F-1 Student Employment
The following information is intended only as reference about employment and training for students with an F-1 visa type. If you have specific questions or concerns, speak directly with an international student advisor in International Student Services (ISS).
There are three types of employment that an F-1 visa holder may pursue. The Department of Homeland Security has very strict regulations governing the employment opportunities for F-1 visa holders. Always obtain authorization before commencing employment. There are serious visa consequences for unauthorized employment.
Please read the Interim Policy (effective Jan. 27, 2014) regarding work permission carefully so you're informed of ISS' interpretation of the regulations and the consequences for any violations.
An F-1 student, properly maintaining visa status, may work on campus:
- 20 hours per week during the academic year and or full-time during designated vacation periods determined by ISS.
- As long as the employment does not take a job away from a U.S. resident
- As long as the employment does not interfere with the academic program.
On-campus employment is work performed on the Case Western Reserve University campus and compensated by the university. An on-campus employer might be an academic department or the bookstore, for example.
Students working in paid positions through the Office of Student Employment must complete an application for permission for hourly work to be properly authorized by ISS.
Students who receive scholarships, fellowships or assistantships with work components are also considered to be working on campus; however, they are not required to complete the application for permission for hourly work because their employment is managed by Graduate Student Payroll.
Work at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with CWRU may also be considered on-campus. This affiliation must be associated with CWRU's established curriculum or be related to a contractually funded graduate level research project which a program or department at CWRU has agreed to perform. Such employment must be an integral part of the student's program of study. Students should consult with an international student advisor about such an opportunity before commencing work to be sure that it meets the government’s definition of on-campus employment. In most cases, off-campus work authorization will be recommended for the student.
Complete the application for permission for hourly work on campus and bring the completed form to International Student Services. After 48 business hours you can pick up the additional paperwork completed by ISS.
This paperwork will provide your work authorization and must be taken to the Office of Student Employment for processing before you begin working.
Work permission is granted for up to one year. It is renewable throughout a student’s final semester so long as status is being properly maintained.
If you are already working for your department and being paid by Graduate Payroll because you receive a scholarship, fellowship or assistantship, you may not be eligible for additional on-campus work permission.
Remember, you’re limited to working 20 hours per week during the academic year.
In order for ISS to determine your eligibility, a department representative will need to verify your present working commitments and sign off on the application for permission for hourly work on campus. An advisor in ISS will evaluate the information and advise you accordingly.
If you work on campus without proper work authorization, that’s a serious problem.
ISS has a policy outlining how we handle work authorization violations and the serious consequences of this action.
Practical Training is a type of work authorization for F-1 students and is intended to provide hands-on practical experience in situations that supplement and complement a student’s academic program.
There are two types of practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).
F‑1 students may not engage in 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)
Curricular practical training (CPT) must be a fundamental part of an established curriculum.
At CWRU, one of the following academic objectives must be met in order to be eligible for CPT:
- The experience must be required to complete graduation requirements.
- The experience must be through an institutionally sponsored cooperative education or practicum program.
As of July 1, 2017, all students applying for CPT must complete a workshop either online or in-person prior to submitting all application materials. A workshop must be completed for every CPT authorization request.
After submitting a timely, complete application, an international student advisor in ISS will evaluate the materials and determine a student’s eligibility. Authorized students will receive a new I-20 with a CPT endorsement. An authorized student may only work for the employer and at the location during the time listed on the I-20.
Students must complete one academic year (both fall and spring semesters) before becoming eligible for CPT unless the work is required by the graduate academic program prior to that.
Part-time CPT authorization has no impact on a student’s future eligibility for optional practical training (OPT); however, authorization for 12 or more months of full-time (more than 20 hours per week) CPT will result in the loss of OPT eligibility.
No, regulations do not indicate that there must be monetary compensation in order to qualify for CPT. CPT is authorized based on meeting the academic objectives and submitting a timely filed application.
If you are receiving compensation for approved CPT, you will need to have a Social Security Number (SSN). Visit our Employment/Training page for details on how to obtain an SSN.
