Client Update: Work Options for Foreign Students

F-1 Visas are issued to international students enrolled in a U.S. post-secondary educational institution to attend an academic program. F-1 students are required to maintain full-time student status and may remain in the United States for up to 60 days beyond the completion of their program. F-1 students may extend their stay in the United States through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs. For F-1 students in a STEM program of study, there is a special extension available following completion of an OPT program.


CPT experiences must be part of a program of study and can be either part-time or full-time work. F-1 students are eligible for CPT off-campus, study-­related employment after completing one year of an academic program. At the graduate level, a designated school official authorizes this employment. Additionally, CPT requires a signed cooperation agreement from an employer. F-1 students who complete 12 months or more of full-time CPT employment are ineligible for OPT. However, part-time CPT students are still eligible for OPT.


OPT experiences must relate to an F-1 student’s major or course of study. At each level of education (i.e. bachelor’s, master’s, etc.), an F-1 student may apply for 12 months of OPT. A designated school official recommends an F-1 student for this employment. Following recommendation and successful application, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides the F-1 student with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), permitting the student to begin work. OPT can be pre-completion (while still attending school), post- completion (after graduation), or a combination of the two. Work is capped at 20 hours per week while school is in session. OPT must be completed within 14 months of graduation.


F-1 students currently enrolled with OPT in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program of study may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT (STEM OPT). STEM fields are further defined to include actuarial science, computer science, engineering, engineering technologies, biological and medical sciences, mathematics and statistics, military technologies, physical sciences, science technologies and health professions, and related clinical sciences. Additional requirements mandate that the STEM degree come from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified college or university, and the employer sought uses the E-Verify program. While awaiting the approval of a timely filed application, an F-1 student currently on OPT may remain in the United States for 180 days. STEM OPT students may work part-time or full-time, as long as the work is related to the field of study and comparable to the student’s level of education.


During the CPT, OPT, and/or STEM employment, the employer may apply for an H-1B visa for the employee to continue working in the United States. Because of the limited number of H-1Bs available, the individual with the best chances of selection is a U.S. master’s degree graduate.


For more information about foreign student work options or any other Immigration Law matter, please contact Joel Pfeffer, Elaina Smiley or Gary Sanderson. Contact information is listed below. (*The authors thank Danielle Scalise, Summer Associate, for her research and assistance on this Client Update.)


This material is for informational purposes only.  It is not and should not be solely relied on as legal advice in dealing with any specific situation.