International Student Employment

This information is official government-provided information from: Study in the States.

The U.S. government takes working illegally very seriously. Therefore you must first contact your Designated School Official or DSO if you intend to work in the United States. If your DSO knows you are working without permission, your DSO must report it through SEVIS and your record can be terminated. That means that you will have to leave the United States immediately, and you may not be allowed to return.


On-Campus Employment

As an F-1 student in Active status, you immediately have an option for one kind of work: on-campus employment. However, there are some things to keep in mind.
Although you may work shortly after you arrive, you must be in Active status and your DSO must approve your request. After your DSO approves your request, you’ll be given a letter of approval. This letter, along with a letter from your employer, will help you get a Social Security number. When school is in session, you may work a maximum of 20 hours per week.

For on-campus employment opportunities visit the Center for Professional Development in the A_LAB or see postings on Career Connect. Please note: International students studying on F-1 visas are not eligible for federal work-study jobs.

International students seeking on-campus employment must contact the Center of Professional Development to obtain a temporary password for Career Connect. This password can be used in place of a social security number in order to access the system.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT must relate to your major or course of study, and although you can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, you must have your EAD card before you begin working.
In order to obtain your EAD, your DSO needs to provide you with a new Form I-20 indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment, and you must submit a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” to USCIS. Your EAD card will come from USCIS.
Just as with other work authorizations, you are restricted to working a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session.


Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

An F-1 student may be authorized by the designated school official (DSO) to participate in a curricular practical training program that is an integral part of an established curriculum. Curricular practical training is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. Students who have received one year or more of full-time curricular practical training are ineligible for post-completion academic training. A request for authorization for curricular practical training must be made to the DSO. A student may begin curricular practical training only after receiving his or her Form I-20 with the DSO endorsement. (Revised effective 1/1/03; 67 FR 76256) CPT may only be done prior to the completion of your degree program in the semester in which you are currently enrolled, and you must have a job offer at the time of application. CPT employment may not delay completion of the academic program.

Types of CPT

Required vs. Non-Required

For CPT that is required, the academic program mandates practical work experience in the field of study to graduate.

For CPT that is a non-required part of the program, the practical work experience is for credit and directly related to your field of study.

Requirements for Non-Required CPT

  • You must be enrolled in a CPT course that has been set up and approved by the OU Center for Professional Development.
  • You must have declared a major.
  • If you wish to engage in CPT during the fall or spring term, you must be registered for the CPT course during that term.
  • If you register for the CPT course for Fall term and are authorized for CPT work during the Fall term, you cannot then use the same registration again for Spring/Summer term. You must register for the CPT course again.
  • Students who are engaged in thesis/dissertation work and have finished their coursework are still eligible for CPT, one term at a time.
  • Non-required CPT will only be allowed in the student’s final term if they are also enrolled in at least one other course for credit that is necessary to complete their program.
  • Failure to complete the CPT course will result in your falling out of legal F-1 status.
  • Be aware that adding a CPT course may have an impact on your tuition and fees.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time

Part-time CPT: Employment for 20 hours or less per week is considered part-time. Though there is no limitation upon the length of time you may participate in part-time CPT, you must be simultaneously enrolled in classes full-time in order to maintain lawful F-1 status.

Full-time CPT: Employment for more than 20 hours per week is considered full-time. Please be aware that 12 months or more of full-time CPT will invalidate your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT). During the academic year (fall and spring semesters), you must be simultaneously enrolled full-time in order to maintain lawful F-1 status.

How to Apply

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for CPT, you must:

  • Have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one academic year (i.e. two full consecutive terms).
  • Be in lawful F-1 status
  • Have OU approved health insurance
  • Have a job offer
  • Not be enrolled in an intensive English language training program

NOTE: CPT is processed and authorized term by term. Contact your academic advisor regarding your department’s specific guidelines and follow those guidelines for CPT applications. Please note that your department has discretion in recommending CPT.

How to Apply

  1. Bring all required documentation with your completed CPT Request Form to your DSO.  Incomplete requests will not be accepted.
  2. The DSO will send your CPT recommendation to SEVIS electronically to generate a new I-20. The CPT work authorization will be printed on page 2 of the new SEVIS I-20.
  3. Sign your name on the new I-20. Be sure to keep a record of all I-20s issued to you.

NOTE: You are authorized to be employed only for the employer, location, and time period specified on the new I-20.
Documents that will help you to establish your work eligibility are, for example, your valid passport, Form I-94 and the SEVIS I-20 with CPT work authorization.
NOTE: It is possible to extend or shorten your CPT within the term of authorization. If you would like to edit your CPT end date, visit your DSO.

If you are engaged in CPT during the academic year (fall and spring semesters), you must be simultaneously enrolled full-time in order to maintain lawful F-1 status, unless it is your last term of enrollment. Students are allowed to be enrolled part-time in their last term before program completion, but only if they receive Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization from International Student Services. Please note that non-required CPT is only allowed in your final term if you are registered for other courses which are required for the completion of your academic program.

