F-1 status extended to September 30.
During this period of time, you are authorized to remain in the United States and continue employment with an expired EAD (Employment Authorization Document). This is pursuant to 8 CFR214.2(f)(5)(iv) and 8 CFR274a.12(b)(6)(iv), as updated April 8, 2008 in a rule published in the Federal Register (73 FR 18944). 

USCIS rejected/denied my H-1B petition after I applied for the Cap-Gap Extension.  What happens now?
If USCIS denies, rejects, or revokes an H-1B petition filed on behalf of an F-1 student covered by the automatic Cap-Gap Extension, the student will have the standard 60-day grace period (from the notification date of the denial, rejection, or revocation of the petition) before they are required to depart the U.S., change degree level, transfer to another SEVIS approved school, or change status as long as the student has not otherwise violated status. The student cannot (1) leave and re-enter the U.S. during this time and (2) cannot work.

For denied cases: It should be noted that the 60-day grace period does not apply to an F-1 student whose accompanying change of status request is denied due to discovery of a status violation. Such a student in any event is not eligible for the automatic Cap-Gap Extension. Similarly, the 60-day grace period would not apply to the case of a student whose petition was revoked based on a finding of fraud or misrepresentation discovered following approval. In both of these instances, the student would be required to leave the United States immediately.

May a student eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension of status and employment authorization apply for STEM OPT Extension while they are in the Cap-Gap Extension period?
Yes, the STEM OPT Extension application must be receipted by USCIS before the cap-gap extension period is terminated (e.g., notice of rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition) and the student enters the 60-day departure grace period.

Does my dependent’s status also get extended under the Cap-Gap Extension?
Yes, an automatic extension of your duration of status also applies to the duration of status of any F-2 dependents.

Am I allowed to travel with my OPT EAD and Form I-20 if I have a Cap-Gap Extension?
Please note: traveling outside the U.S. may interfere with the processing of your H-1B petition. You need to consult with your H-1B employer and their H-1B processing team regarding all travel plans before departing the U.S. 

In general, during the cap-gap period, you can travel and re-enter the U.S. on the Cap-Gap Extension if:
  • you have a valid F-1 visa at the time of re-entry.
  • you have an I-20 that reflects the cap-gap extension benefit, and you have a valid travel signature (signature needs to be from within 6 months from the time you will re-enter the U.S.)
  • the H-1B petition filed on your behalf has been approved before you travel, and you have spoken to your H-1B employer regarding your international travel.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy states that an applicant who departs the U.S. while a change of status application is pending is considered to have abandoned their application.

My employer is filing a petition for H-1B for me. Should I also apply for the STEM OPT Extension?
Check out the International Employment Fall 2022 Workshop PowerPoint here

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is authorization for international students with the F-visa status to engage with non-USU entities in activities/ experiential learning study related to their program of study. CPT authorization is also required if the student will work/ be engaged in experiential learning activities > 20 hours/ week with USU entities. This is required for paid or unpaid activities, even if the activities take place on a USU campus. CPT is only available before you graduate and requires that you are registered for credits associated with the activities.

Learn more about CPT from this presentation and on the U.S. government's Study in the States website.

Who Can Apply?

You must be a current degree-seeking F-1 student who meets all the following criteria:

- Been enrolled for one full academic year (two semesters) in the U.S.
         (unless you are a graduate student, and the internship or practicum is REQUIRED by your program in your first or second semester)
- Maintained valid F-1 status
- Has an offer for a practical training opportunity directly related to your major as listed on your Form I-20
- Will enroll in internship credits during the semester in which you will participate in the practical training 

Who is not eligible to apply?
- IELI students
- Non-degree seeking students or students who are not on the F-1 visa
- Students who will graduate before the practical training occurs
- Graduate students enrolled in the grace semester (these students may apply for Optional Practical Training)

How to apply?
Step 1:  Meet with your academic advisor to discuss whether an internship or practical training counts towards your degree program AND whether you can register for internship credits during the semester you plan to participate in CPT
Step 2:  Obtain a job offer letter from a prospective internship employer (see information below on what the offer letter needs to include)
Step 3:  Complete the CPT Training Plan (including all required signatures) with your academic advisor and your employer and submit your CPT Request in the ISSS portal at least 2 weeks before your practical training is scheduled to begin
              Note:  PhD and MS Plan A students must include a Program of Study with the CPT internship course listed on it
Step 4:   Get your new Form I-20 from the ISSS office with CPT employment authorized
Step 5:  Begin your practical training opportunity and work ONLY within the dates listed on your new Form I-20

