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F-1: Off Campus Employment

There are strict rules defining when employment is permitted for a student in F-1 status. Off-campus employment is approved only for a limited number of reasons, as explained below. If you have questions about any potential employment, you must speak with the ISSS Office before you accept employment.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

If your program of study requires you to complete an internship, you may accept employment and receive pay. However, you MUST receive approval from the DSO prior to beginning the employment, and it must be registered into SEVIS. The employment/internship may be either part-time or full-time, but you should be aware that if it is a full-time position lasting for one year, it will eliminate your ability to receive Optional Practical Training following graduation. If you wish to apply for CPT, complete the Curricular Practical Training Form, which must be authorized by your Department and bring the CPT form and the offer letter of employment to the ISSS office prior to beginning employment.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is designed to provide the international student with an opportunity to gain actual employment experience in his/her chosen profession; for most graduates, this is for a maximum of one year. You may choose to take this one year in shorter increments during summer vacations, or wait and take the full year after graduation. The employment you accept must be related to your major field of study. You must obtain authorization by the USCIS prior to accepting employment under OPT.

If you wish to apply for OPT, you are strongly urged to attend the OPT session which will be presented by ISSS staff approximately 4 months prior to graduation each semester. At that session you will receive the OPT Checklist and the Verification of Graduation Form which must be completed by your Department, and all other forms and information necessary to complete the application.

The one year maximum for OPT can be extended in only two situations, the STEM Extension and the CAP-GAP Extension. These extensions are briefly explained below. For additional information on both the STEM and the cap gap extensions, please visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services web site.

STEM Extension:

Students who have majored in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM)may be eligible for a 17 month extension of their OPT. In order to qualify for this extension, the student must be currently on OPT based on a STEM major which is listed on the approved list of majors found in the STEM Designated Degree Program List. In addition, the students employer must be enrolled in E-Verify, an internet-based system operated by the U.S. government used to verify employment eligibility of new hires. If eligible, the student must apply for the STEM extension prior to the expiration of his/her current OPT. The E-Verify program currently is the best means available for employers to determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers.

CAP-GAP Extension for H-1B Applicants:

H-1B status is possible for persons employed in positions which require a minimum of a bachelors degree in a particular field. There are a limited number of H-1B visas available each year (the CAP)and there are typically more applicants than available visas. Since the fiscal year begins on October 1st, the new yearly allotment of H-1Bs begins at that time. H-1B petitions cannot be submitted earlier than six months prior to the date of requested approval. Consequently, many employers submit H-1B petitions on April 1st to begin on October 1st. In the past, this caused a gap for many students between the time their OPT ended and their H-1B began. The cap-gap extension gives automatic approval for continued employment authorization for any OPT holder who files an H-1B petition prior to the end of his/her OPT and has been granted the H-1B. 

Employment with an International Organization

An F-1 student may accept employment with a recognized international organization.  Please see the list of qualified international organizations. 

  • The Student must have an offer letter from the qualified international organization on their letterhead that includes the start and end dates, and their address
  • The employment can be full or part-time
  • The employment does not have to be related to the major
  • Students can begin employment beginning in their first semester
  • Students must maintain full-time status
  • The time employed with an international organization does not affect the student’s OPT eligibility
  • Employment authorization may be granted for a year at a time and can be renewed
  • Employment is terminated if you fail to maintain status or transfer to another school

Employment based on severe economic necessity

For a very limited number of students, employment authorization may be obtained based on severe economic need. To qualify for this employment, you must have been in F-1 status for at least one school year and you must be able to document that you are facing unexpected extreme economic hardship that was not present when you entered school. You must obtain approval by the USCIS prior to accepting employment under this provision.

For more information about employment and details about the application process contact the ISSS office.