If the fall or spring term during which you are engaged in CPT is not your last term of enrollment, you must be registered in full-time coursework, in addition to any CPT courses. Full-time enrollment means 12 credit hours for undergraduate students.

The full-time enrollment requirement means that most students have to limit their CPT during the academic year to local jobs, usually on a part-time basis. So even though full-time CPT is allowed during the fall and spring semesters, the full-time enrollment requirement is likely to make employment outside of the surrounding Atlanta area highly impractical in most situations.

  • CPT Request Form, obtained from your DSO, completed and signed.
  • Your unofficial transcript from OASIS
  • A copy of the job offer letter from the employer. The letter must:

– Be written on the company’s letterhead
– Be addressed to you
– Include job title
– Provide job description
– Specify the employment address (street, city, state, and zip code)
– Specify if the employment is full- or part-time (if part-time, the number of hours per week you will work)
– Specify the exact dates of CPT employment (keep in mind that CPT can only be authorized one term at a time).
Please note: the job offer letter must have ALL of the information listed above or your CPT application cannot be processed. We recommend that your employer uses this sample job offer letter.

Once you have your CPT I-20 Course Completion Certificate and compiled all of the required documentation for a CPT I-20, you may submit your request to the office of International Student Services in the A_LAB.

You may also discuss your questions with a DSO by scheduling an appointment.


CPT and Unpaid Internships

It is not uncommon for students to confuse unpaid internships with volunteering (and therefore conclude that no work authorization is necessary for engaging in an unpaid internship). However, there is a difference between volunteering and engaging in an unpaid internship.

Volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation. Internships, both paid and unpaid, are primarily offered by the private sector and related to the intern’s major field of study. The U.S. Department of Labor has guidelines for those seeking an unpaid internship.

The following six criteria must be met for an internship to be considered a legitimate unpaid internship (and not employment below minimum wage, in violation of Department of Labor laws):

  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation on the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

Do F-1 students need CPT authorization to participate in unpaid internship?
CPT authorization is recommended for unpaid internships, whether the student does or does not need to provide employment authorization documents to the company. The F-1 regulations are written in such a way that CPT is an authorization to do practical training as part of the curriculum for the academic program, and as such is significant in more ways than simply for the employer to verify employment eligibility. CPT authorization is more than just a permission to get paid.

According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are multiple reasons for officially authorizing CPT:

  • CPT authorization by the university serves to demonstrate that this practical experience is part of the curriculum.
  • CPT authorization is a way of reporting in SEVIS the student’s activity, employment, and location where they are working and therefore maintaining their status.
  • If ever a student is doing a job on an unpaid basis that someone would be hired and paid for, employment authorization in the form of CPT, OPT, etc. is advised.
  • If the unpaid internship at some point changes into a paid one (or if your employer decides to compensate you for your work in any way – for example, give you a monetary gift), you won’t be able to accept the payment if your internship was not authorized as CPT. Please keep in mind that F-1 students cannot be retroactively remunerated or in any way compensated for work done in an unpaid internship if they did not obtain work authorization prior to when the work was performed.

Based on the above, we recommend that you apply for CPT authorization if you have an internship offer (paid or unpaid) that meets CPT eligibility criteria.

If the position is unpaid and for some reason it is not possible for you to obtain CPT authorization, please make sure that your prospective supervisor is aware of U.S. Department of Labor regulations concerning unpaid internships and that you have written assurances to that effect before you accept the position. We also recommend that at the end of your internship you ask your employer to provide you with a letter confirming that there was no remuneration or any other type of compensation provided in any form during the dates you were participating in the internship. Please keep such a letter for your permanent records.

Social Security Number

In order to work in the United States, every eligible F student needs a Social Security number (SSN). If you do not know if you are eligible to work, please speak with your designated school official (DSO).

For more information visit the Social Security Administration website.

How to Obtain a SSN

1. Talk with your Designated School Official (DSO) about working in the United States. Your DSO will share important information regarding the regulations and requirements for F students. This step is very important!

2. Ensure you are in Active status in SEVIS. Your SEVIS record must be in Active status for at least two days before applying for an SSN. If you have a record in any other status, you will not have success in applying for an SSN.

3. Wait at least 10 calendar days from your date of entry into the United States to apply for an SSN. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program to verify your immigration status information against records contained in the Department of Homeland Security databases, including those housed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since the verification relies on the original data source, you must allow time for your arrival information to update in all government systems.

4. Visit your local Social Security Administration (SSA) Office. You can file your application for an SSN card in person at any Social Security Administration office. Be prepared to provide your original documents to prove your age, identity and, work-authorized immigration status. All evidence of immigration status and work authorization must be unexpired. The address is:

Social Security
Suite 2860 Floor 28
401 W Peachtree St NW
Atlanta, GA 30308