Immediate participation in CPT may threaten legal status

(By Rahul Reddy & Rebecca Chen, Attorneys at Law)

Foreign students who maintain valid F-1 non-immigrant status may be able to work in the United States by participating in Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Participation in CPT is available only before a foreign student completes the degree program, and the CPT employment must be an important part of the school’s existing curriculum. The student must also meet additional requirements to qualify for CPT, which includes obtaining authorization from the school’s Designated School Official (DSO). Typically, students are only eligible for CPT if they have been studying full-time for at least one year. However, some schools enable students to participate in CPT during the first year of student. Those who participate in CPT within the first academic year often face obstacles when they later attempt to transfer to H-1B status. 

Foreign students who have engaged in CPT are often faced with Requests for Evidence (RFEs) from the USCIS upon seeking a transfer to H-1B status. These RFEs are most frequently issued when the applicant has attended a small, accredited institution and engaged in CPT within the first academic year at the institution. Additionally, RFEs are often issued when the USCIS is trying to determine whether the applicant is in violation of his status, especially when the CPT employer’s address is far from the applicant’s school address.

The RFEs typically request additional documentation to establish that the applicant maintained valid F-1 non immigrant status by engaging in full course of study, whether the applicant physically attended classes, and whether the applicant actually worked during CPT. 

 The RFEs are typically asking for the following information:

Evidence that the applicant attended classes and maintained valid F-1 non-immigrant status: Such evidence may include school transcripts, proof of tuition payments, receipts for books and school supplies, parking passes, copies of student ID, class schedules, and course syllabi. If the applicant attended live courses with any online courses, but the CPT employer’s address is far from the school, it is the burden of the applicant to establish that he attended the live courses.

If the student did not continually reside within normal commuting distance from school, he may submit evidence of travel from his residence to school, including plane ticket receipts, train or bus passes and interstate gas receipts. Online courses can be considered as a violation of your student visa. Only one online course per semester is permitted by law.

Evidence that immediate participation in CPT was required within the first academic year: Such evidence can include a letter from the Designated School Official (DSO) of the institution, evidence from the institution’s student handbook or course catalog describing the graduate degree program, and any evidence from the institution establishing that immediate participation in CPT was required as an integral part of your degree program.

Evidence that CPT directly relates to the applicant’s major area of study: Such evidence may include an offer letter from the CPT employer, a letter from the DSO of the institution, evidence from the institution’s course catalog, the applicant’s course syllabi of his courses, and CPT cooperative agreement between the CPT employer and institution. It is important that a formal authorization between the school and CPT employer be made through a cooperative agreement.

Things to keep in mind:

On January 29, 2015, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released Broadcast Message 1501-03 encouraging DSOs to remind F-1 students of the regulations related to employment while studying in the United States. In the message, the SEVP reiterated the importance of obtaining DSO authorization on the Form I-20 before starting CPT, and of obtaining a formal cooperative agreement between the CPT employer and the institution verifying that CPT is an integral part of the student’s program of study.

Our office has received multiple RFEs regarding CPT employment this year. As of August 2015, 75% of the responses to the RFEs have resulted in approvals, while 25% have resulted in denials. We have noticed that the USCIS does a thorough review of the evidence to determine whether the applicant violated his status, and that those denied are usually due to lack of documentation. 

As the statistics above show, it is not impossible to get an I-129 approval when issued an RFE regarding CPT. However, keep in mind that providing sufficient documentation that the applicant maintained his F-1 status while taking a full course of study, appropriately attended his classes, and actually engaged in CPT is vital to drafting an RFE response that will result in an approval.

We strongly recommend that you contact a competent attorney before responding to the RFE.


Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Our experienced team of immigration lawyers in Houston & Dallas advises clients throughout the H-1B visa application process, including responding to various requests for evidence and consular processing issues. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.