F-1 Academic Student Visa
The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows foreign nationals to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. Foreign nationals must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and the foreign nationals’ school must be authorized by the UNITED STATES government to accept international students.
Certain family members may also accompany the F-1 visa holder as dependents. An F-1 visa holder may be accompanied or followed by spouses and unmarried children who are under 21 years of age. Spouses of F-1 visa holders cannot apply for work authorization.
F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions.
After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in four types of off-campus employment:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
- Severe economic hardship
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training is a type of off-campus employment for F-1 international students who are currently pursuing study programs in the United States and want to gain experience in their fields of study. CPT is not available after a student completes a degree program.
CPT is an academic experience, and is not intended to be used for regular on-going off-campus work. Students should be mindful to keep all records of CPT and the academic work related to CPT, and how that employment is integral to the degree program. Students will need to retain copies of all previous CPT I-20s when applying later for OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) (Pre-Completion or Post-Completion)
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 OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.
Types of OPT
All OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students may participate in OPT in two different ways:
- Pre-completion OPT: F-1 students may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after they have been enrolled in school for one full academic year. Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full time when school is not in session;
- Post-completion OPT: F-1 students may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing their studies. Students authorized for post-completion OPT may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week) or full-time.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
Students who have earned degrees in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization if they:
- Are an F-1 student who received a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List (PDF),
- Are employed by an employer enrolled in E-Verify, and
- Received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on their STEM degree
Severe economic hardship
An F-1 student experiencing unforeseen, severe economic hardship that is beyond the student's control may be authorized for off-campus employment authorization.
An F-1 student is eligible to apply for employment based on severe economic hardship if:
- F-1 student been in F-1 status for one full academic year,
- F-1 student be in good academic standing and taking a full course load,
- Employment will not interfere with F-1 student’s studies, and
- F-1 student can demonstrate that the employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship due to unforeseen economic circumstances beyond his/her control.