During your stay in the U.S., you will be asked to comply with various government regulations that apply to students on F- 1/J-1 visas. If you have questions regarding your immigration status, please contact the ISS immediately. DO NOT rely on friends, professors or staff in your academic department for advice on immigration matters. While these people have good intentions, they may not know the regulations that pertain to your immigration status and situation. One piece of bad advice may put your legal status in jeopardy.

Important Notice

U.S immigration regulations change frequently. It is very important that you understand these changes so you can make informed decisions. This section presents an introduction to the following issues, primarily as they apply to students in F-1/J- 1 status, but they cannot replace the advice and assistance of the ISS. So always check with the ISS before making a decision to change your course of study, transferring to another institution, traveling out of the US, considering employment or the completion of your studies. Compliance with immigration regulation is your responsibility. If you have questions regarding immigration matters, please speak with the Director of International Student Services, who is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Designated School Official.

Important Immigration Documents

Students Responsibility

There are four important travel documents that you should be made aware of:

  • Passport – issued by your country;
  • Entry Visa – this is your entry permission into the U.S.;
  • I-94 Card – this is your authorization of stay, indicating the length of your stay; Form I-20 for F-1 students or DS- 2021 for J-1 students or scholars.

It is your responsibility to keep these documents updated and valid at all times. Note: Citizens of Canada only need to present their passport, SEVIS Form I-20/DS-2021 and proof of SEVIS Fee payment upon entry to the U.S. and will be issued an I-94 immediately. They do not need entry visas.


The passport is the legal document issued by your home country which identifies you as a citizen of that country. While you are in the U.S, your passport must be valid for at least six months into the future. Your passport can be renewed at your government’s Consulate or Embassy in Washington, D.C. It must be valid if you plan to leave and re-enter the U.S. You should request information about renewal and apply far in advance of your expiration date since considerable time is required for some countries. Any time you mail your passport, send it by registered or certified mail. Check with ISS for details. In case of passport theft or loss, contact ISS immediately.

Entry Visa

The U.S. visa is the multi-colored stamp or sticker on a page of your passport, issued by the U.S. Consulate or Embassy, which permits you to enter the U.S. Most international students at GWU will have F-1 or J-1 visa. Your visa is stamped on a page in your passport and includes your name and visa classification (F-1/J-1), place and date of issue, visa expiration date, the number of entries into the U.S. permitted on that visa (single or multiple) and the school you are authorized to attend.

The visa DOES NOT grant you the permission to enter or remain in the U.S. It DOES allow the holder of the visa to apply to enter the U.S. at a port of entry, such as an airport. At your port of entry, an immigration officer will review your documents and provided they are satisfactory, issue an I-94 card and attach it to your passport. It is the I-94 (see “I-94” below), your VISA STATUS (Immigration Status), that allows you to enter and remain in the U.S. Once USCIS admits you to the U.S., the visa no longer matters unless you decide to travel abroad with the intention of re-entering the U.S. As long as you remain in the U.S., no one, including the law, cares if the visa expires. A new visa will be required if the original one expires and you travel outside with the intention of re-entering the U.S.

Note: Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa. They must show their passport, I-20/DS-2021, and proof of SEVIS Fee payment at the U.S. port of entry when entering from Canada.

If you plan to travel abroad and re-enter the U.S., the ISS must check your travel documents before you leave. If your visa is still valid, you need only to present your passport, I-20/DS- 2021, and proof of financial resources at your port of re- entry. If your visa expired during your stay in the U.S. or is otherwise invalid, you will need to apply for a new visa at an American Embassy or Consulate in your home country to obtain a new visa to re-enter the U.S.

I-94 Card

This is the small white “Arrival/Departure” card issued by an immigration officer at your port of entry into the

U.S. to all non-immigrants, including students, before passing the U.S. border. It is attached to your passport by the immigration officer at the port of entry. It contains your name, USCIS admission number, birth date, citizenship, date and port of entry into the U.S., immigration status, and the length of time you may remain in the U.S. This is the document along with your I-20/DS-2021 that authorizes you to be in the U.S. Students with F-1 visas have “D/S” written on their I-94s. “D/S” means “duration of status” and indicates students can remain in the U.S. for as long as they are studying full-time in educational institutions and maintaining status.

