The United States allows eligible international students and new graduates the opportunity to gain on-the-job-learning that supplements knowledge gained in their academic studies. To participate in one of the below training opportunities, an international student does not need to change their nonimmigrant status. Instead, the student must work with their designated school official (DSO) to ensure eligibility as well as apply for and receive proper authorization. Remember, all international students who receive financial compensation of any kind must apply for a social security number.
Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a form of training, often paid, that directly relates to your program of study. You can apply for OPT during your program of study, which is known as pre-completion OPT, or after you finish your program of study, know as post-completion OPT.
In order to apply for OPT, F-1 students must request approval from their DSO. A DSO makes this recommendation in SEVIS and by endorsing a student’s Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” The student must then file the Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” and supporting documents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and if approved, USCIS will issue a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document.” You cannot begin your training until you receive your authorization from USCIS.
Pre-completion OPT is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session, but can be full-time during breaks and annual vacation.
You can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, (i.e., you may have 12 months of OPT at the bachelor’s level and another 12 months of OPT at the master’s level). If you are an F-1 student earning a degree science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), you may be eligible for the STEM OPT extension. For more information, visit the STEM OPT page on Study in the States.
Curricular Practical Training for F-1 Students
Curricular practical training (CPT) is an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education or other type of required practicum that a sponsoring employer offers through cooperative agreements with your college or university. CPT is only available for F-1 students when it is part of an established curriculum within a school. CPT must be integral to your program of study; however, unlike pre-completion OPT, CPT can be full time and is not restricted by a weekly 20-hour work limit.
In order to qualify for CPT, you must be an F-1 student and have completed one full academic year of study at an SEVP-certified school, unless you are a graduate student whose program requires immediate CPT. Students who complete one year or more of full-time CPT are ineligible to participate in post-completion OPT. To get permission for CPT, your DSO needs to authorize it in SEVIS and provide you with an updated Form I-20 indicating your authorization for the training opportunity.
If you are interested in participating in CPT, you must first talk to your DSO to ensure you understand your school’s specific policy. Your DSO is the best person to work with to ensure that you follow both federal regulations and school policy.
Practical Training for M-1 Students
M-1 students are only eligible to participate in one type of paid training with an employer, referred to as practical training (PT). Like the F-1 training opportunities, your PT must directly relate to your program of study. PT allows you to gain training experience in your vocational field.
M-1 students may only participate in PT after their program completion. M-1 students earn one month of PT eligibility for every four months of program enrollment and must obtain authorization from the USCIS before participating in PT.
If you are an M-1 student and want to learn more about your training eligibility, speak with your DSO. You may need to apply to USCIS for an extension of status at the same time you apply for authorization, since M-1 students are admitted to the United States only until a certain date.
F-1 Students and Entrepreneurship
The U.S. government considers starting your own business in the United States, also known as entrepreneurship, as work. Therefore, if you are an F-1 student who plans to start your own business in the United States, you must qualify and apply for OPT.
The OPT, and thus the business, must relate to your program of study and can occur either before (pre-completion OPT) or after the completion of a program of study (post-completion OPT). Please note, F-1 students in English language training programs are not eligible for OPT.
Please note, you cannot be your own employer for the purpose of the STEM OPT extension.
If you want to start your own business while you study in the United States, speak to your DSO and visit USCIS’ Entrepreneur Visa Guide.