F-1 Visa Off-Campus Employment Authorization

Student Worker (F1 OPT and CPT)

After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment related to their area of study :

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

This off-campus training employment must be authorized prior to starting any work by the Designated School Official (the official from one’s school authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.

CPT

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an internship or alternative work/study, offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the F-1 student’s school. CPT must be an integral part of an established curriculum and relevant to the F-1 student’s program of study. CPT has to occur before the program of study ends and a specific job has to be secured before the CPT can be authorized. Authorization is for one specific employer and for a specific period of time. There is no time limit to CPT. However, time spent on CPT is time that cannot be used for OPT employment (see discussion about OPT authorization time limit below).

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months** of full-time OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). Generally speaking, one is required to apply for this authorization after their school’s DSO enters the OPT recommendation into the SEVIS record. Application from the Student to USCIS for OPT or OPT extension can be done no earlier than 90 days before eligibility (this deadline may be subject to change).

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Pre-completion OPT:

Pre-completion OPT may be applied for after one has been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year. One does not need to have had F-1 status for the one full academic year. The “one full academic year” requirement can be met

  1. https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/students-and-employment
  2. https://www.uscis.gov/i-9-central/complete-correct-form-i-9/completing-section-1-employee-information-and-attestation/foreign-academic-students

if the individual had been studying under another nonimmigrant status during that time while the F-1 change of status was pending. The work has to be part-time (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. Work can be full time when school is not in session.

Post-completion OPT: This type of OPT occurs after one has completed his/her studies/program. Work must be at least part time (20 hours per week minimum) but can be full time.

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Work Authorization Time Limit:

F-1 students are only permitted a total of 12 months of Full-Time (40 hours per week) authorization for initial practical training their F-1 corresponding degree program. Any time periods of pre-completion OPT or CPT are deducted from this 12 month limit.*
An important distinction is that part-time work counts towards only half of the time period that was actually accrued. For example, two months of part time work only counts towards one month of the full-time limit.
Pre- or Post-completion OPT can begin only after a Form I-765 application to USCIS has been approved and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been received by the Student.
*Please Note: The considerations above are not relevant to the STEM OPT authorization described below.*

Though there can be a lot of reasons, Visa Officers usually deny visitor visas if you cannot show that you have sufficient funds for your trip, or when the officer is not convinced that you will return to your home after you enter the US. Visitors also get denied if the officer thinks there is another visa that will suit you better. This happens mostly if you have close family in the US who can sponsor you. Sometimes you are young and of marriageable age and the officer believes you want to travel to get married and stay in the US. A more serious reason can be that you had a previous visa and over-stayed the visa or had some other legal issues in the US.

Though these are some of the reasons, there are many reasons why an officer can deny a visitor visa. We completely understand how badly a visa denial can seriously hurt your business or family plans.

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STEM OPT

If one has earned a degree in specifically designated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field, one may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization under the following primary conditions:

  • Inclusion of One’s STEM Degree in the “STEM Designated Degree Program List” published by the U.S. I.C.E;
  • Employed by An Employer Enrolled in and Using E-Verify; and
  • Received post-completion OPT employment authorization based on the STEM degree already

A STEM OPT extension can be applied for no more than 90 days before current OPT authorization expires. If one files a timely STEM OPT extension application and the current OPT period expires while the STEM extension is pending, employment authorization is automatically

https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/optional-practical-training-opt-for-f-1-students extended for 180 days. This automatic 180-day extension is not applicable after USCIS has decided upon the result of the STEM OPT application.

Issues:

E-Verify Issues for STEM OPT Employers: E-Verify can be a problem for smaller Employers. If your Employer has provided an incorrect E-Verify number or is not properly enrolled, a STEM OPT extension cannot be approved. This can blindside students who assume that their Employer provided the correct number. This is a difficult item for a student to corroborate and he/she should make sure their Employer has this matter squared away first. Applicable regulations are strict on this point. School or Program Transfer: Transferring to a different school or program will terminate any present work authorization. One must be cognizant of the requirement to immediately stop working because working in the United States without proper authorization has serious consequences, including removal from the country, re-entry bars, and complications with future visa applications. On a more positive notes, one is eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT authorization, if they change to a higher educational level. “Cap Gap” Work Authorization When H-1B Cap Petition Pending Work based on new H-1B status acquired via a CAP petition cannot begin any earlier than October 1st. Many F-1 students have a situation where they have a timely filed H-1B petition/change of status request pending. Yet, their F-1 status and employment authorization will expire before the October 1st. These individuals are likely eligible for a “Cap-Gap extension”. An F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a (properly/timely filed) cap-subject H-1B petition requesting a change of status may have their F-1 status and any current employment authorization automatically extended until October 1st. The “Cap-Gap” period starts when an F-1 student’s status and employment authorization expires and ends on Oct. 1. However, if the H-1B petition is denied, the Cap-Gap extension is no longer applicable. STEM OPT Extensions As Back-Up During Pendency of H-1B Cap Petition Individuals who would be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension during the above described “cap-gap” period are allowed to do so even if they have a pending H-1B change of status petition. However, students may not apply for a STEM OPT extension once the cap-gap extension period is terminated (if the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, revoked, or withdrawn).

  1. https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/sevis-help-hub/student-records/fm-student-employment/f-1-curricular-practical-training-cpt
  2. https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-and-fashion-models/extension-of-post-completion-optional-practical-training-opt-and-f-1-status-for-eligible-students

Employer Withdraws H-1B Petition Before October 1st If an employer withdraws the H-1B petition before Oct. 1, an F-1 student may continue working past Oct. 1 so long as:

  • The student finds employment appropriate to their OPT;
  • Student still has OPT authorization time left; and
  • The student has otherwise maintained F-1 status
Withdrawal Before Status Changed: If an employer withdraws the H-1B petition before status was changed to H-1B, the student generally remains in F-1 status. The student would then have the standard 60-day grace period to depart the United States. Withdrawal After Status Changed to H-1B: If the employer withdraws the H-1B petition approval after the H-1B status takes effect, the student will have to file a Form I-539 change of status petition to go back to F-1 status.

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