This card is a temporary document. When you leave the U.S., you must surrender your 1-94 at the port of departure. A new I- 94 card must be issued to you when you re-enter the U.S. An I-94 is the proof that you have legally entered the country.

When USCIS grants permission to you to enter the U.S., an admission number is usually written on your l-20/DS-2021. Many Port of Entries no longer issue the I-94 card and expect the student to print the document from the USCIS website.

YOU MUST CARRY YOUR I-20/DS-2021 WITH YOU WHILE IN THE U.S. AS IT IS A PROOF OF YOUR LEGAL USCIS (F-l/J-1) VISA STATUS. The I-94 should be kept in the passport at all times.

The ISS will advise that you carry copies of these documents with you while traveling within the U.S. so they are not lost: Form I-20 /DS-2021, Passport and I-94.

Form I-20

SEVIS Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant “F-1” Student Status) is issued to a prospective student after acceptance. Form I-20 is one of the documents used to apply for F-1 visa; Form I-94; permission to leave and re-enter the

U.S. as an F-1 student; transfer from one school to another; or a change of status. Your signature on the SEVIS Form I-20 means you understand immigration regulations and will comply with them. It also authorizes the school to release certain information about you to the USCIS if and when requested. Keep this form with your passport. It is your responsibility as an F-1 student to keep a valid I-20 at all times. See the ISS immediately if I-20 is lost, damaged or you changed program of study.

In case of transfers, the school will update your immigration record in SEVIS. If traveling outside of the U.S., you must have your I-20 signed by a Designated School Official (DSO) at least one week prior to the trip. Form I-20 automatically becomes invalid once you are out of status.

Form DS-2021

SEVIS Form DS-2021 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant “J-1″ Status) is issued to all exchange visitors and their dependents. Form DS-2021 is one of the documents used to apply for J-1 visa; Form I-94; permission to leave and re-enter the U.S. as a J-1 student; transfer from one school to another; or a change of status. Your signature on the SEVIS DS-2021 means you understand immigration regulations and will comply with them. Keep this form with your passport. It is your responsibility as a J-1 student to keep a valid DS-2021 at all times.

See the ISS immediately if I-20 is lost or damaged.

Duration of Status

The completion of studies date in item #5 of the SEVIS Form I-20, or item #3 of the SEVIS Form DS- 2021, is the date by which you are expected to complete requirements for your current program. If you are unable to complete your program of study by that date, consult with the ISS at least thirty (30) days before reaching the completion date. If you are eligible for program of study extension, the ISS will assist you to comply with extension requirements.

Gardner-Webb University’s Responsibilities

Gardner-Webb University has been approved by the USCIS to work with SEVIS, an Internet-based system which provides tracking, monitoring and access to current information on non-immigrant students. SEVIS enables schools to issue I-20s and to transmit electronic information via the internet to the USCIS and DHS throughout a student’s stay in the United States. Gardner-Webb University must report the following about F-1 students each semester:

  • Beginning and ending date of studies
  • Visa classification
  • Enrollment status
  • Change of the student or dependent’s legal name and address
  • Sources of funding
  • Practical training
  • Date study is completed
  • Academic or disciplinary actions due to criminal conviction
  • Dropping below a full course of study
  • Termination date and reason for termination
  • Extensions, school transfers, changes in level of study, employment authorization, reinstatement
  • Failure to maintain status or complete program of study

Full Course of Study

International students in F-1/J-1 immigration status are required by law to be full-time students. They must register full-time for fall and spring semesters. They are not required to take classes during summer.

For undergraduates, full-time status means the student must register for at least 12 credits each term; GWU graduate students must consult their departments to know exact credits for full-time status, since this varies by department. If you think you are eligible for a reduced course load during any term, contact the OIP immediately to obtain permission to be registered for less than a full course of study in order to maintain legal F-1/J-1 status. Do not decide on your own to take less than a full load for whatever reason. If you do so without permission, you will be out• of-status.

  1. Exceptions to the full-time study regulation made for students who are:
  2. Placed in an improper course level.
  3. In the final term of their academic program and need less than the minimum full-time load to complete that program.
  4. Encountering serious medical or academic problems.
  5. Master’s/PhD. degree students who have completed all course requirements and are working full- time on thesis or dissertation.

