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F-1 Visa

About the F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 is a non-immigrant visa classification for individuals who are pursuing academic studies at the secondary, post-secondary, undergraduate, and graduate level. As long as F-1 students are enrolled in a full-time academic program, they remain in valid status for as long as necessary to complete their studies.  There are various types of options for F-1 employment.

WORKING IN THE UNITED STATES

The U.S. government takes working illegally very seriously.

If your DSO knows you are working without permission, your DSO must report it through SEVIS and your record can be terminated. That means that you will have to leave the United States immediately, and you may not be allowed to return. There are many opportunities to work and getting permission is easy.

On-Campus Employment

As an F-1 student in Active status, you immediately have an option for one kind of work: on-campus employment. However, there are some things to keep in mind. Although you may work shortly after you arrive, you must be in Active status and your DSO must approve your request. After your DSO approves your request, you’ll be given a letter of approval.  When school is in session, you may only work 20 hours per week.

Off-Campus Employment

As an F-1 student, you can receive work authorization for training related to your studies: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). Most of the time, you must have been enrolled in an SEVP-certified school as an F-1 student for one full academic year to be eligible for either type of practical training.  Please contact your International office at your university for specific requirements regarding CPT and OPT status while you are at their institution.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT must relate to your major and the experience must be part of your program of study.  You must be enrolled in a course that relates directly to your internship setting while completing your studies.  CPT can be full-time or part-time, depending on your institution’s policies and procedures.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations state that Curricular Practical Training (CPT) must be directly related to the major and an integral part of an established curriculum.

CPT is defined as “alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.”  Thus, CPT for F-1 students is intended to provide work experience in the U.S. in situations where the work serves as an integral part of a student’s academic program, prior to completion of that program.

In order to qualify for CPT your DSO needs to provide you with a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status” indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment.  Most International offices will require proof of employment, such as a letter of employment, in order to process such a request.   Lengths of time for approval vary from university to university.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Students who are authorized for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must have an I-20 endorsed for OPT, and provide a USCIS-issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD). When authorized, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to the eligible F-1 student’s area of study. To learn more about OPT, please visit the USCIS Website and the ICE international Students webpage.

OPT must relate to your major or course of study, and although you can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, you must have your EAD card before you begin working.

In order to obtain your EAD, your DSO needs to provide you with a new Form I-20 indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment, and you must submit a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” to USCIS. Your EAD card will come from USCIS. Just as with other work authorizations, you are restricted to a 20-hour work week while school is in session in Pre-Completion OPT, which can be approved before you have completed your program of study but deducts time from your length of OPT after graduation.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary permission to work in the United States in order to gain additional knowledge about your field of study. OPT employment outside your field of study, or employment not commensurate with your degree level, is prohibited. OPT requires the recommendation of your DSO, update of SEVIS, and a work authorization card from the government; however, it does not require you to have a job offer before authorization. OPT may be undertaken:

  • full-time or part-time during vacation periods;
  • part-time (Pre-Completion OPT) (20 hours/week max) during spring or fall semester, with full-time enrollment; and
  • full-time (Post-Completion OPT) (40 hours/week) after completing all formal class requirements(excluding independent study, thesis, and dissertation hours).

Eligibility: There are basic steps for eligibility, but it is best to work with your International Office at your University to determine if you meet the criteria to apply for this type of work authorization.  UAMS can only approve employment if an valid EAD card stating that you are on OPT is presented when your position is set to begin.

17-Month STEM Extension: Students who graduate with a STEM degree are eligible to remain in the United States for an additional 17 months on an optional practical training (OPT) STEM extension.  This extension can only be used once throughout the entire time of study in the United States, from bachelors level to doctrate level.

Resources

On-Campus and Off-Campus Employment

OPT Policy Guidance

Internship with an International Organization 17-Month STEM Extension

STEM-Designated Degree Program List (PDF)