Students must complete one academic year (both fall and spring semesters) before they are considered eligible for CPT (unless the work is required by the graduate academic program prior to that).
Whether or not a student will be authorized depends on whether their experience aligns with the academic objects of the university and if they submit a timely, complete application to ISS for processing.
Once ISS has all of the required paperwork, we can create an I-20 in three to five business days. We do not expedite applications and recommend applying as far in advance as possible in case further review and documents are required.
It depends. Stop in to Tomlinson Hall, Room 143, during walk-in hours or set up an appointment to meet with an advisor to discuss your specific situation.
Part-time CPT authorization has no impact on a student’s future eligibility for OPT; however, authorization for 12 or more months of full-time (more than 20 hours per week) CPT will result in the loss of OPT eligibility. ISS makes efforts to ensure that a student does not use or exceed 12 months of full-time CPT; however, it’s ultimately the student’s decision about submitting CPT requests and at ISS’ discretion to authorize them.
CPT is meant to serve as an integral part of a student’s curriculum; it is not a mechanism by which students can focus on work prior to graduation. ISS evaluates every student’s application thoroughly and will not authorize requests that seem to misrepresent the intention of CPT.
If you work before obtaining proper authorization and receiving an I-20 from ISS (you must have the CPT I-20 in your possession when you commence work) you have violated your visa status.
The consequences of violating your visa status are outlined in ISS’ policy . Working illegally has serious consequences, including the termination of visa status.
Students are required to complete a workshop prior to submitting their request for CPT authorization. For each CPT authorization request, a student must complete a workshop!
Workshops can be completed either in-person or online. In-person workshops will be scheduled throughout the year and ISS will inform students of the schedule through ISSNews.
Remember, ISS only accepts complete applications and your application is not considered complete unless you can prove that you have fulfilled the workshop requirement.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined as temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student's major area of study. OPT is a continuation of a student's F-1 student visa status.
Students in F-1 status must be lawfully enrolled in school on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year before they are eligible for OPT. Students who have been authorized for 12 or more months of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT.
Optional practical training is initially limited to a total of 12 months for use during (pre-completion) and after (post-completion) the completion of their program. Students may be authorized for more than one 12-month period as long as they're advancing their education from one educational level to a higher one as they complete their studies. Students who have completed coursework in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field designated by the Department of Homeland Security are also eligible for the 24-month extension of their OPT.
Students may choose to pursue pre-completion and/or post-completion OPT. As the regulations governing each type of OPT are quite distinct, it’s imperative that students consider their goals carefully before pursuing authorization.
|Pre-completion OPT||Post-completion OPT|
* Graduate students who have completed all regular coursework and have only thesis/dissertation requirements may apply for post-completion OPT so long as they are certain that they will complete all degree requirements during the time that they are authorized for OPT. Graduate students in STEM fields will maintain their eligibility for the STEM extension. Please consult an international student advisor after you’ve attended a required OPT workshop if you have questions.
To ensure that students are prepared to properly maintain status during an authorized period of OPT and are well-informed about processing times and ISS procedures regarding OPT, ISS requires all students intending to apply for OPT to complete an OPT workshop.
The first step is to attend a workshop during the semester that you plan to apply for OPT. Because it takes about 90 days for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to authorize an OPT application, students always need to plan ahead. Typically students apply for OPT during their final semester by working through the proper procedures established by ISS. Never submit any part of an OPT application to USCIS electronically!
ISS offers multiple workshops (at various times and locations across campus) throughout the year based on the academic calendar’s graduation dates. These dates are intentional and strategically planned based on the 90-day application window that USCIS permits.
ISS schedules workshops during the fall and spring semesters for students to attend and be educated about the application process and their responsibilities to maintain their F-1 status while on OPT. Students are informed in a timely manner about scheduled workshops each semester through ISSNews. The information is also made available on the ISS homepage. Attendance at a workshop is mandatory for any student intending to apply for OPT. Registration is required to attend a workshop. The instructions about how to register using OrgSync are always included as part of the messaging in ISSNews and the website, as are ISS’s expectations for participating students.