Note: If you register for less than a full course of study for any Fall or Spring semester, you must submit a letter requesting permission to take less than full course load to the Director of International student Services. This letter must be received at least a month (30 days) before the start of the semester in question.

Students who do not have ISS approval for a reduced course load will be reported as being out-of-status to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Maintaining Your Status

F-1/J-1 students are admitted to the United States for “duration of status” (D/S). This means students are permitted to be present in the U.S. as long as they comply with the rules and regulations pertaining to F-1/J-1 students as set by the USCIS/DOS.

There is a difference between an F-1/J-1 visa and F-1/J-1 status. An F-1/J-1 visa is the stamped page in a passport placed there for entry purposes only. F-1 /J-1 status is granted once a student enters the country and is regulated by the USCIS/DOS. Even if your visa is valid, students can lose legal F-1/J-1 status if they do not comply with the applicable immigration laws regulating their stay in the U.S. Students who fail to maintain their F-1/J-1 status must apply for reinstatement and may be forced to leave the country if reinstatement application is denied.

To maintain F-1/J-1 status, students must adhere to USCIS/DOS regulations. Failure to do so will result in a student being considered “out-of-status” (illegal) by the USCIS/DOS. All F-1/J-1 students are required by law to do the following:

  1. Students on F-1/J-l visa must pursue a full course of study during every academic session or semester (except during official school breaks) at the school listed on their valid Form I-20/DS- 2021. Full time status/full course of study is defined at Gardner-Webb University as being enrolled in a minimum of 12 credits each fall and 12 credits each spring semester for undergraduate study; graduate students consult your department.

    Credits completed during summer semester are not considered in establishing full time status/full course of study for already enrolled students.
  2. Keep Form I-20/DS-2021 valid at all times by following proper procedures for an extension of stay, change of educational levels or programs of study, or transfer to another university. A new Form I- 20/DS-2021 is required whenever a student changes degree levels or program (i.e., from a bachelors to a masters; from a Master’s in Business Administration to a Masters in Information Sciences). Students must apply for an extension of their program of study if they cannot complete the degree by the ending date listed in Section 5 of Form I-20 or section 3 of Form DS- 2021. An extension MUST be applied for 60 days in advance. Students who do not extend their program in a timely fashion will be considered “out-of -status” with USCIS/DOS and will have to submit an application for reinstatement of status.
  3. For students on F-1/J-1 visas, no more than the equivalent of one online / distance education class or 3 credits per semester may count towards the “full course of study” requirement, if the course “does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class” according to immigration regulation: 8 C. F. R. § 214.2 (f) (6) (i) (G):
    • (G) For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted if taken on -line or through distance education in a course that does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class. An online or distance education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, or satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing. If the F-1 student’s course of study is in a language study program, no online or distance education course may be considered to count toward classroom hours or credits.
  4. After completion of full course of study, students can remain in the U.S. for no longer than 60 days unless they have applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT), moving from one educational level to the other, or school transfer. Contact the International Student Services for more advice. J-1 students have a 30-day grace period only.
  5. Student must always notify the ISS of any change in address or phone number within 10 days of such change.
  6. Be sure your passport is valid at all times.
  7. Attend authorized school. Don’t skip classes.
  8. Limit all employment to 20 hours per week while school is in session.
  9. Students must abstain from off-campus work unless specifically authorized under the regulations by USCIS/DOS. Never work illegally, it can lead to deportation.
  10. Students must abide by rules requiring disclosure of information and prohibition of criminal activities.

NOTE: Immigration rules and regulations are constantly changing. ALWAYS check with International Student Services before traveling out of the U.S., transferring to another school, accepting employment (including internship), or completion of your studies.

Eligibility Requirements for Program Extension

You may apply for an extension of your study program provided:

  1. You have continually maintained your F-1/J-1status
  2. The delay in completion is “caused by compelling academic or medical reasons, such as change of major or research topic, unexpected research problem, unexpected family emergencies, or documented illness”.
  3. Your I-20/DS-2021 has not expired (Form I-20 item #5 or Form DS-2021 item #3)

A student who is ill and cannot attend school must submit a letter from the doctor to the Assistant Director of International Programs, verifying that the student is unable to attend classes and why. This documentation must be received during the semester in question (not as an “after thought”) so it can be properly documented. For us to accept medical documentations, they must be from licensed medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologists.

Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are NOT acceptable reasons for program extensions.

A student who fails to complete his or her program within the time prescribed in item 5 of the SEVIS Form I-20 or item 3 of the Form DS-2021, and cannot meet eligibility criteria for program extension is considered “out of status” and must apply for reinstatement to F-1/J-1 student status.

You must apply for an extension of your study program within sixty (60) days before the completion date on your I-20/DS- 2021. You must contact the Office of International immediately so that you will have enough time to prepare your application. Also contact Office of International Programs immediately if your completion date has passed.

If you fail to comply with your responsibilities, you will not be eligible to continue any type of employment (even on-campus employment through a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship) or to apply for school transfer, practical training, or other F- 1/J-1 benefits.

Avoid Being a Public Charge

International students in the U.S. sometimes experience financial difficulties similar to those experienced by American students. Although the U.S. government has benefit programs designed to assist low-income families living in the United States, most of these programs are only available to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. Non-immigrants on F, H, and J visas are not eligible. Unfortunately, administrators of many public assistance programs rarely have the expertise to assess eligibility based on immigrant status.

Remember that when you applied for your student or other non-immigrant visa, you had to demonstrate to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate that you had the means to support not only yourself but also your family members if they accompanied you. Acceptance of public assistance can be a violation of your immigration status under the “public charge” ground of exclusion. “Public Charge “is a term used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the State Department to classify persons who have become dependent on federal or state assistance programs. If the USCIS/DHS finds that you have become a “public charge” because you have accepted public assistance, you could be subject to deportation or denied re-entry to the United States after a trip home. Your non-immigrant visa could even be canceled and you might also be expected to pay back the government for the amount of benefits you have received. Such a decision is extremely difficult to reverse, so be careful! Examples of public assistance programs that are not open to non-immigrants are:

  • Aid to families with Dependent Children (AFDC)
  • Medicaid, which provides reimbursement for medical care for low-income persons
  • Food stamps, which provide low-income families with coupons that they use to purchase food
  • Some federal housing programs
  • Cash assistance for low-income individuals or families

**Important Reminder: **
Remember that even if the administrator of a benefit program finds you eligible for a program and encourages you to apply for benefits, you should NOT apply without checking with the ISS. The benefit administrator may not understand that accepting these benefits could affect your immigration status!

Transfer of Program or Schools

Eligibility for transfer of degree programs/field of study

The student must:

  1. Be fully admitted to the new program.
  2. Obtain Form I-20 for the new educational program.
  3. Enroll in the new educational program during the 60-day grace period following completion of studies or after completion of optional practical training.

Transferring Schools:

A student who is maintaining a valid F-1 status may transfer that status from one USCIS approved school to another by following the transfer procedure outlined below. If you wish to transfer from one school to another you need to:

  1. Notify International Student Services of your intention to transfer in order to obtain the verification that you have maintained your student status and you are eligible for F-1 transfer.
  2. Submit a letter of request to transfer to another school. With this, you are authorizing ISS to transfer your records in SEVIS to the new school. This should include your desired release date to transfer.
  3. Obtain contact information of the DSO at the transfer-in school.
  4. Provide proof of acceptance from the new school to International Student Services.

If prior to your transfer you were not a full-time student at the previous school, you must apply for reinstatement to F-1 status before requesting a transfer.

You must maintain status by attending classes until the transfer release date. You cannot decide to transfer in the middle of a term and immediately stop attending classes.

If a student will travel outside of the United States immediately before transferring schools, he/she may transfer his/her immigration documents by re-entering the U.S. with the new I-20 of the school he/she will be attending next. The immigration officials will note the transfer upon re• entry to the United States. Visit ISS for more advice before embarking on this journey.

Note: J-1 students please contact ISS for further information on transfer of programs or schools.

