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Field Work Term For International Students

Notes for first year international students

As you begin your exploration of how your first FWT will relate to your new academic and personal experiences at Bennington, it is important to be aware of current labor policy for international students studying in the United States. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security imposes strict regulations surrounding work authorization for students studying on an F1 visa; therefore, first-year international students are generally not eligible to work off-campus in the United States for any type of compensation—including pay, room and board, academic credit, and graduation requirements (including FWT)—until they have completed one full academic year (two academic terms) of full-time study. Please refer to the College's International Student Services page for further information. 

FWT options for first year international students include:

  • Complete their first FWT in the summer. This option allows first-year international students to wait until they have completed one full academic year (two academic terms) before doing their first FWT so that they are eligible to secure an internship in accordance with Curricular Practical Training (CPT) criteria. International students who choose to complete their first FWT in the summer and who are planning to work in the US must meet with a Career Counselor to discuss securing a summer FWT that is directly connected to their academic work in order for it to be in compliance with CPT requirements. Similarly, students will need to meet with an international student advisor in the spring to secure necessary paperwork in time for the start of the summer FWT period.
  • Complete an on-campus student employment for their first FWT. In response to the challenges of waiting to complete a Field Work Term until the summer of their first-year, students can register an eligible campus job for FWT credit. It is an option that is available to first-year international students and does not require CPT.
  • Applying for an FWT position in one's home country. Students who select this option should speak with an international student advisor early in their planning regarding any potential concerns related to re-entry into the US at the completion of FWT. Note: FWT grant funding typically does not cover the cost of travel home; please see more information on funding your FWT.
  • Arranging an FWT position abroad. Students should research a country’s relevant visa requirements and remain in compliance with such requirements. Students selecting this option should also speak with an international student advisor during the fall term regarding any potential concerns related to re-entry into the US at the completion of FWT. Note: FWT grant funding typically does not cover the cost of travel home; please see more information on funding your FWT.

I want to complete an FWT internship in the United States. I've completed at least nine months of full-time residency in the U.S. What's next?

Please know that it is your responsibility as an F-1 visa holder to secure work authorization prior to beginning work. Registering your FWT is one step in this process, but you must also connect with International Student Services to receive an updated I-20 showing CPT work authorization on page 2 for each employer (if working at more than one approved FWT sites). The U.S. government takes working without work authorization very seriously. Beginning work without receipt of the I-20 showing work approval on page two is considered a violation of your F-1 status, and will result in required termination of your SEVIS record. If an ISS advisor knows that you work without work authorization they must report it through the SEVIS database, which means that your SEVIS record will be terminated. This also means that you will have to leave the U.S. immediately, and you may not be allowed to return. 

Can I volunteer during my first nine months in the U.S., including over FWT?

First-year students who want to volunteer at a nonprofit organization are allowed to do so, but not for FWT. Due to F1 visa requirements, first-year international students are not able to receive any form of remuneration (housing, meals, transportation passes, etc.) nor apply volunteer work towards an academically-required FWT, as any of the above would be considered a form of compensation and would violate visa regulations. In short, volunteering in the US without any form of compensation is allowed, but it is not an option for students to fulfill their first FWT requirement.

Can I stay on campus over FWT?

In extenuating circumstances, international students with demonstrated financial need who are unable to return home, unable to travel or stay with friends or relatives over FWT may have the option of living on campus during the winter term. If you are interested in staying on campus over FWT, given these reasons, it is important that you contact the International Student Services Office as soon as possible to discuss options. Learn more about campus housing over Field Work Term. Questions regarding housing on campus over the winter break and/or FWT can be directed to housing@bennington.edu.

Where can I find more information about Field Work Term?

Start with the Field Work Term and Career Development Office page to discover the services available to students in arranging their Field Work Terms, including planning tips, important dates, office resources and much more. (The FWT Handbook and linked resources are updated annually by the first day of fall classes.)

Who are the Field Work Term staff and how do I reach them?

Meet the FWT & Career Development Office staff. Appointments can also be made in Handshake.

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows students the opportunity to work at off-campus internships while in the US if such work is a required part of a student’s program of study. After nine months of full-time residency in the United States, international students can take regular FWT jobs (paid or unpaid) as part of their CPT. International students should speak with International Student Services regarding timelines and forms related to securing CPT in time for the start of a summer FWT.

As described on the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement website, CPT requirements are stated as:

  • CPT must relate to your major and the experience must be part of your program of study.
  • The Designated Student Officer (DSO) for CPT review at International Student Services will provide you a new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that shows that the DSO has approved you for this employment.
  • You can work on CPT either full-time or part-time.
  • CPT requires a signed cooperative agreement or a letter from your employer.
  • If you have 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you are ineligible for OPT (optional practical training), but part-time CPT is fine and will not stop you from doing OPT.

International students who secure work as an intern with a recognized international organization as described above can do so without it impacting one’s CPT allotment.

Note: First-year international students who remain in F1 status and who leave the US to complete their first FWT abroad will still be eligible to work for compensation through Curricular Practical Training at the end of their first nine-month academic year.

Who do I speak to about F1 visa related issues?

Bennington College’s primary designated student officer (PDSO) is Kate Child, Director for First-Year Experience and International Student Services. She can be reached at kchild@bennington.edu or at 802-753-2491 or stop by her office in Barn 113c. Also, Rage Hezekiah, Assistant Director of Academic and International Student, can be reached at ragehezekiah@bennington.edu or 802-753-2491 for ISS support.