Employment for international students falls under three categories: On-Campus Employment, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training.
The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration services has specific requirements that must be met for each type of employment. These requirements are detailed below.
International students may engage in on-campus employment while registered for a full course of study and maintaining their student status. On-campus employment is limited to part-time (20 hours per week) while school is in session, however students may work full-time during breaks, holidays and the summer semester (provided full-time enrollment is not required for the summer semester). Please be advised that on-campus employment is extremely hard to find and students should not expect to use on-campus employment to augment their finances.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Who Qualifies for Curricular Practical Training?
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is available to F-1 students who have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year (i.e. two full, consecutive semesters).
What kind of employment qualifies as CPT?
The regulations state that curricular practical training must be "an integral part of an established curriculum." They define curricular practical training as "alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school."
What are the requirements for CPT?
- Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year before being eligible for CPT Exception exists for graduate students whose programs require immediate curricular training. Available only while student is in F-1 status, before completion of the educational objective. Students in English language training programs are ineligible for CPT
- Must be an integral part of an established curriculum, in the student's course of study
- Students may engage in CPT only for the specific employer, location and period approved and recorded by the DSO in SEVIS.
- Depends on the specific period granted by the DSO. May be granted by DSO in increments of no more than one year, or until expected date of employment completion, whichever is shorter. No cumulative maximum, except that it can only be approved before completion of the academic objective.
- Can be approved for part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (over 20 hours)
- Must have an offer of employment from an employer offering work that qualifies as curricular practical training
Are there any Effects on other work?
Use of full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training. Use of part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for Optional Practical Training.
How Does the Approval Process Work?
You must receive written authorization from DSO, who records authorization in SEVIS and issues SEVIS I-20 with notation, before work begins. USCIS approval is not required Must continue to maintain a full course of study in F-1 status during the period of employment, but exceptions may exist for some CPT.
Please contact the DSO for CPT Employment Application to be completed and returned to your Designated School Official for processing. Once your application is approved, you will be issued a new I-20 detailing the CPT employment.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional practical training (OPT) is defined in the regulations as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study."8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)
Three kinds of OPT can be identified:
- Pre-completion OPT
- Post-completion OPT
- 17-month extensions of post-completion OPT for certain STEM degree holders
Standard Pre-completion and Post-completion OPT
- The regulations allow standard OPT to be authorized at the following times:
"During the student's annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session, if the student is currently enrolled, and is eligible for registration and intends to register for the next term or session" [ 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A)(1) ];
- "While school is in session, provided that practical training does not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session" [ 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A)(2) ] or
- "After completion of the course of study, or, for a student in a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree program, after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent)...." [ 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A)(3) ]
Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year before being eligible for OPT. Available both before and after completion of the educational objective, but different rules apply to pre- and post- completion OPT. Students in English language training programs are not eligible for OPT.
- Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level. A one-time extension of 17 months (for a total of 29 months) is available to certain STEM degree recipients. 20 hours/week limit for pre-completion OPT done while school is in session and student still has coursework to complete.
- Full-time employment can be requested for pre-completion OPT done during official school breaks, and for students who have completed all requirements for their degree except for thesis or dissertation.
- For post-completion OPT, a student must be employed for at least 20 hours per week. If doing pre-completion OPT, must maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (unless done during school breaks).
Optional Practical Training Checklist
Any student who wishes to apply for OPT should do so 60-90 days prior to the completion of their program, as the approval process can take several weeks to complete.
The following documents must be submitted to the Designated School Official prior to filing the application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Service Center.
- Two passport-style color photos with a white background taken no earlier than 30 days before submission to USCIS. They should be unmounted, glossy and not retouched. The photos should show a full-frontal facial position. Your head should be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order to which you belong. The photo should not be larger than 2 x 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 1/4 inches. Lightly print your name and your I-94# on the back of each photo with a pencil.
- A check or money order for $380.00 made payable to United States Department of Homeland Security
- Completed Form I-765
- For Question #16, please enter the code that corresponds to the type of OPT you are seeking:
- Part-time OPT while you are in school: (c) (3) (a)
- Full-time OPT after completion of your program: (c) (3) (b)
- Full-time OPT 17 month extension for STEP Students: (c)(3)(C)
(For students with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. Must be filed 90 days prior to OPT expiration date)
- I-20 recommending OPT (original)
- Photocopies of all previous I-20s, front and back (including non-SEVIS and
- A photocopy of your passport
- A photocopy of the I-94 (front and back)
- A photocopy of the last employment authorization document (EAD) (front and back) if available and applicable