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I am studying in the U.S. on F-1 visa. Can I work in the U.S.? What is on-campus and off-campus employment? What is CPT and OPT?

By November 19, 2019March 24th, 2021Questions & Answers
Photo courtesy of Evonne on Flickr, labeled for reuse:

If you are studying in the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited college or university on an F-1 visa, you may be interested in getting a job on or off campus and you may also want work in the U.S. after you get your U.S. degree. This blog post will discuss different options you have as an F-1 student.

What is on-campus employment? When can I start working on-campus? How many hours per week can I work on campus?

As an F-1 student you may work on-campus (this means school’s premises, including on-location commercial firms that provide services for students on campus (for example the school’s cafeteria or bookstore) or off-campus, if the off-campus employment is educationally affiliated with the school (for example a research lab that is affiliated with the school). The off-campus employment must be an integral part of the student’s educational program. One thing to keep in mind is that if the employment does not provide direct services to students it is not considered to be on-campus employment.

When the school is in session you can work part time (up to 20 hours a week) and you can work full-time when the school is not in session (for example during the summer break).

You can start working on campus 30 days before the start date of your program.

What is CPT?

As an F-1 student, you can participate in Curricular Practical Training (“CPT”) programs. CPT must be an integral part of the school’s established curriculum and you can only accept CPT if you have been a student for at least one academic year.  One exception to this rule is if a student is enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in CPT. You must submit your Job Offer along with a request for CPT to your Designated School Official (“DSO”). If the DSO approves the CPT, you may start working on the start date of your CPT (as indicated on your I-20).

CPT may be granted either on part time or full time bases. If you received one year or more of full-time CPT you are not eligible for a post-completion OPT.  For all CPT rules, you should check with your local international school office for specific rules and details.

What is OPT?

OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to your area of study.

  • Pre-completion OPT

You may apply for pre-completion OPT if you have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year at a college or university. You may work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) if school is in session and you can work full-time if school is not in session.

  • Post-completion OPT

One important thing to keep in mind is that if you participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct this time from your OPT period. For example, if you worked 4 months on your pre-completion OPT, you could only be granted 8 months on your post completion OPT.

How do I apply for post-completion OPT?

To apply for OPT, your DSO must recommend the OPT. The DSO will have to endorse your I-20 Form and you will have to submit a work authorization form.

If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, you must apply for work authorization after the DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into the SEVIS record and up to 90 days before you complete a full academic year (but you cannot start working until you complete your full academic year).

If you are applying for Post-completion OPT, you must apply within 30 days after the DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record and up to 90 days before you complete your degree but no later than 60 days after you complete the degree.

You may only start working on OPT after USCIS approves your work authorization application and you receive your work authorization card.

If your work authorization gets approved and you are working for your OPT employer, this employer can then sponsor you for H-1B Visa. If your H-1B petition gets selected in the lottery system and your OPT work authorization expires, you may be eligible for a Cap-gap extension.

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