Students often inquire as to the possibility for employment while studying in the U.S. Employment is any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food or any other benefit. If you receive no pay or other benefit for work performed, this activity is not defined as employment and is considered to be volunteer work.
A fundamental eligibility requirement for all types of employment is that you must continuously maintain lawful F-1 status. Maintaining eligibility for most types of F-1 employment means that you must limit your work to no more than twenty (20) hours per week while school is in session. Do not assume that you are eligible to work without first contacting the Director of International Programs
There are several categories of employment available for students: on-campus employment, off-campus employment, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).
You may work on campus provided you are maintaining F-1 status. You cannot work more than a total of twenty (20) hours per week while school is in session. You may be employed full-time (40 hours per week) during holidays and vacation periods, including summer vacations, provided you are eligible and intend to register for the next school term. The twenty-hour-per-week limit on your employment while school is in session applies to all types of on-campus employment discussed in this handbook. A twenty-hour-per-week graduate assistantship, for example, exhausts work eligibility for the term of the assistantship, except for those times when school is not in session.
Jobs Which Qualify as "On-Campus Employment"
Employment by the school: On-campus employment performed for UC is usually acceptable, whether it is employment in the Library, Admissions, Alumni Office, Food Services, Campus Bookstore, Audio Visual, or Residence Life.
Other employment on the school's premises: Work performed on the University of Charleston’s grounds is "on-campus employment" as long as the employer provides direct services to students. Employment in the school bookstore or with catering, both of which provide direct services to students, is acceptable even if operated by a private commercial firm. Work for a construction company, which is erecting a campus building, is not acceptable since the construction company does not provide direct student services.
PLEASE NOTE: The following is what you need to do if you work on campus or accept a CPT/OPT position:
Practical Training is employment directly related to one's field of study, which serves as training for the profession the student will enter. The Department of Homeland Security allows students to engage in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines Curricular Practical Training (CPT) as alternate work/study programs
It is highly recommended that you obtain CPT authorization for unpaid employment as well as paid.
1) Student finds the internship
2) Student submits the following to the Director of International Programs:
a. Letter from academic advisor explaining that the internship is
i. An integral part of an established curriculum and
ii. Directly related to the major area of study
b. Letter from employer stating
i. Job title and responsibilities
ii. Dates of intended employment
iii. Number of hours per week
iv. Employer’s address and phone number
v. Address where the employment will take place
vi. Signature of hiring manager or supervisorOR
c. The Center for Career Development (CCD) Learning Contract
3) Director of International Programs determines whether or not the internship is a valid situation for the student’s academic program
4) If the student IS NOT already receiving academic credit for the internship, the student registers for ENSL-050X International Internship (Audit only, no credit, cost $0). The student then provides Director of International Programs with evidence of enrollment in internship class.
If the student IS receiving academic credit for the internship, the academic advisor must confirm this in the letter. There is no need to enroll in ENSL-050X.
5) Director of International Programs issues the student an I-20 with CPT authorization. The student may only participate in the internship during the dates listed on the I-20.
Please do not engage in any type of unauthorized internship. You could put your F-1 status in jeopardy. ASK FIRST before starting a job! Starting to work before your CPT has been approved is ILLEGAL and could subject you to deportation or denial of future benefits such as a change of status to H1-B or Permanent Resident.
Remember that the primary purpose of an internship is to gain practical training in your field of study and NOT to make money. CPT is intended to provide practical experience, not an income.
Optional practical training is designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain actual employment experience in your chosen profession for a maximum of one year.
The work must be directly related to your major field of study, and it must be appropriate for someone having your level of education. The work may be part-time or full-time and may occur anywhere in the United States. In order for you to be eligible to apply for optional practical training directly related to your major area of study, you need to have achieved lawful student status for nine consecutive months. Students enrolled in English language training programs are not eligible for practical training after completion of studies.
Government regulations refer to the date you complete requirements for a program of study, not the completion date in #5 of the I-20, not the date you participate in graduation ceremonies, and not the date which is the end of the academic term. These regulations ignore these dates because many students, especially graduate students in thesis or dissertation programs, may complete program requirements any day during the year.
As an F-1 student, you may only work off campus in the U.S. if you have received written work authorization by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This section explains the twelve month period of USCIS-approved off-campus work authorization called, “Optional Practical Training” or “OPT.”
Your application must be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before you can begin employment. The process is estimated to take anywhere from 45 – 90 days from the date of receipt by USCIS (note that 90 days for processing is the norm during busy times of the year). Approval from USCIS comes in the form of a small photo ID card called an “Employment Authorization Document” or “EAD” card. To apply, follow these steps:
Read these instructions thoroughly and carefully.
Provide a letter from your academic advisor indicating your current status (i.e. whether you have completed all requirements for the degree), and the expected date of completion of studies. (NOTE: Graduation is not viewed as the completion of studies; completion of studies means completion of course work for non-thesis majors or the date the final thesis is submitted.). You must e-mail or bring this letter to the Director of International Programs in order to receive OPT authorization.
Begin the process of collecting your documents 2 – 3 months prior to the anticipated completion of your program. You will need your passport, I-20, I-94, and the department recommendation when you go to the meeting. Please look over the I-765 form leaving blank any field about which you have questions. This form can be found online at:
Once you have received the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation, you will need to complete the application materials, make photocopies of all of the paperwork for your files, and send the entire application to USCIS to complete the authorization procedure. You cannot file this online; a hard copy must be mailed.
When you have completed the entire application, make a complete set of photocopies for your files, organize the materials neatly as possible, and send all of the above items to the appropriate USCIS Service Center having jurisdiction over the address you have used on the I-765. Remember to mail the application so that USCIS receives it before the application deadlines:
We recommend that you send the application via an express mail carrier or via U.S. registered mail “return-receipt requested” so that you have proof of delivery. Your permission to begin Optional Practical Training is not finalized until you have received an “Employment Authorization Document (EAD)” from USCIS.
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
USCIS attn. AOS
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
Within one month of sending the application to USCIS, you should get a standard receipt notice. If you do not get this letter within 6 weeks, contact the international advisor for more information. The “Receipt Number” in the top left corner of this receipt notice can be used to check the status of your case on the USCIS website at
www.uscis.gov or by calling the phone number indicated on the receipt.
REMEMBER IT IS ILLEGAL TO WORK BEFORE RECEIVING THE CARD. ONCE YOU RECEIVE THE CARD, YOU ARE AUTHORIZED TO WORK ONLY FOR THE DATES ON THE CARD AND IN A JOB DIRECTLY RELATED TO YOUR MAJOR. WORKING IMPROPERLY OR WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION IS A SERIOUS VIOLATION OF YOUR STATUS AND COULD LEAD TO DEPORTATION FROM THE US.
Reentry provisions of the regulations require that students engaged in authorized optional practical training must present the following documents to reenter the U.S.:
Travel at any time while in F-1 status carries some risk. This risk increases for individuals on OPT, especially if the F-1 visa has expired or if the F-1 student has been unemployed for more than 90 days. If you have completed your program and you do not yet have your EAD, you should not travel out of the country or you risk not being able to reenter to participate in OPT.