F-1 Off Campus Employment Authorization

Learn about the requirements, application procedures, and differences in purpose for common F-1 off-campus employment authorization types.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) vs. Pre, Post, STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT)

  Curricular Practical Training Pre-Completion OPT Post-Completion OPT 24-Month STEM Extension
Primary Purpose Gain practical experience in the field of study. The training experience must be an integral part of the curriculum and directly related to your major area of study. Supplement academic experience with practical experience in a job directly related to your field, prior to completing your degree.  Supplement academic experience with practical experience in a job directly related to your field after completing your degree.  Continue off-campus training in a job related to your major after Post-Completion OPT. Possible for F-1 students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees in fields listed on the ICE STEM Designated Degree Program List  
Minimum Requirement Must have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year. Must be F-1 and maintain full-time enrollment during CPT.  Must have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year. Must be F-1 and maintain full-time enrollment during Pre-OPT. Must have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year. Must be F-1. Must be approved for Post-Completion OPT and have paid employment with an employer participating in E-verify. 
Authorization Dates Follow semester start and end dates (Fall, Spring, Summer, Winter). Fall and Spring application deadlines are third Friday of the semester. Summer/Winter application deadline is end of Add/drop.  Student chooses the dates; however, must start and end before degree is completed. Full-time authorization must align with semester dates. Can apply 90 days before completing 1 year of study, but start date must be after 1 year is complete.   Start and End dates for post-completion OPT correspond to the degree conferral date. Cannot apply more than 90 days before degree conferral or more than 60 days after degree conferral. Refer to Post-Completion OPT. Authorization follows post-completion OPT dates. First day of STEM OPT is the day after post-completion OPT ends. STEM is authorized for 24 months. 
Enrollment Requirement Must be registered full-time for at least 1 credit corresponding to the CPT. Must be graded & evaluated.  Full-time enrollment required during authorization period if Fall/Spring/Final semester. No specific course(s) are required. No course registration is required during post-completion OPT.  No course registration is required; however, STEM degree must be completed, except for thesis / dissertation.
Hours per Week Part-time (20 hours per week or less) possible during academic year. Full-time (21 hours or more) is limited and cannot be authorized in the final semester of the academic program. 12 months of full-time CPT eliminates eligibility for OPT.  Academic requirements determine how many CPT authorizations a student can have.  Part-time (20 hours per week or less) possible anytime during academic year.  Full-time (21 hours or more) is limited to official school vacation periods (winter & summer, if not the final semester). Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the total 12-Month Post-OPT. Requires at least 20 hours of work per week. All students apply for full-time authorization for 12 months. Must work a minimum of 20 hours per week to maintain status.   STEM employment requires at least 20 hours of paid work per week. 
ISS & USCIS Role ISS authorizes CPT by issuing a new I-20 with CPT work authorization.  No application to the USCIS is needed. ISS must recommend OPT first, then USCIS adjudicates.  ISS issues new I-20 with OPT recommendation.  USCIS then issues an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if approved. ISS must recommend OPT first, then USCIS adjudicates. ISS issues new I-20 with OPT recommendation.  USCIS then issues an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if approved. ISS must recommend OPT first, then USCIS adjudicates.  ISS issues new I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation.  USCIS then issues an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if approved.
Costs Student must pay for the CPT-required course. There is no UB processing fee.  USCIS requires a $410 application fee. There is no UB fee.  USCIS requires a $410 application fee. UB also requires a $55 fee. USCIS requires a $410 application fee. UB also requires a $95 fee.
Application Processing Times ISS I-20 processing time is 5-7 business days. No US government involvement.  ISS I-20 processing time is 5-7 business days. USCIS processing times vary greatly, but are generally 3-5 months. ISS I-20 processing time is 5-7 business days. USCIS processing times vary greatly, but are generally 3-5 months. ISS I-20 processing time is 5-7 business days. USCIS processing times vary greatly, but are generally 3-5 months.
Employment at Application Must secure the internship offer BEFORE applying. Can only work for the employer listed on the I-20.  Employment is NOT required when applying. Once approved, can work for any employer as long as the work is directly related to the field of study. Reporting employment to ISS is not required.  Employment is NOT required. Once approved, can work for any employer (and switch employers); work must be directly related to field of study. All employment must be reported to ISS. Refer to Maintaining Status While on OPT for more information. Employment is required. STEM OPT is tied to a specific employer. Employer must complete Form I-983 Training Plan and meet all requirements. All employment must be reported to ISS. Refer to Maintaining Status While on OPT for more information.
Unemployment/ Loss of Employment  If employment is lost, the same CPT authorization cannot be used for another employer. A new CPT application must be approved before work at a new employer can begin.  Does not impact Pre-OPT. Students can switch employers anytime during authorization. Unemployment time is not counted against the student, but time not worked cannot be re-used/saved. Cannot exceed more than 90 days of unemployment (cumulative throughout 12 months). Exceeding unemployment limits is a violation of status.  Cannot exceed 150 days of unemployment, cumulative throughout both Post-Completion & STEM periods. Exceeding unemployment limits is a violation of status.