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F-1 Visa Status
F-1 visa students are required to maintain full-time enrollment during the fall and spring semesters. Full-time registration for undergraduate students is 12 units per semester. Full-time for graduate students is eight units or 12 units with a TA/GSR appointment. F-1 visa students are limited to 20 hours of work on campus per week while school is in session, inclusive of a TA or GSR position. During the winter and summer break, F-1 visa students may work full-time on campus. Off-campus employment or employment after a student has completed their degree program if only permitted with the necessary OPT employment authorization as noted below.
Important note: The following information is for UC Merced sponsored students with UC Merced listed as the sponsoring school in section two on the Form I-20. Non-UC Merced sponsored students need to contact their international student advisor at their sponsoring university for advice on employment authorization.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with UC Merced. Students must have been in valid F-1 status for one academic year (9 months) before applying for CPT. The CPT must relate to the student's major and be integral to the student's academic degree program. Students work with their faculty advisor and UC Merced department to verify the employment meets the required eligibility criteria. Students complete and obtain department approval on the CPT Request form. Students submit the request form to the International Students & Scholar's Office. The Designated School Official (DSO)/International Student Advisor will approve the CPT in SEVIS and provide the student with a new I-20 noting the CPT approval on the third page. There is no limitation on the length of time a student may participate in full-time CPT unless CPT is used for twelve months or more. Students that participate in twelve months or more of full-time CPT will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training. The International Students & Scholars Office requires five to 10 working days for CPT approvals.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
An F-1 student may apply to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for authorization for temporary employment for optional practical training. Students must have been in valid F-1 status for one academic year (9 months) before applying for OPT. The maximum amount of OPT initially available is 12 months. USCIS can take 90 days to approve a student's application for OPT employment authorization so proper planning is important. A student does not need a job offer to apply for OPT. OPT is used as work authorization after a student has completed their degree program (pre-completion OPT). The employment can be obtained after approval, but the OPT employment must be directly related to the student's field of study. Following approval, USCIS will send the student an Employment Authorization Document called an EAD card. The student may not begin optional practical training employment until the date indicated on his or her Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). Students must submit the OPT Request form to the International Student's & Scholar's Office to initiate the OPT application process. If the prospective employee did not attend UC Merced, he or she would need to speak to their advisor at the university that sponsors their I-20.
17-Month STEM OPT Extension
The 17-month extension of post-completion OPT is for students currently on approved post-completion OPT with a Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree. The student must be working for an e-verified employer in the field of their degree. The student would follow the same application process as noted above to apply to USCIS for the 17-month STEM extension. Students must submit the STEM OPT Request form to the International Students & Scholars Office to initiate the STEM extension application process. Following approval by USCIS, a new EAD card will be sent to the student.
Dependents of F-1 Visa Holders
The immediate family members of an F-1 visa student in F-2 visa status are not permitted to work or engage in full-time study at a university. An F-2 visa holder may only engage in study that is avocational or recreational.
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