USCIS requires students to include an I-20 with an OPT endorsement on it as part of the application. ISS will only process this OPT I-20 for students who have properly attended a workshop and are prepared to submit applications that are 100% complete. Applications that lack required information or documentation will not be accepted by ISS and will be returned to the student to resubmit after all missing documentation is in order. ISS will only accept complete application materials from the student applying and ISS will only return the newly prepared I-20 and completed application to the student applying.
Yes. USCIS changes forms, regulations and procedures as they please. You will need to attend a workshop during the semester that you plan to complete your program to ensure that you’re well-informed about the current process and your responsibilities as an F-1 student.
Students must submit their most current I-94 as part of the application for OPT, which proves that they’re physically present in the U.S. at the time that they submit an application. Applying for OPT from outside the U.S. is not an option.
Applying from another state is not ideal, but does not make you ineligible for OPT. ISS works very closely with students to ensure that their application process is as smooth as possible. It’s difficult to work with students who are not on campus and able to be physically present during the application process; it can actually cause significant delays in submitting your application to USCIS for processing.
If you have extenuating circumstances that prevent you from being physically present on campus when applying for OPT, contact ISS and speak with an advisor as soon as possible so that both you and the advisor can plan accordingly.
ISS will only accept complete applications from students who have successfully completed a required workshop. After completing a workshop, download the F-1 Optional Practical Training application . Read all of the information carefully and follow the detailed instructions provided about all of the required materials.
Keep in mind that ISS will only accept complete application materials from the student applying, and ISS will only return the newly prepared I-20 and completed application to the student applying.
You must decide on a start date before ISS can create your I-20. Once you send your completed application to USCIS and are in possession of that new I-20, you cannot change your start date.
When USCIS receives the application, you will receive an email or text confirmation. A paper receipt (I-797C) will follow. A student in possession of the receipt notice from USCIS Regional Processing Centers (located in Vermont, California, Nebraska, and Texas) can check the application status on the USCIS website. All receipt numbers start with three letters (for example, LIN or WAC).
The online system provides the same information that can be obtained by using the Service Center phone numbers and is updated whenever there is a change to the application's status. ISS recommends creating an account on the website so that students can enter their receipt numbers and "Opt In" to receive auto-updates via email or text (or both) as updates become available.
ISS does not recommend that students travel after completing a program and while their applications are being processed. All officers at U.S. Ports of Entry have been told to enforce a regulation requiring that students reentering the U.S. be able to present their:
- passport valid for at least six months into the future,
- valid I-20 with OPT recommendation on it and a travel signature that's fewer than six months old,
- valid visa,
- employment authorization document (EAD),
- and a letter from their employer indicating that they will "begin their employment."
If a student's application is still in process upon reentering the US, the student will not be able to present the required EAD and may be denied reentry.
If a student must travel abroad and cannot produce all items, please consult with an advisor at ISS before departing.
Remember, students are not authorized to work until they have the EAD in their possession and the authorization dates on the EAD are valid. If a student works prior to receiving the EAD or prior to the authorization dates listed on the EAD, this is a violation of visa status and labor law. This is grounds for the termination of the student's visa status and the employer could face serious consequences for having employed someone who is ineligible to work in the US.
When the card arrives, please bring the card itself or a photocopy of the card to the ISS Office so that a copy of the EAD can be kept on file. If a student uses ISS' mailing address to have the card delivered, ISS will take the required copy either at the time that the student picks it up from the office or at the time that the student requests that it be mailed to an address of their choosing.
When a student has secured OPT employment (in the field of study and working for at least 20 hours per week), ISS must be notified. Students must complete the "Update My OPT Information" form on the ISS OrgSync page to report this important information. This link should also be used to update a change in personal address, report a change in your employer's information, or to confirm that a student has departed the US and no longer wish to remain in F-1 status on OPT.