International Student Employment

F-1/J-1 students are admitted to the U.S. to study. Before a student may be issued an F-1/J-1 visa and admitted to the U.S., the student must show that sufficient funds are available for study. USCIS/DHS rules allow F-1/J-1 students to work in the U.S., but only under certain circumstances. Students must maintain lawful student status.

To be eligible for all types of employment authorization, you must be in and continuously maintain lawful F-1/J-1 status. To maintain eligibility, you must have employment authorization and you must limit your work to no more than twenty (20) hours per week while school is in session. Do not assume that you are eligible to work without first contacting the ISS.

There are five categories of employment available to F-1/J-1 students, they are:

  1. On-Campus employment
  2. Off-Campus employment authorized because of severe economic hardship
  3. Special Student Relief program, which is based on the on-campus and economic hardship employment categories
  4. Certain employment sponsored by international organizations
  5. Practical training (curricular and optional practical training)

On-Campus Employment

As an international student, you are permitted to work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session; however, most jobs on campus are only offer 12 hours a week. You are not permitted to start working on campus more than 30 days prior to initially starting classes at GWU. During holidays and breaks you will be permitted to work more. In order to locate on campus employment, you should check with the Financial Planning Office located in Dover Campus Center. If you have a visa other than F-1, please contact the ISS to discuss employment opportunities.

Jobs that qualify as on-campus employment include direct employment by the school, and other employment on the school premises, as long as the employer provides direct services to the students e.g. bookstore, cafeteria, etc.

On-Campus Employment, School Transfer and Completion of Studies

If a student who has been issued a SEVIS Form 1-20 to begin a new program in accordance with USCIS regulations, and who intends to enroll for the next regular academic term at the institution that issued the Form 1-20, he/she may continue on- campus employment incident to status. Please note that if you intend to continue further study in the U.S., you may not be employed on campus after you’ve completed a course of study unless you have been granted permission to engage in optional practical training (OPT).

Note: J-1 students please contact ISS for further information about on-campus employment.

On-Campus Employment Based Upon Severe Economic Hardship

You are eligible for off-campus employment based on severe economic hardship if you:

  1. Are in lawful F-1 status.
  2. Are in good academic standing.
  3. Have been in F-1 status for at least one academic year.
  4. Can demonstrate that the employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control and that employment on-campus is unavailable or otherwise insufficient to meet your needs.

This employment is strictly for twenty (20) hours or less per week when school is in session and it is subject to USCIS approval. You may work full-time between terms (when school is not in session) and during summer semester but you must obtain the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before the start of the employment. Visit ISS immediately for application forms and advice.

The renewal of the work authorization is contingent upon the maintenance of the student’s F-1 status. It is automatically terminated if you fail to maintain lawful status or if you complete your course of study earlier than the expected completion date marked on Item #5 of your I-20. Contact the ISS for more information.

Note: J-1 students please contact ISS for further information about off-campus employment.

Employment with an International Organization

This F-1 employment benefit allows F-1 students to work for recognized international organizations. This type of work permission is rare for Gardner-Webb University students because such recognized international organizations are rare in Charlotte area. However, if you have a summer job opportunity in another city, you may want to investigate this option further. Please contact the ISS for more information.

Note: Students with F-1 visas have limited off-campus employment opportunities. Students must be enrolled for at least one year before opportunities become available. Approval by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is required, unless work is in the form of an internship for academic credits. Approval is very difficult to obtain, and students should meet individually with the ISS when off-campus employment appears to be necessary.

*J-1 students please contact ISS for further information on employment with an international organization.

Practical Academic Training

Practical/Academic training is an immigration approved employment, which allows the F-1/J-l student to gain experience in his/her field of study. Under “Practical Training” which applies to F-ls, there are two types, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). Internships qualify as CPT. Academic Training for J-1sis limited to 18 months (36 months for postdoctoral training) and requires a job offer.

**Important NOTE: **
Questions about individual student employment limits should be addressed to International Student Services.

*J-1 students please contact ISS for further information on Practical Training

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training must be an integral part of an established curriculum in the student’s course of study. This includes internships, externships, and cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the university. Check with the ISS to be sure the employment you have obtained qualifies for Curricular Practical Training. A request for authorization for CPT must be approved prior to the student’s commencement of employment. This information must be entered into SEVIS to reach the USCIS before the student can start to work. Contact the ISS for details about CPT.

