Signed Cooperative Agreement for CPT Authorization11 Mar 2015
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued a message to all SEVP certified schools on January 29, 2015 entitled, Post-Secondary F-1 Student Employment Reminders. In its message, the SEVP reminds all designated school officials (DSOs) of requirements for F-1 employment authorization, including the need for a signed cooperative agreement between the school / university and the prospective curricular practical training (CPT) employer.
Cooperative Agreements with Historical Perspective
CPT is a form of permissible F-1 student employment. It is defined by the regulation as “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 the school.” Historically, the regulation has been interpreted, both by the government and most F-1 sponsoring schools, as requiring “cooperative agreements” with regard to limited types of CPT employment. However, SEVP has now introduced a stricter reading that requires a “formal cooperative agreement” between the school and the CPT employer with regard to all CPT employment types.
Signed Coop Agreement or Letter from CPT Employer
SEVP does not clarify exactly what type of documentation is considered sufficient to qualify as a “cooperative agreement … formally authorized by the school.” However, the SEVP WebSite indicates that a student must have a “signed cooperative agreement or a letter from [his/her] employer” to be authorized for CPT. Thus, based on both the January 2015 SEVP guidance and the information on the SEVP WebSite, it appears that the “cooperative agreement” requirement may be satisfied by a letter from the student’s employer, in addition to, or in lieu of, an actual signed agreement between the school and the employer offering the student CPT.
Possible Reason for Stricter Requirements by SEVP
In a televised speech on November 20, 2014, President Obama promised enhancements to the optional practical training (OPT) type of employment, and instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to “take steps to ensure that OPT employment is consistent with U.S. labor market protections to safeguard the interests of U.S. workers in related fields.” Even though the President’s instructions to ensure that the F-1 student employment program is strictly adhered to, and were made in connection with the OPT program, rather than the CPT program, it is reasonable to conclude that the January 29th broadcast message is an attempt by SEVP to streamline all forms of F-1 employment and enforce a stricter reading of the requirements for such employment.
How to Meet the “Cooperative Agreement” Requirement
As there is no specific government-issued “cooperative agreement” form required for CPT authorization, schools and F-1 students must rely on the schools’ own internal policies and procedures to satisfy this requirement. Prior to applying for CPT, F-1 students should discuss the CPT requirements and be familiar with their respective school’s policy regarding its authorization and related documentation.
Schools with Well-Established Internal Procedures
Many schools with well-established internal procedures may already satisfy the “cooperative agreement” requirement, even if not identifying it in this manner. For example, schools may have requirements in place for F-1 students to be enrolled in cooperative education internship courses or registered for internships with their respective programs’ career centers in order to obtain CPT. These types of arrangements generally create documented “cooperative” relationships between the employers and the schools that should satisfy the “cooperative agreement” requirement.
Smaller Schools May Need the Signed Agreement or Letter
Smaller or less established schools, on the other hand, that have not instituted clear protocols for CPT authorization may actually need to require that a new agreement with each prospective CPT employer be signed by the employer’s representative and a DSO. If it is impossible or impractical to require a signed agreement, it may be advisable to obtain a letter from the prospective employer describing the job opportunity and its willingness to comply with the F-1 student CPT authorization by the school’s DSO.
CPT employment is one of the most common ways to gain practical experience in one’s program of study. However, CPT rules and their interpretation by both the schools and the government may differ. This creates confusion that may lead to action or inaction on the part of F-1 students that may be deemed as status violations. It is important, therefore, to understand the rules in the manner that they are likely to be interpreted by the government. Students are advised to make sure that all CPT requirements are met, including the new, strict interpretation of the cooperative agreement requirement. Students and university officials who may have questions about CPT and related matters are welcome to schedule a consultation a Murthy Law Firm attorney.
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