As part of the F1 student status, many students participate in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during their studies, and Optional Practical Training (OPT) either during or after they complete their program of study. Others work on campus during their studies to offset the costs of their education, and if there is an economic need, then students may seek approval to work off campus during their studies.
On Campus employment requires that the employment be either on campus (but may include contractors related to the school like food service or bookstore), or off campus for an entity related to the school such as a research lab or think tank. As long as the on campus job is school related and does not displace a U.S. worker a student may work 20 hours while school is in session, and full time when the school is not in session, and may begin working up to 30 days before the program start date. All students may seek on campus jobs, even if they are here for ESL classes. The job offer should be in a writing that is certified by the school, so that the student may obtain a social security number from the Social Security Administration. If a student violates the conditions of on campus employment the school is expected to terminate the student’s F1 status. If the student finishes a program of study but enrolls in another program starting the following term, they may continue to work during the gap period, or during the period of time an application is pending for a change of status or reinstatement.
Most foreign students know about Optional Practical Training (commonly called OPT), which allows the student to gain practical experience in their program of study for twelve (12) months. Students may apply for OPT after the completion of each degree level of their education (i.e. after bachelor degree, and after a master degree). Students of STEM programs may apply for an additional 24 months of OPT. A student may apply Pre-Completion or Post-Completion OPT. For Pre-Completion, the student must have finished one (1) academic year of studies (does not have to be an F1 for the full year). For Post-Completion OPT, students may apply from 90 days before the program end date, until 60 days after the program end date. During that window of time the student must have their school’s DSO (Designated School Official) reauthorize the I-20 with SEVIS, and then the student must file the form I-765 (request for work authorization) with the appropriate fee and have it received by USCIS within 30 days of the SEVIS registration.
In total the student may only be granted twelve (12) months of OPT (not counting STEM), so if the student completes 10 months of pre-completion they may only apply for 2 months of post-completion OPT. For the school’s DSO to approve the OPT the student must present a bona fide job offer (either paid or unpaid) in a position that allows for practical experience in the program of study. The student may not start the OPT prior to the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) being approved and received. During the OPT authorization period, students may not have accrued more than 90 days without work. Exceeding the 90 day time period puts the student into unauthorized stay, and limits future immigration options. Students that studied STEM programs may apply for an additional 24 months of Post-completion OPT, by taking additional steps. One of them requires that the employer use the E-Verify program, the employer completes Form I-983 “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students” and a new I-20 be filed with a new I-765 “application for work authorization.” Programs that are approved STEM can be found at USCIS STEM Designated Program List: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf
Alternatively, during their academic program students many students participate in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) if it is a requirement of the program, or if it is a credit course. The CPT may be full time or part time, but if a student has 12 months of full time CPT, they may not later take advantage of post completion OPT. The CPT option also requires that the employer enter a cooperative agreement with the school, and the relationship must be an internship, or practicum (paid or unpaid), and may not continue past graduation.
F1 Student Visas
Many students participate in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) either during or after they complete their program of study.