International Students and Cooperative Education: Do They Go Together?

Guest blogger: Laurie Woog, Esq.

Cooperative education or Co-ops are a great way to jump-start students’ careers while they are still in school. Co-ops can alternate with academic quarters or semesters.  Co-ops offer many benefits: students can obtain real world experience, try out a type of job or field, make valuable contacts for future employment, and defray the cost of college.  These programs are becoming increasingly popular in the current economic climate as students try to ensure they will be employed after graduation. 

Certain schools have long-established and extensive co-op networks, such as Northeastern University, Drexel, Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Cincinnati.    These opportunities provide great benefits with limited downside for U.S. students, but can foreign students reap the same rewards given their U.S. employment restrictions?  The answer is yes, if international students plan accordingly.  Laurie Woog, Esq. an expert in immigration law, offers the following tips for international students to take advantage of Co-op education.  

Work with the co-op office on campus to clarify rules for participation.   Foreign students may be wary of co-operative education, because they know that they are not allowed to be employed in the U.S., with limited exceptions.  However, international students should not be afraid to pursue these unique opportunities, as international student services and co-op offices on campus usually work together to clarify the rules that allow F-1 students to engage in co-op.

Know the difference between OPT and CPT.  Most foreign students are familiar with something called “Optional Practical Training (OPT)” which allows them to work in the United States for a year or more after concluding undergraduate or graduate school.  Students may also sometimes engage in “pre-completion OPT,” which is used while the student is still an undergraduate, but may then limit the amount of OPT available after graduation.

A lesser known regulation allows students to engage in “Curricular Practical Training,” or CPT.  CPT is employment authorization that is used for an integral part of an established curriculum, and it must be directly related to your major area of study, such as a clinical experience, internship or cooperative education opportunity.  So if an international student uses CPT for co-op, he or she can still use a full year of OPT after graduation.

Obtain F-1 status for at least one year prior to requesting CPT. Students must have been in F-1 status for at least a year to use CPT.  Students can obtain authorization for curricular practical training from the international or designated student advisor, sometimes called a DSO, at their school.  The advisor will give the student a new SEVIS I-20 reflecting the curricular practical training

Understand how your university handles the logistics. Each university handles  logistics differently, so it is important to understand how yours does it.   For example, at Northeastern, all international students must obtain co-op employment authorization from the International Students and Scholars Institute (ISSI) for each co-op position before the first day of employment. 

Understand the tax implications.  Northeastern’s international student services office also sponsors tax seminars for non-U.S. residents and information sessions related to co-op employment.  In order to make sure they are compliant with regulations regarding employment and immigration, students should contact their international student services office to learn the proper procedures well before they secure that first co-op.

Keep your immigration status valid. It is extremely important for international students to remain in valid immigration status in the U.S. You can do this by making sure you comply with F-1 regulations, such as maintaining a full course load, notifying the DSO when you move, and not working without authorization.  Woog says, “By understanding the limitations on their student status, foreign students are not limited to the traditional college experience, and can benefit from co-op just like their U.S. classmates.”

Laurie Woog is the managing attorney of Woog Law Office, LLC, in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.  Woog, an adjunct faculty member at Union County College, has been practicing immigration law for over 20 years.  Her firm handles family and employment-based immigration cases in New Jersey, New York, around the U.S. and abroad.


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