There are 4 options for foreign student (F-1) employment in the United States:
- On-Campus Employment;
- Off-Campus Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardship
- Curricular practical training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT and STEM OPT)
On-campus employment is permissible without USCIS authorization as long as the student continues to take a full course of study, maintains his/her F-1 status and the employment will not displace an U.S. worker. The employment must not exceed 20 hour per week while school is in session although the student may work full-time during regular school vacations.
On-campus employment must be performed on a school’s premises or at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school and is an integral part of the school’s educational program. Students may work at a private entity if a research contract between the school and the private entity exists.
Off-Campus Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardship
Off-Campus employment is available to students due to severe economic hardship. In order to be eligible for employment based on severe economic hardship, a student must:
- Attend classes for at least one academic year (9 months);
- Be in good academic standing, and enrolled in a full course of study;
- Be able to provide evidence of unforeseen economic hardship caused by circumstances beyond his/her control;
- Show that on-campus employment is either unavailable or insufficient; and
- Guarantee that employment will not interfere with studies.
The student must apply for and receive an EAD Card from the USCIS prior to commencing employment. The EAD Card is valid for up to 1 year and can be renewed until the completion of studies. This type of employment does not affect eligibility for CPT or OPT.
Employment is authorized up to 20 hours per week during school and full-time (40 hours per week) during vacations and holidays.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) must be “an integral part of an established curriculum” for the school. Generally, such practical training is administered by a school as an alternate work-study program, internship, cooperative education program, or any other type of required internships or practicum offered by a sponsoring employer through an agreement with a school. The employment may be either on campus or off-campus and does not require USCIS formal approval.
A student must meet the following eligibility criteria for CPT:
- The student must be full-time for at least one academic year (normally 9 months). Graduate students are generally exempt from this requirement;
- Training must be related to course of study;
- A job offer is required; and
- Must request approval from the school’s DSO in accordance with school’s procedures.
CPT may be full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours or less per week). However, students who participate in full-time curricular practical training for more than 1 year become ineligible for OPT.
Optional Practical Training (Before and After Completion of Studies) and STEM OPT
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available to students in the following circumstances:
- During annual vacation and other times when school is not in session, if the student is currently enrolled, is eligible for registration and intends to register for the next term or session;
- While school is in session, provided that OPT is 20 hours or less per week while school is in session; or
- After completing the course of study (after completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis work).
Proposed employment must be related to the student’s major area of study. Students seeking OPT after graduation may request OPT up to 90 days prior to the completion of studies and no later than 60 days thereafter. OPT employment may not commence until the student is in possession of an OPT EAD Card issued by the USCIS.
The maximum period of authorized OPT may not exceed 12 months. Please note that post-completion practical training must be completed within 14 months after the completion of study although the actual period of employment authorization is limited to 12 months.
Students in English as Second Language (ESL), elementary or secondary programs are ineligible for practical training.
After completion of OPT, a student has 60 days from the expiration date of the OPT EAD Card to either depart the United States or file a petition seeking classification in another visa classification or be enrolled in a course of study commencing the next available school term for the specific course of study.
Students with STEM degrees who complete their regular post-completion OPT have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension for up to 24 additional months.