Note: Curricular Practical Training must not exceed 20 hours. You must be simultaneously enrolled to maintain lawful F-1 status.

Eligibility Requirements

Undergraduate F-1 students must have completed at least one academic year of full-time study to be eligible for any form of Curricular Practical Training. If you qualify, visit ISS for advice. If you are a graduate student, you are maintaining lawful F- 1 status, and the proposed employment is a required part of your studies, then you may apply for permission to engage in Curricular Practical Training whenever your program requires it, even if it is immediately upon beginning your studies.

However, a letter from your department approving the internship must be submitted for the file.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training is generally a twelve-month off-campus employment; but for students in the STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs), they are eligible for a twenty-nine month (29-month) OPT. (GWU does not currently have any programs that meet requirements for STEM) This is designed to provide a student with an opportunity to gain actual work experience in his or her chosen field of study. This employment must be directly related to the student’s course of study and must be commensurate with the student’s educational level. It is not affected by the student’s participation in the Curricular Practical Training/internship/s. However, if a student had engaged in full-time CPT for more than one year, he or she is ineligible for OPT. The work may occur anywhere in the United States. Optional Practical Training can be authorized at the following times:

  • During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and eligible, and intends to register for the next term.
  • While school is in session, provided that it does not exceed twenty (20) hours per week while school is in session. This is deemed “Part-time Pre-completion OPT”.
  • After completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis or equivalent, if the student is in Bachelors, Masters, or Doctoral degree program.
  • After completion of the course of study.

As of January 2003, the USCIS has approved an OPT for each academic level which means a student can now participate in OPT at the undergraduate level, another at the Masters level and yet another at the Doctoral level.

Eligibility for Optional Practical Training

A student is eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training if he/she meets the following criteria.

  1. You must have been lawfully enrolled full-time for at least an academic session (Fall and Spring):
    • As an F-1 student.
    • As a full-time student at a USCIS approved school in another nonimmigrant status before changing your status to F-1.
    • Before falling out of status as an F-1 student, and is subsequently reinstated to student status by USCIS.
  2. If the employment to be pursued is directly related to the student s major area of study and commensurate with the student’s educational level. It does not have to be an integral part of the student’s curriculum.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Optional Practical Training

Part-time Pre-completion Optional Practical Training: If a student still has coursework remaining to complete his/her educational program in the last semester, he/she is limited to twenty (20) hours per week of Optional Practical Training while school is in session. Such a student can, however, apply for full-time Optional Practical Training during his/her official school breaks. Graduate students, who have completed all coursework for the degree, excluding thesis, dissertation, etc., can apply for Optional Practical Training. Remember, that there are a total of twelve (12) months available, and training before completion of degree will count against the twelve (12) months and reduce the time available after the degree is awarded.

Full-Time Post-completion Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training after completion of course of study will only be granted for full-time use i.e. forty (40) hours per week. You must apply for this training within the first week of your last semester before graduation. Your application forms must reach the USCIS office at least ninety (90) days before the completion of your course of study. Visit the ISS for more information.

Duration of Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training is available for a cumulative maximum of twelve (12) or twenty-seven months. If you engage in a part-time Optional Practical Training while in school, this period will be deducted from the twelve (12) or twenty-seven (27) months limit at 50% rate.

Therefore, every two (2) months of part-time Optional Practical Training will be counted for one (1) month of full-time. However, if you start your Optional Practical Training after completion of course of study, then you are entitled to twelve (12) or twenty-seven (27) months of employment.

Application and Authorization

Please contact the ISS to obtain the Optional Practical Training (OPT) packet. Your OPT application must be processed at least one hundred (100) days prior to graduation.

You cannot begin employment until Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been received, and, the start date has been reached. OPT can only be authorized for a maximum aggregate period of twelve

or twenty-seven (27) months for STEM students and it is now approved for each educational level i.e. Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral levels.

