F-1 Employment

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined generally as temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student’s field of study, for purposes of gaining practical experience. A student may engage in OPT pre-completion or post-completion, and it is important to note that any pre-completion OPT time received by the student, even if unused, counts towards the 12 months that the student may use post-completion. (Additionally, only students who have been on F-1 status for at least a year can apply for Pre-Completion OPT.)  Moreover, for post-completion OPT, the student must have also completed/fulfilled all the requirements of his/her academic program before starting work.

In order to engage in OPT, the student must receive a recommendation for OPT from the DSO of his/her school/university. The recommendation will allow the student to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with the USCIS.  Note that OPT applications are processed by USCIS alone and not our office.  A student may not begin OPT employment until USCIS issues the EAD.

Students majoring in the Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) fields may be eligible to apply for OPT for a total period of 36 months.  After the first year of OPT, if the student successfully maintains employment with a STEM-OPT eligible employer, he/she may be able to apply for a 24-month extension assuming the application is properly filed.  Visit the Study in the States website for more information on STEM OPT.

OISS will hold mandatory OPT Information Sessions at least 3 times during the fall and spring semesters.  Graduating students interested in applying for post-completion OPT must attend an information session to receive the most current information about the process of applying for OPT.  Those who are interested in pre-completion OPT must make an appointment with an adviser at our office for guidance and assistance.  Keep in mind that the application for an EAD takes about 3 months on average so processing time must be factored in when considering employment off-campus.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is work authorization that allows F-1 students to gain practical work experience in their field of study, prior to the completion of their academic programs.  It is a great opportunity meant for international students who seek to obtain real-world experience in their field of study, while receiving credit for internship participation.  (Note that participation in CPT does not take away time from another F-1 visa benefit called Optional Practical Training, or OPT, unless the student exceeds 1 year of cumulative full-time CPT.)  To be eligible for CPT, the student must have:

  • Been a full-time student for at least one full academic year

  • The support of your academic advisor / department 

  • A letter from your prospective employer for work in your major field of study 

  • Registered for an appropriate course which covers the duration of employment

What coursework supports CPT?

(1) Required Internships

  • Requirement must appear in institutional catalog /bulletin

  • Students granted CPT to undertake required internships in the US

  • Examples may include practicum, clinical or counseling hours, supervised field experience, on-site training


(2) Optional Internships

  • Must require registration for an Internship Class, or other such coursework, the availability of which is at the discretion of the academic department

  • Number of credits is also at the discretion of the academic department

CPT Limitations

  • The student is limited to participating in the approved internship on dates that fall within the academic term (Fall, Spring, Summer).  The qualified coursework must be registered for within the same term.  As an example, it is not possible to do a full-time summer internship to be credited for a class in the fall.

  • Participation is limited to part-time hours (20 hours or less) during the regular semester (fall and spring).  A student may engage in full-time internships during summer and intersession.

  • Graduation requirements that are technically not considered coursework (i.e. Passport Program with business majors) do not qualify as acceptable coursework for CPT purposes.

  • CPT is not intended to be used as a convenient means to work and retain employment while pursuing studies in the US, nor is it meant as a means to save Optional Practical Training (OPT) months.

  • Please note that some majors or programs may not have coursework that is readily available as an option for CPT use.  It is the responsibility of the student to explore options with the academic department in this regard.  OISS may assist in this process if further clarification or more background information on the immigration side is required by academic department.

Guidelines on the Written Internship Offer

The following must appear on the written internship offer in order to be an acceptable document for CPT:

  1. The offer must be written on company letterhead

  2. Company’s physical address

  3. Name and contact information of supervisor

  4. Dates of internship (beginning and end)

  5. A brief summary of the student’s role and responsibilities

  6. Compensation, salary, or hourly rate (if it applies)

  7. Number of hours of internship participation per week

F-1 students are allowed to engage in paid employment on campus as soon as they begin their program of study.  Jobs on campus will require the student to obtain a Social Security Number to payroll and tax withholding purposes, and OISS should be able to assist in this process once the student receives an official job offer.

F-1 students may only work part-time (20 hours or less) during the fall and spring semesters.  Students may engage in full-time work on campus during summer or intersession.  If a student has both an on-campus job and an authorized off-campus job during the regular semester, please keep in mind that the total number of hours of work for both employments combined should not exceed 20 hours.

F-1 students maintaining status may engage in volunteer work and unpaid internships provided they meet the criteria for what constitutes “volunteer” work and “unpaid internships” as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor.  Please read below to understand the differences between these two terms.

Volunteering, as defined by the Department of Labor, is service rendered specifically to “religious, charitable, and similar non-profit organizations” for reasons that are limited to “public service, religious, or humanitarian objectives”, usually on a part-time basis and “without contemplation of pay”.

Unpaid internships must not be confused with volunteering.  According to the Department of Labor, there are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation. 

The following 6 criteria are used to make such an assessment:

1.  The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2.  The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3.  The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4.  The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5.  The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6.  The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

OISS Policy on Volunteering and Unpaid Internships

We do not require F-1 students to obtain work authorization to engage in legitimate opportunities for volunteering or unpaid internships. However, if you plan on engaging in an unpaid internship opportunity, we do encourage that you apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization whenever possible. If you are doing some legitimate volunteer work, we highly recommend obtaining some documentation (such as a verification letter) that explains your participation and the nature of your work.  This is a good document to have in your records.