LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Sung Hee Yu | Dec 22, 2010

Optional Practical Training (OPT) / Curricular Practical Training (CPT) as a F-1 visa holder

Working in the United States While You Are F-1 Student Visa Holder: Optional Practical Training (OPT), Curricular Practical Training (CPT), and On-Campus Employment As previously mentioned, F-1 student visa holder cannot work in the United States except for the limited situations. Since September 11 incident, Federal government does not issue social security numbers to foreign students unless they have DHS authorized employments. Therefore, it is generally difficult for F-1 visa holders to find meaningful employment during their academic program because they need to get employment offers first and then get work authorization from the Department of Homeland Securities. However, the good news is, in certain situations, an F-1 visa allows foreign students to work on campus and in some situations even off campus. On Campus Employment as a F-1 student In this circumstance, the F-1 student visa holder can work freely even without DHS's work authorization. However, the on-campus employment setting is very limited, and sometimes, it is hard to find. While currently enrolled, international students can only work for 20 hours a week. Talk to the designated school official (DSO) as s/he would have the specific procedures, forms, and contact people you would need to avail of on-campus employment. You can have as many jobs as you want as long as the cumulative work hours per week do not exceed 20 hours. Certain examples of on-campus employment are the following: o Working in a school library as a part-time librarian. o Student research assistant for professors o Working in a school restaurant; the restaurant has to be managed by your school. It is important to note that the nature of your employment has to be part-time (although you can work full-time during summer break) on campus. If you get employment offers for jobs mentioned above, contact your school's international student office promptly. The offices will issue a document and you can get your social security number and will eventually be able to work for those jobs until the designated periods of time. Optional Practical Training (OPT) F-1 visa students are eligible to apply for employment-authorized practical training after the completion of their academic program (so-called OPT). Once they have completed their course of study or practical training (if applicable), they have sixty days in which to depart the U.S Optional Practice Training (OPT) is available to students after their course of study. You maintain F-1 status with an OPT, and you can work at a job related to your degree. This is limited to 12 months unless you have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), where you can obtain one additional 17-month period if the employer is enrolled in E-verify. The F-1 student should request the OPT before the completion of her degree. Around 90 days prior to graduation is recommended timing for applying OPT if the student wants to work soon. But anytime within 60 days of the program completion date is fine as it gives the student more time. The international student cannot begin employment until the start date on the employment authorization card. The F-1 student should first ask for an OPT recommendation from the DSO. The DSO will stamp the I-20 with this recommendation. The F-1 student submits form I-765, the I-20 with the OPT stamp, and other supporting documents to the immigration service. Students will then get an employment authorization card, with the OPT designation, valid for a year. The OPT is also automatically extended for those who timely filed a Change of Status from F-1 to H-1B under Cap-gap regulation. The most common situation is having an OPT card expire sometime around May to August of a particular year (one year from graduation / end of program). H-1B employment always starts on October 1. So there is this 2- to 4-month gap. When this happens, as long as the change of status is filed before the expiration of the OPT, status is automatically extended up to October 1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) An F-1 student can work off campus, while on F-1 status, through Curricular Practical Training (CPT). The DHS defines CPT as alternate work / study, internship, cooperative education, or internship. The work must be an integral part of the international student's academic program. It is not the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) which authorizes CPT, but the school's designated school official (DSO). Moreover, it is very important to note that not every school has CPT program. If your school does not have established CPT program, then you will not be eligible to work under CPT program. Once granted, the student will have an I-20 with a CPT Endorsement by the DSO. This is what the student shows to the company s/he will be working for. Upon completion of the I-9 form, the human resource manager will copy the I-20 for their records. Before applying for CPT, you should make sure that you have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year. The academic year should be pursuant to an academic program which is not English as a Second Language (ESL) program. 1) Eligibility The DSO requires any of the following: 1. The proposed employment is necessary for all degree candidates and is necessary to that degree. An internship or coop must historically be necessary to meet these criteria. 2. The proposed employment will be for academic credit. Thesis and coop courses in which employment is an integral component to fulfilling the course are included in this area. A letter from the professor in charge of your thesis or coop is required for submission to the DSO. The letter should mention that your employment is integral to the fulfillment of the specific course for which you'll get credit for. 2) Requirements It really depends on each school. You should go to your DSO or International Student Services center and they must have at least a one page memo on CPT requirements. You gather all the documents requested and submit them to your DSO. Upon his or her review, an I-20 will be issued to you. The DSO records all pertinent information from your submitted documents to SEVIS. 3) I-20 with a CPT Endorsement After the required documents are submitted, the DSO will determine whether you are authorized for CPT. Upon approval, the DSO will update your record in SEVIS. SEVIS shall therefore reflect whether your CPT is full-time or part-time, the start and end date of your employment, and your employer and its location. This should serve as a warning to F-1 students to make sure they comply with the terms of their CPT. It is not a work permit that allows you to work anywhere. The terms and conditions of your job are in SEVIS records and would be available to immigration officials. If you apply for an H-1B or permanent residency in the future, a record of working illegally and not complying with your CPT records will be an issue which may lead not only to a denial, but also subject you to removal proceedings. 4) Part-time and Full-time CPT Part-time CPT during the school year is possible, but is limited to 20 hours or less per week. Also you must still maintain your full-time F-1 academic course load while doing your part-time CPT. During the summer break, usually between May and September, you can have a full-time CPT. Full-time CPT allows you to work more than 20 hours a week, but not more than 40 hours a week. 5) Effect of Over One Year Full-time CPT on Optional Practical Training (OPT) Those who plan to do Optional Practical Training (OPT), which gives them up to one year after a degree program to work in their area of specialization pursuant to a degree, and thereby buys them time and increases their chance of hopefully getting petitioned for an H-1B, should take note of their time on CPT. An F-1 student who was on a full-time CPT for one year or more is ineligible for OPT. So you don't want to stretch it too long if you plan to do OPT anyway. Unauthorized Employment or Status Violation May Carry Harsh Immigration Consequences Students must also be aware of the implications of working illegally. If an F-1 student is caught working illegally while on F-1, meaning there is no CPT, OPT, or severe economic hardship EAD card for the particular off-campus employment, the student would be in violation of their status and subject to deportation. This is such a harsh consequence but this is the law. Students caught working illegally will be issued a Notice to Appear and would have to go to Immigration Court to fight their case. Because of the violation of their F-1 status, they won't even be eligible to change to an H-1B or other visa. Moreover, there are not many viable reliefs for the F-1 students who violate Immigration law.

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