**Important NOTE: **

The USCIS/DOS has provided a variety of opportunities for you to be lawfully employed during your time in the F-1/J-1 status. Working illegally or without authorization is a serious violation of your status. Please consult with the OIP before accepting any employment off-campus. You are required to comply with the immigration rules and regulations as they pertain to F-1 students. The staff of ISS will counsel you regarding your responsibilities. If you fail to comply with your responsibilities, you may not be eligible for benefits normally available to F-1 students.

Importance of the Actual Date of Completion of the Program of Study/Grace Period

USCIS regulations refer to the date you complete requirements for a program of study, not the date you participate in graduation ceremonies or the date, which is the end of the academic team. Your lawful F-1 status expires after the grace period, which is sixty (60) days after you complete your degree requirements. You are expected to leave the U.S. by that date unless you have filed a timely application for Optional Practical Training or made other arrangements to lawfully remain in the U.S.

Change in Employer after Optional Practical Training Has Been Authorized

You may change employer/s during an authorized practical training provided each position is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your educational level.

Travel and re-entry after completion of studies but before the issuance of EAD

Be advised that traveling outside of the United States after the application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD) (without receiving the actual approval) may constitute an abandonment of the application. At this point, re-entry may not be guaranteed. Be very cautious about travel unless you have received your EAD. Contact the ISS for more information.

Travel and Re-entry while engaging in Optional Practical Training (OPT)

If you are engaged in part-time OPT before the completion of your program, follow the same procedure for visits abroad and reentry as all F-1/J-1 students.

If you engage in OPT after the completion of your studies, and you travel outside the United States temporarily (less than 5 months), you may be readmitted to resume your employment for the remainder of the period authorized on your EAD card, provided you present:

  1. Your I-20 ID that was endorsed by your DSO within the last one year
  2. An unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  3. A letter from your employer stating that you would be returning to your employment. Also carry a job offer letter if you have it.

Students who fail to meet these requirements may be denied re-entry into the United States. Please consult the OIP before embarking on a journey during Optional Practical Training.

Travel and Re-entry after completion of studies with EAD card but without a job

If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, OPT might end and you may not be able to re-enter. Please consult ISS if you find yourself in this kind of situation.

Employment for F-2 Dependents

USCIS regulations prohibit all study and employment for F-2 dependents (spouse and children) of F-1 students.

Note: J-2 dependents please contact ISS for further information on study and employment.

Travel and Re-Entry

Visits Abroad and Re-entry in F-1/J-1 Status

Whenever you leave the United States temporarily and you wish to return to continue your studies at Gardner-Webb University, make sure you secure necessary documents to:

  • Permit your entry to another country
  • Permit re-entry to the United States

Before traveling, make sure the following documents are up-to-date:

  • Passport – Be sure you have a valid passport.
  • U.S. Visa – Check your U.S. entry visa (which is stamped in your passport) to be sure that it is still valid for additional entries. If not, you will need to get a new entry visa from the U.S. consulate or embassy while you are outside the U.S. (Special conditions apply when traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean Islands for less than 30 days. For more information, visit the ISS).
  • SEVIS I-20 /DS-2021 – Have your I-20/DS-2021 endorsed by a Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Officer. Verify that the information on your I-20/DS- 2021 is still correct.

In addition, you may want to take the following with you on the journey:

  • If you are pre-registered for the upcoming semester, we suggest that you take a copy of that registration with you.
  • A copy of your transcript.
  • Ask the Academic Services to prepare an “Enrollment Certification Form” for you. This will verify that you have been attending and are expected to return to continue your studies at Gardner-Webb University.
  • When you apply for a new visa, the officer will ask to see your financial documentation.
  • If you are traveling to a location other than your home country, you may need a visa to enter that country. For more information contact the ISS, or that country’s embassy or consulate well ahead of your planned trip; four months is not too early.

Travel In-Country

If you intend to travel within the U.S. during your stay, please carry copies of your passport, I-20 and I- 94.

Travel out of U.S.

If you, or your accompanying dependents, intend to travel temporarily out of the U.S. and return, you will need to have ISS check your documents. All students traveling anywhere outside of the U.S. must have a valid SEVIS I-20 for re-entry. You will also need to have a valid U.S. visa to re-enter and, of course, your passport must be valid. If necessary, make sure you obtain a new U.S. visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad before returning as you will not be permitted entry to the U.S. without a valid visa.