Multiple CPT approvals, Extensions & Time Limits:
You may have multiple CPT training opportunities approved during your degree program.  This can include more than one CPT employer at the same time. However, you must complete the entire application process and meet eligibility requirements for each approved CPT opportunity.
If you need to extend your CPT approved dates, you must complete the entire application process and get new CPT authorized dates, as noted on the Form I-20.
IMPORTANT:  If you are authorized for 365 days or more of full-time CPT, you are not eligible for post-completion OPT at the same degree level.
You can download this CPT Calculator to track how much CPT you have used at this degree level and to determine your post-completion OPT eligibility.

Summer CPT Requirements & Dates:
- Must register for the associated internship credits for your summer CPT work opportunity during the summer semester.
- May be approved for part-time (up to 20 hours per week) or full-time (21-40 hours per week) CPT during the summer semester.
- Start date for summer CPT as early as the first day of summer semester and an end date as late as the day before fall semester begins, as long as this is NOT your final semester. See information below on Final Semester CPT if you plan to graduate at the end of summer semester.

Fall/Spring CPT Requirements & Dates:
- Must enroll full-time in Fall or Spring term.  You must also register for the associated internship credits for your Fall or Spring CPT work opportunity.
- Can only be approved for part-time (up to 20 hours per week) of CPT, unless you are required by your department to have a full-time internship or practicum. 
- Can request a start date for CPT as early as the first day of the semester and an end date as late as the day before the next semester begins, if this is NOT your final semester. See information below on Final Semester if you plan to graduate at the end of fall or spring semester.

Final Semester CPT:
If you plan to do CPT during your final semester, you must meet the following conditions:
- Enrolled in face-to-face credits that are required for you to earn your degree (dissertation and supervised course credits are considered face-to-face). 
- Enrolled in internship credits associated with your CPT and these credits are required for your degree program. 
- The requested CPT dates of employment do not exceed the dates of enrollment in your final semester.  You may only be authorized for CPT up to the date that final grades are due for the semester. 

You may not do CPT during the grace semester (USU7777). There is no curricular justification for the employment authorization. The grace semester is an option to maintain status while you complete the edits to your thesis/ dissertation. All your degree requirements are complete at that point.  However, you are eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) as a graduate student once you have finished all your coursework.
How many hours per week can I work in the summer?
International students are allowed to work on campus up to 40 hours per week in the summer semester and during school breaks (e.g. winter, spring). This is true even if they enroll in summer classes, as long as it is not their first or last semester. 

Can I work off campus in the summer?  Can I do an internship?
No, you cannot work off campus while on a student visa in the U.S. unless you have some form of authorization for practical training related to your degree program.  You may be eligible to do an internship, depending on your degree program and the requirements.  Please see the CPT (Curricular Practical Training) FAQs above.
How do I get a Social Security Number?
You must have a job offer with a letter of employment before you can apply for a social security number (SSN).  Once you have a job offer, please request an Employment Authorization Verification letter through the ISSS portal.  You will then take these letters and the SSN application along with your passport, I-20, and I-94 to the Social Security Office in Ogden, UT.  Please review the instructions provided here.

Can I work as an international student?
  • International students are allowed to work on campus 20 hours per week during the spring and fall semesters. This includes during a graduate student's grace semester. Students can work on campus up to 40 hours per week in the summer semester and during school breaks (e.g. winter, spring). This is true even if they enroll in summer classes, as long as it is not their first or last semester, as enrollment is optional. Talk to your immigration adviser to obtain an Employment Authorization Verification letter proving you are eligible to accept the employment offer.
  • Off campus work is not permitted during your program of study unless it is authorized through Curricular Practical Training (CPT). You may also apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is typically just before you obtain your degree (pre-OPT) or after you earn your degree (post-OPT.) These opportunities require an application to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and an application fee. Information about how to apply for these off-campus employment opportunities is included in the request forms on the ISSS Portal "Student Forms" page.
  • See Study in the States for more information about F-1 student employment. 

How do I get a Social Security Number?
You must have a job offer with a letter of employment before you can apply for a social security number (SSN).  Once you have a job offer, please request an Employment Authorization Verification letter through the ISSS portal.  You will then take these letters and the SSN application along with your passport, I-20, and I-94 to the Social Security Office in Ogden, UT.  Please review the instructions provided here.