Regulations for F-1 International Students

Immigration regulations are complicated and interconnected. What is true in one student’s case is not necessarily true in all cases, so it’s always best to consult the immigration coordinator about your specific situation. Calvin’s immigration coordinator, Brent Wilkinson, can be reached at bw28@calvin.edu or by visiting the Spoelhof Center. Walk-in hours are:

  • Monday and Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
  • Tuesday and Thursday from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Feel free to e-mail and set up an appointment if you would like to meet at a different time. The following information will help you begin:

  • Change of address for F-1 students

    Federal regulations require that when students change their residence, they must submit their new address to Calvin University Registrar’s Office within 10 days of moving. Please also notify the immigration coordinator.

  • Enrollment
    • Undergraduate students are required to carry no fewer than 12 credit hours each semester.
    • Graduate students are required to carry no fewer than 9 credit hours each semester.
    • Students may be authorized by the immigration coordinator to be less than full-time under certain circumstances, such as a documented medical condition (mental health included).
    • Dropping below full-time makes a student out of status.
    • In the final semester before graduation, students may take less than a full course load if they need fewer credits to graduate.
  • Employment for F-1 students

    Please note that the government considers illegal employment one of the most serious immigration offenses.

    Students who work in the U.S. will need to apply for a Social Security number.

    On-campus employment

    • F-1 students may work on campus for up to 20 hours per week when class is in session (class is still considered to be “in session” during exam week in this case).
    • Students may work more than 20 hours during winter break, spring break, and summer break. Students who are not enrolled in an interim course may also work more than 20 hours per week during interim.
    • No authorization is necessary for on-campus employment. This includes on-campus employment directly with Calvin and with Peet’s on-campus coffee shop.
    • Working remotely is not considered on-campus employment, so it requires authorization.

    Off-campus Employment

    • After one complete school year, students become eligible for off-campus employment authorization. For example, students who began in August 2019 will be eligible for authorization starting in May of 2020, after the spring semester ends.
    • All off-campus employment must be directly related to the student’s major, according to federal regulations.
    • All off-campus employment requires authorization, which will be printed on page 2 of the I-20.
  • Options for off-campus employment

    CPT - Curricular Practical Training

    Curricular practical training is the most common form of authorization for off-campus employment before graduation. The government’s DSO training manual states that to qualify for CPT, an internship “must be required by the curriculum or, if not required, the student must receive credit for the training.” This means that if the internship is not required for the major, students must enroll in a course that requires the internship.

    To get a CPT authorization, students must get a signature from their academic advisor, department chair, or instructor, as well as a letter from their employer. Most majors have an internship class or independent study option that qualifies for CPT.

    • Once the paperwork is submitted correctly to the immigration coordinator, it takes 2-3 business days to get a new I-20 with CPT authorization. However, students should start the application 3-4 weeks before they intend to start the internship so they can make sure to get the letter and signature in time.
    • CPT authorizations must have a start and end date.
    • Authorization is sometimes possible outside the start and end dates of the semester if there is a curricular requirement for doing so. Students should consult the immigration coordinator about their specific situation.
    • Part-time CPT is limited to 20 hours per week.
    • Full-time CPT is available during summer vacation or when required by the curriculum. Student teaching, Chicago Semester, and Washington D.C. Semester are cases where full-time CPT may be available during the academic year.
    • CPT is available as many times as the student’s academic department allows. 12 months of full-time CPT make students ineligible for OPT. When doing more than one semester of CPT at the same internship, it is especially important for students to keep documentation of the curricular requirement which the internship fulfills. The government frequently asks questions about past CPT when students apply for OPT, STEM OPT, other visas such as H-1B, green card, etc.
    • Download paperwork:
      CPT Academic Recommendation
      CPT Offer Letter Template

    OPT - Optional Practical Training

    • OPT is an employment authorization that is available during one’s studies (pre-completion OPT) or after graduation (post-completion OPT).
    • Authorization is available for up to 12 months
    • Students applying for post-completion OPT must attend a workshop to learn about the application process and OPT regulations. Workshop details are announced by e-mail to all international students.
    • For post-completion OPT, the earliest date one can apply is 90 days before graduation.
    • OPT must be approved by USCIS, which can take 3 to 5 months. It requires a $410 filing fee payable to the Department of Homeland Security.
    • Download paperwork:
      OPT Instructions for Student Packet
      OPT Regulations Agreement
      OPT General Information
      Graduation Verification Form
  • Unpaid off-campus internships

    All paid employment requires authorization, but some unpaid experiences do not. If the unpaid experience is related to your academic program, please check in with the immigration coordinator about whether or not you should seek authorization.

    Students often want to work without pay while waiting for their authorization to be processed, or as a way to extend their internship. However, the government sees this as illegal employment.

    Unauthorized off-campus employment

    NO unauthorized employment. No unauthorized employment means that a student does not work off campus unless they have an I-20 with authorization for off campus employment on page 2. Any employer (other than Calvin University and the on-campus Peet’s Coffee) qualifies as an off-campus employer. Unauthorized employment subjects one’s SEVIS record to termination.
  • Extension of Program Completion Date

    If your expected graduation date changes, be sure to apply for a program extension as soon as possible. Extensions are not possible if requested after the completion date on your I-20.

  • Traveling outside the U.S.

    Required documents (carry these with you. Do not put them in your checked luggage):

    • Valid passport
    • Most recent I-20
    • Travel endorsement from within the past 12 months on page 2 of the I-20
    • If your visa has expired, you must renew it before returning to the U.S. Check the website of the U.S. consulate in your home country for details: https://www.usembassy.gov/

    The documents below are not required, but may be helpful if CBP has questions for you at the border:

    • Class schedule for upcoming semester
    • Tuition receipt for upcoming semester (if you have already paid tuition)
    • Any other documents indicating that you are a student

    Be sure to request the travel endorsement well in advance of your departure. Don’t wait until the last minute.

    If you are traveling to a third country (other than the U.S. and your home country), be sure to check with that country’s consulate about travel requirements. For example, if you are from Japan and want to travel to Canada, you should check with the Canadian consulate for details about entering Canada.

  • Passport Requirements
    • Do not allow your passport to expire. Apply for renewal well in advance of the expiration date.
    • You may continue studying even if your visa expires, as long as you are maintaining F-1 status. If you travel outside of the U.S., though, you will need to renew your visa before returning.
Detailed regulations are available from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.