Please visit the ISS at least one week before your travel to have your DSO endorse your SEVIS I-20. If you are authorized to engage in Optional Practical Training, you must carry your EAD in addition to the endorsed SEVIS Form I-20.

Travel to Canada, Mexico, Or the Caribbean Islands:Mexico and Canada have distinct entry requirements, which must be investigated by the student. Please check these websites for more information.

Note: If you have changed to an F-1 status in the U. S. and are leaving the country for a short time (less than 5 months) to return and complete your education, you may apply for the F-1 visa while outside the US before returning.

After Completion of Studies

Once you have completed your program of study at GWU, you have a few immigration options.

  1. You are expected to depart the U.S within sixty (60) days as an F-1, or thirty (30) days as J-1, after the completion of the course of study (grace period).
  2. You may continue in F-1 status by pursuing further F-1 studies either at Gardner-Webb University or in another USCIS approved school.
  3. You may apply for Optional Practical Training at least one hundred (100) days before completing your course of study.
  4. You may apply to change your F-1 status to another non-immigrant classification no later than sixty (60) days after the completion of your course of study.

Note: If an F-1 student does not choose one of these options after completing his or her course of study, he or she will be “out of status.” That student’s “duration of status” will end sixty (60) days after completing the full course of study.

Failure to Depart
A failure to depart is considered a violation of status, thereby making the student deportable.

*J-1 students please contact ISS for further information on your options for after completion of studies.

Additional Immigration Information

For F-1 Students

EAD Application Procedure

To apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), all applicants must submit the following (in the listed order below):

  • Check or money order payable to the USCIS. Consult ISS for information on the amount. (Do not write on the back of the check.)
  • Form 1-765 (available from the ISS)
    • In item #3, make sure that the address you indicate will be valid for 2 to 3 months.
    • In item #16, indicate the appropriate code (you should also write next to the code the type of eligibility category) which are:
      • (c)(3)(i) F-1 Optional Practical Training
      • (c)(3)(ii) F-1 Off-campus with qualifying international organization (c) (3)
      • (iii) F-1 Off campus employment due to Severe Economic Hardship.
  • Photocopy of Form I-94 (front and back)
  • Photocopy of the last EAD (front and back) – if available and applicable
  • 2 Photographs taken no earlier than 30 days before submission to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The applicant’s head should be bare unless the person is wearing a headdress as required by a religious order to which he/she belongs. The photo should not be larger than 1 and 1/2 x 1 and 1/2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 1/4 inches.
  • Photocopies of the identification page(s) from the passport (including the page that indicates the passport expiration date).
  • Photocopy of the most recent visa

Additionally, for the following, you must submit: F-1

Optional Practical Training:

  • Photocopy of SEVIS I-20 ID with Optional Practical Training recommendation and DSO’s signature on page 3
  • Photocopy of all previous I-20s (all pages)

F-1 Employment with International Organization:

  • Letter of certification from the international organization that the proposed employment is within the scope of its sponsorship
  • Photocopy of I-20 ID endorsed by the DSO within the past 30 days

F-1 Employment Due To Severe Economic Hardship:

  • Photocopy of I-20 ID
  • Evidence/explanation detailing the unforeseen economic circumstances that cause the hardship situation and the unavailability/insufficiency of on-campus employment
  • A list of assets, income and expenses

Inviting Dependents and Guests to U.S.A.


If after arriving in the U.S., you (F-1 student) wish to invite your immediate family (wife, husband, and children (unmarried under the age of 21) to join you, you must notify the OIP at once. You will need to send them their SEVIS I-20s issued in your name, but also bearing their names individually, with which they can apply for US visas. ISS would need to see a proof of financial support ($5,000.00 for each dependent) for the family’s stay before issuing the I-20s. Dependents of F-1 visa holders will receive F-2 visas.

Note: Once in the U.S., dependents in F-2 status may not accept employment of any kind, at any time.

Temporary Visitors

If you intend to invite family members other than spouse/children for a short visit to the U.S., you need not send any forms, instead send a personal letter to the prospective guests inviting them to visit for a specified time will do. With this, the visitor would obtain a tourist visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad.