Off-Campus Work Regulations for F-1 Students

Students who have been in F-1 status for two consecutive academic terms are eligible for off-campus employment in a position directly related to their field of study. This type of employment is called "practical training."  There are two kinds of practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).  Students may participate in CPT only while enrolled at an institution, and the employment must be an integral part of the institution's established curriculum.  That is, the work must be essentially an educational experience, integrating training in the workplace with learning in the classroom (for example, an internship required for graduation or cooperative education).  On the other hand, OPT does not have a required educational component and it is available to students both while they are enrolled in an academic program and after they graduate.

Students are eligible for one year of full-time optional practical training. Students with a degree in certain fields of science, engineering and mathematics who have been approved for 12 months of OPT are eligible to apply for an extension of an additional 17 months.

F-1 regulations do not limit the length of time that a student can engage in curricular practical training; however, students who have participated in 12 months or more of full-time CPT are not eligible for any OPT.

Most UDM international students who work off campus participate in CPT while enrolled then engage in OPT after completing their program.

Practical training always requires authorization.  You may not engage in CPT until you have been authorized by the International Services Office. Authorization for CPT can be granted within a few days of application. Before engaging in OPT, you must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The approval process for OPT can take several months.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

As stated above, curricular practical training must be integrated with the school's curriculum. You cannot be authorized to participate in CPT simply because the off-campus work you wish to do is related to your major field of study. Some examples of work that can be authorized as CPT are: an internship or practicum (including student teaching and clinicals done at a hospital) that is required by the department for degree completion, a credit-bearing training program that is described in the school's course catalog, or cooperative education. If you are unsure whether a particular job meets the criteria for curricular practical training, please consult the foreign student advisor in the ISO.

Here is a summary of the immigration regulations governing curricular practical training:

  • The position must be directly related to the major indicated at item #5 on your I-20 form.
  • The training must be an integral part of an established curriculum.
  • Before you are eligible to participate in curricular practical training, you must have maintained status for two consecutive academic terms, including vacation terms. For example, if you registered for the first time in the winter term, you would be eligible to work in the fall term. If you transferred to UDM from another U.S. school, time spent in status in an academic program at that school counts toward the two terms.
  • Before you can begin employment, you must be authorized to work by a Designated School Official in the ISO (usually the foreign student advisor).
  • Curricular practical training can be part time (up to 20 hours per week) or full time (more than 20 hours per week). If you are authorized for part-time work, you must be registered for a full load of courses: 12 credits for undergraduates, 9 credits for graduate students. If you are authorized to work full time, you will be required to register only for the course that relates to your employment.
  • Immigration regulations do not limit the length of time you can participate in CPT, but if you engage in 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you won't be eligible for any optional practical training after finishing your program.
  • You may not do curricular practical training after completion of studies.
If  you have obtained employment that meets the criteria for CPT and you are eligible per USCIS regulations to engage in CPT , the foreign student advisor will authorize you to work by issuing you a new SEVIS I-20 endorsed on page 3 for curricular practical training. The authorization will state the name and address of the company, whether the work is full time or part time, and the dates you are authorized to work. Show this to your employer to confirm your authorization to engage in curricular practical training.

Important: Authorization for CPT is granted on a semester to semester basis and is valid only for the employer and dates indicated on page 3 of your I-20. You must be re-authorized by the ISO in the following cases:

  • You wish to be employed during the next semester (even if you are continuing the same job)

  • You change jobs during the semester

  • You wish to change from part-time to full-time work or vice-versa during the semester

 Curricular Practical Training and Cooperative Education

At UDM, most students authorized by the ISO to engage in curricular practical training are participating in the cooperative education (co-op) program. Cooperative education is a required part of the curriculum for undergraduate architecture, engineering and nursing students.  Co-op is also available to students in most undergraduate majors except dental hygiene and education, and is available on a limited basis to graduate students. Co-op is generally not available to post-graduate/doctoral-level students.

If co-op is required for your major or if you are interested in working off campus through the co-op program, it is important that you familiarize yourself early in your stay at UDM with the services of the UDM Career Education Center and with the CEC's Guide to Cooperative Education.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind if you are considering co-op. Please be sure to consult the Career Education Center web site and the Guide to Cooperative Education for information about additional requirements, policies and procedures. 

  • Undergraduate students are not eligible for co-op until the end of their sophomore year and must have been in F-1 status for at least 2 consecutive academic terms, including summer vacation terms.

  • Graduate students are not eligible for co-op until the second semester at UDM if they have been in F-1 status for at least one term elsewhere or after being in F-1 status at UDM for at least 2 consecutive academic terms, including summer vacation terms.

  • You must be in good academic standing with a minimum GPA. (Minimum GPA varies by program and level. Please refer to the Guide to Cooperative Education for specifics.)

  • The co-op program limits undergraduates to 3 full-time or 6 part-time co-op experiences for academic credit and 1 full-time or 2 part-time experiences for non-credit. 

  • Graduate students are limited to 2 full-time or 4 part-time co-op experiences for academic credit and 1 full-time or 2 part-time experiences for non-credit.

  • All full-time co-op experiences are alternating.  That is, you cannot participate in full-time co-op two semesters in a row.

  • You must complete at least 12 weeks of full-time or part-time work during the academic term.

  • You may not participate in co-op in the final semester of study unless it is a requirement for the degree (can be full- or part-time). If co-op is not required for the degree, it can only be done part-time and with other required on-campus academic coursework.

Remember that approval to participate in a co-op experience does not constitute authorization to work off campus.  Once you have been approved for co-op by a coordinator in the Career Education Center or in your College, you must obtain authorization for curricular practical training from International Services before reporting to your job. Working without authorization is a violation of your F-1 status. If you are considering a cooperative education experience, it is a good idea to consult with the ISO foreign student advisor well in advance of the time you will need to obtain your authorization for CPT.

In order to be authorized for CPT under co-op, please present the following to the foreign student advisor in the ISO:

  • Proof of registration for co-op credit
  • An offer letter from your employer on employer letterhead stating the start and end date of the employment and the number of hours per week

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional practical training, like curricular practical training, is work in a position that is directly related to your field of study. However, OPT regulations do not require that the work be an integral part of a course of study and OPT can be done either before or after completion of studies. In addition, you do not need to have a job offer before applying for OPT.

Summary of immigration regulations pertaining to OPT

  • Students are eligible to participate in OPT after two consecutive terms in status.
  • The position must be directly related to the major indicated at item #5 on your I-20 form.
  • You are eligible for one year of full-time OPT.  However, if you complete a degree, complete 12 months of optional practical training, and then complete a degree at a higher level, you are eligible for an additional year of optional practical training. If you use up your optional practical training, leave the country for a period of more than five months, then reenter and complete another two consecutive academic terms in F-1 status, you are then eligible for another 12 months of OPT. The same is true if you change from F-1 to another status for a period of more than five months, then change back to F-1 and complete the required 8 months in status.

  • Students with a degree in certain fields of science, engineering and mathematics who are approved for 12-months of OPT are eligible to apply for an extension of an additional 17 months.  Read more...

  • For students not eligible for an extension, all OPT must be completed within 14 months of the date of program completion.

  • If you have done 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training, you are not eligible for any OPT.

  • OPT is full time if done after completion of studies (post-completion OPT) and may be full time if done after completion of all degree requirements except the thesis. If done before completion of studies (pre-completion OPT), the employment must be part time while you attend classes and can be full time during vacation periods.

  • In the initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT available to all students, not more than 90 days of unemployment is permitted. Students who have obtained a 17-month extension may not be unemployed for more than 120 days during the aggregate 29-month period.

  • You may attend school part time while engaging in full-time OPT as long as you do not begin a degree program at a higher level or complete a transfer to another school.

Applying for OPT

Before you apply, consider the following:

  • The starting date for your employment:  For post-completion OPT, your starting date can be any day in the sixty-day period following the date on which you complete your studies.  The ISO considers the date of completion to be the date listed in the academic calendar as the official end of the term in which you finish your program.

  • The timing of your application:  OPT requires authorization by USCIS.  Your application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the date you finish your program (see above). The earliest you can submit an application to USCIS for post-completion OPT is 90 days before you finish your program.  If you are applying for pre-completion OPT and you have not yet completed two consecutive terms in valid F-1 status, the earliest you may submit your application to USCIS is 90 days before the end of your second term. However, if you have completed the two terms in status, you may apply for pre-completion OPT up to 120 before your chosen employment start date Since the application process can take several months, you are advised to apply as early as permitted. 

Click here to download the OPT application packet. The packet contains:

  • Academic Clearance form to be signed by your academic advisor certifying your expected date of completion (for students applying for post-completion OPT only)

  • USCIS form I-765 (application for employment authorization) + instructions for completing the form

  • Employment Information form

  • Information on applying for OPT

Submit to the foreign student advisor:

  1. A money order (preferred) or check for $380.00, made payable to USCIS.

  2. 2 passport-size color photos (must be 2" x 2").

  3. A copy of both sides of your I-94 card.

  4. A copy of the information page of your passport or, if you do not have a passport, a copy of your driver's license. Your picture must show clearly. No dark copies accepted.

  5. Completed form I-765.

  6. Completed Employment Information form.

  7. Academic Clearance form signed by your academic advisor (if applicable).

The foreign student advisor will review these materials and, if all is in order, will recommend you for the requested period of OPT by issuing you a new SEVIS form I-20.

The application materials will be sent to USCIS. If you are approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). You may not begin to work until you receive this card and until the beginning date indicated on the card.

Once authorization is granted, it cannot be cancelled. Time spent unemployed during your authorized period will be forfeited.. Remember: students approved for 12 months of OPT may be unemployed for no more than 90 days during the twelve-month period.  Students who have been granted a 17-month extension may be unemployed no more than 120 days during the aggregate period of 29 months.  Authorization for employment ends once this limit has been reached.

Student's Responsibilities While on OPT

  • All students must provide the ISO with a copy of the EAD card and must inform the ISO within ten days of a change of name or address, or any interruption of employment

  • Students with a 17-month OPT extension must also inform the ISO of any change of employer name, employer address or the loss of employment.  In addition, these students must make a validation report to the ISO every six months starting from the date the extension begins and ending when the student's F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels or transfers, or the 17-month OPT extension ends, whichever is first.  The validation confirms the currency and accuracy of the student's name and address, employer information and/or loss of employment.

Travel Regulations

Under no circumstances should you leave the U.S. prior to applying for OPT, if OPT is your intent. To do so will end F-1 status and all available benefits. OPT may not be recommended by the ISO after completion of the program of study and departure from the U.S. before filing an OPT application with the ISO at UDM.

While it is not recommended, you are permitted to depart the U.S. and reenter as long as your OPT application is pending with USCIS and you have the I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) from the USCIS. Nevertheless, it is strongly recommended that you do not travel until receiving an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card and a job offer. When OPT is approved, if you have finished your academic program, you may not reenter the U.S. from abroad unless you have an EAD card, as well as a job or an offer of employment. (If you are a Canadian student and are living in Canada, please consult the ISO for information.)

If you have your EAD card and a job, you may return to the U.S. to resume employment after a temporary absence of not more than five months. You will need a valid visa, your EAD card and your I-20 with an endorsement for travel on page 3 which is no more than six months old.

Severe Economic Necessity Employment

Students in F-1 status who are experiencing extreme financial hardship due to circumstances beyond their control may apply to USCIS to work off campus at any type of job for a one-year period.

In order to be eligible:

  • You must have maintained your F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters.

  • You must be in good academic standing and be carrying a full course of study.

  • The financial hardship must be due to circumstances beyond your control. For example, the currency exchange rate has substantially declined, you have lost your on-campus employment, or you have large, unexpected medical bills.

  • On-campus employment opportunities must be either unavailable or insufficient to meet your needs.

This type of employment is limited to 20 hours per week while you are attending classes. It may be full time while you are on vacation or during school holidays.

It is quite difficult to obtain this type of work permission and your application must be carefully documented. If you believe you qualify for this type of employment, the foreign student advisor can help you to apply.