The information that follows is intended as reference about employment and training for students with an F-1 visa type. Please be advised that any unauthorized employment is considered to be a violation of status and unlawful presence.
F-1 students are allowed to work on campus for no more than 20 hours per week during the regular semester, but may be employed full time during breaks between semesters, if the student is eligible and intends to enroll for the next semester. Employment may not interfere with the student’s academic program.
All off-campus employment must be pre-authorized with assistance from the OISS. Immigration laws interpret any kind of service that receives compensation, even if it’s just experience, is considered work. For an example, volunteering can be consider unpaid work and would require authorization. If you have any questions, please contact your OISS Advisor for it can severely affect your status if you need to be authorized and are working without it.
Employment on campus is allowed without Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorization provided that the student is enrolled full time and that the employment does not displace a U.S. resident. On‑campus employment means work on the school’s premises, under certain conditions. On‑campus employment may also include work at off‑campus locations, provided that it is at a location which is educationally affiliated with the school. The educational affiliation must be associated with the school’s established curriculum or related to contractually funded projects at the postgraduate level. The employment must also be an integral part of the educational program Please check with your student advisor for more details before accepting and starting such employment. Starting employment that is not authorized or allowed is a violation of status and accrual of unlawful presence.
On‑campus employment is not allowed after completion of a course of study, except in the following situations:
- Employment authorized for practical training, after the physical card has been received
- The student is continuing studies at a different degree level and SEVIS has been updated for the new program
- The student is transferring schools and the release date has not yet passed
A student may work on campus only at the school which issued the current I-20 for the student. If you have any questions, it is important to discuss these options with the OISS to ensure that you are not violating your status and thus accruing unlawful presence.
Practical training is work permission to obtain on‑the‑job training in the student’s field of study to supplement and complement the academic program. There are two types of practical training for F‑1 students: curricular practical training and optional practical training.
F‑1 students may not undertake practical training unless they have been in lawful full‑time status for a full academic year (both fall and spring semesters). The only exception to this requirement is for curricular practical training for those in a graduate program that requires that such training be undertaken earlier.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT is work that is a part of a structured program offered in the curriculum. Examples of CPT at Washington University are cooperative education programs and practicum programs. CPT is different in each school, college and program. You must get approval from your school, enroll for a CPT-approved course as determined by your school, and then obtain approval from OISS in order to maintain your student status and not be in violation, thus accruing unlawful presence.
Students must complete one academic year (both fall and spring semesters) before becoming eligible for CPT. The only exception is Social Work, where the work is required as part of the graduate academic program.
Approved CPT authorization can be found on page 2 of the I-20. In order to maintain your student status and not accrue unlawful presence, a student may only work for the employer listed on the I-20 and only during the period authorized on the I-20. If you need additional time, you must apply for an extension of the CPT before the current CPT period expires. You must apply separately for each semester you want to participate in CPT.
Students that use 12 months of full-time CPT are no longer eligible for any Optional Practical Training. If you anticipate using 12 months or more, please talk to your international advisor.
If you have further questions, your international advisor will be happy to discuss CPT with you during walk-in hours. You may drop off a completed Application for CPT form at the OISS House front desk any weekday between 9am-5pm. The form can be obtained from your school or department. Processing time for CPT authorization is 3 business days.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
An F-1 student is eligible for up to 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for use during (pre-completion) and after (post-completion) the completion of the program. Students are eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT for each level of education completed. Students who have completed degrees in specific science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields may, in certain cases, be eligible for a STEM OPT Extension.
OPT may be carried out under the following circumstances:
- During the semester, no more than 20 hours per week (at the same time as carrying a full time course load)
- During the annual vacation period or at other times when school is not in session, as long as the student is eligible and intends to enroll the following semester
- Full-time during the academic year, if a student is in a thesis/dissertation program and has completed all the coursework requirements for their degree.
- After completion of a course of study.
Applying for OPT
Students are eligible to apply for OPT up to 90 days prior and 60 days after the program completion date. OPT must be approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The approval process often takes two to three months, so students should plan ahead when applying for OPT. Students should also be aware that employment may not begin until the approved start date and the physical OPT card has been received. If working on campus, start dates should be carefully considered prior to submitting the application, as this may result in a break in employment authorization.
In order to apply for OPT, you must first attend an OPT workshop. The OISS hosts many workshops throughout the year. You can see the schedule and register online.
As with Curricular Practical Training, students must complete one academic year (both fall and spring semesters) before becoming eligible for OPT.
24-month STEM OPT Extension
There is a 24-month STEM extension of post-completion OPT for those F-1 non-immigrant students with certain degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from U.S. institutions of higher education. The STEM OPT extension includes oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring the implementation of formal training plans by employers, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. Additionally, the rule authorizes STEM OPT extensions only for students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify.
For information on eligibility and how to apply, visit the STEM OPT page.
F-1 students are only allowed to work off campus when pre-approved through one of the work authorization benefits listed below. This applies to both paid and unpaid work. If you wish to work off campus, you must consult with an international student advisor to discuss one of the work authorization benefits listed below prior to starting a position. This is to ensure that you are not violation your student status and thus not accruing unlawful presence.
Severe Economic Hardship Employment
Off‑campus employment is allowed for F‑1 students when the student can document that employment is needed because of severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control that arose since acquiring F‑1 status.
To be eligible for off-campus employment, the student must:
- Be in good academic standing and in lawful F-1 status
- Be carrying a full course of study. If a student’s employment off campus would interfere with his or her ability to carry a full‑time course load, the student is not eligible for this work authorization.
- Been in F‑1 status for one academic year (both fall and spring semesters)
- Show evidence to convince DHS of the unforeseen severe economic hardship. The application should attest to the fact that employment opportunities on campus are insufficient or unavailable.
DHS does not specifically define the situations in which a student would qualify for work permission due to severe economic hardship. However, the regulations state that the following may be considered legitimate: loss of scholarship or on‑campus employment not due to the fault of the student; substantial changes in the exchange rates of currencies; considerable increase in tuition and/or living costs; unexpected changes in the sponsor’s financial situation; and unexpected expenses, such as medical bills.
Employment with an International Organization
An F‑1 student who has received an offer of employment from an international organization as defined by the International Organization Immunities Act is eligible to apply for work authorization from the DHS to work in that organization. If approved, an EAD is issued by DHS.