Remember, in order to properly maintain status while authorized for OPT, a student must never be unemployed for more than 90 days. If a student is unemployed for more than 90 days, that's a violation of visa status. USCIS tracks students' employment status based on the information that's entered in SEVIS. ISS updates SEVIS based on the information that students provide. SEVP recommends that students report changes within 10 business days to avoid situations where a government official may determine the student to be out of status. Based on that guidance, ISS encourages students to report changes in personal contact information and employment to ISS as soon as possible. It is very important that students promptly report this information to ISS; students risk violating their visa status if this required information is not properly documented.
Students intending to travel during processing of their OPT application should be aware that the USCIS may consider their departure from the U.S. an abandonment of the application. There is no way of predicting this; students choosing to travel are making the choice of possibly forfeiting their OPT employment eligibility.
It may also depend on the particular application and the timing of travel travel.
If you are a student who has applied for OPT and will return to the U.S. before the program end date listed on the I-20, it should be possible to travel. You’re still considered an enrolled student, so having applied for OPT has no effect on your travel plans.
If you are a student who has applied for OPT and will returned to the U.S. after the program end date listed on the I-20, don’t travel unless you are prepared! You are now maintaining your F-1 status by complying with all OPT regulations. Upon re-entry, you must be able to present:
- Valid passport and visa
- Valid I-20 with a travel signature not more than six months old. If you need to obtain a new one and are not in Cleveland, contact email@example.com.
- Offer letter of employment either stating start date or presuming date of employment
- EAD Card
Yes, but you must carry the following documents with you:
- Valid passport and visa
- Valid I-20 with a travel signature not more than 6 months old. If you need to obtain a new one and are not in Cleveland, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Offer letter of employment either stating start date or presuming date of employment
- EAD Card
F-1 students approved for post-completion optional practical training based on a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in a STEM field that appears on the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Program List can apply for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 36 months). A student may apply based on their current degree or a prior STEM Degree from a SEVP certified school. Students can also benefit from 2-lifetime STEM periods.
To be eligible for the extension, the student's employer must be registered in E-Verify; complete the Form I-983 for submission to ISS; and work 20 hours or more in their position. The student and employer must agree to report to the DSO when the student is terminated or leaves employment. There are several employment reporting requirements while on STEM.
The student must apply for the STEM OPT Extension before their post-completion OPT expires. USCIS will accept STEM OPT Extension applications up to 90 days prior to the current OPT period expiring. Students may request the STEM extension I-20 from ISS 90 days prior to the current OPT expiring by accessing the Quick Link on the homepage called "Request a STEM Extension." Processing for STEM Extension I-20s takes 10 to 15 business days so students are encouraged to apply earlier rather than later.
Never submit an application to USCIS electronically; always work with ISS through this application process.
Waiting too long to apply could result in the denial of the extension. Students applying for a STEM extension must submit applications to USCIS so that they are processed while still authorized for post-completion OPT. STEM extensions received after the expiration of the current OPT and during the student's grace period will be denied.
Please direct all questions about the STEM extension to ISS.
An F-1 student may be authorized for off-campus employment due to severe, unforeseen economic necessity. The criteria for off-campus employment eligibility are very specific and the application fee is costly; students should consider all possible options with the help of an international student advisor (schedule an appointment) if they feel that they are in need of employment based on severe economic hardship.
In order to be eligible, the student must:
- be in valid F-1 status for at least one academic year (nine months)
- be in good academic standing
- provide evidence of economic hardship based on significant and unforeseen circumstances beyond their control since obtaining F-1 status
- demonstrate that on-campus employment is neither available or sufficient
If authorized by USCIS, employment is limited to no more than 20 hours per week when school is in session but may work full-time during designated university holidays or vacation periods. Employment authorization is automatically terminated when a student fails to maintain status. Upon authorization, students may work for an employer at any job, anywhere in the United States. A job offer is NOT required in advance of obtaining this type of employment authorization.
Students seeking employment authorization based on economic hardship will need to apply by mail to USCIS to obtain an employment authorization document (EAD), which will be valid for one-year intervals. It can take 12 weeks or longer for the employment authorization document to be processed by the Service Center, and employment may not commence until the student obtains the EAD.