Employment & Practical Training

As a nonimmigrant F-1 student, you are admitted into the United States to study. In order for you to work in the United States, specific authorization must be obtained. There are limited work opportunities available in the United States for F-1 students. For this reason, before coming to the United States, F-1 students must prove they have the financial ability (e.g., present bank statements) to pay for tuition and living expenses while studying in the United States.

The US government takes working illegally very seriously. Not following the regulatory guidelines for employment authorization is a violation of status and may result in termination of your F-1 status. Furthermore, unauthorized employment could jeopardize your ability to remain in the US or return for future visits.

On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment is work that takes place either at the school or at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school. The work can be for on-campus commercial business (such as a bookstore or cafeteria) as long as the work directly provides services for students. Commercial work located on-campus that does not directly involve services to students (such as construction work) does not qualify as on-campus employment.

While school is in session, you may be able to work up to 20 hours per week on campus, as long as you continue to be enrolled full-time in your program of study. During holidays, when school is not in session, you may be permitted to work up to 40 hours per week on campus. On the day that classes resume, you must go back to working no more than 20 hours per week.

If you want work on campus at MUSC, you must provide the Center for Global Health with a letter from the employing MUSC department describing the employment, compensation, and a statement affirming that you will be working no more than 20 hours per week when school is in session.

Off-Campus Employment (Economic Hardship)

Off-campus employment is allowed only in cases of severe economic hardship or in emergent circumstances. Off-campus employment is granted, on a case-by-case basis, only to an F-1 student who can prove that new, unexpected circumstances have created severe economic hardship, such as the following:

  • Loss of financial aid due to no fault of student
  • Large increase in tuition or living costs
  • Unexpected changes in financial condition of student’s sources of financial support
  • Unexpectedly large medical bills

An F-1 student must be enrolled for at least one academic year before becoming eligible to apply for off-campus work authorization. Off-campus employment requires DSO authorization in SEVIS and an application for employment authorization submitted by the F-1 student to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), US Department of Homeland Security.

If you think you may be in a situation that would require off-campus employment authorization based on economic hardship, please contact you’re the Center for Global Health immediately to discuss your situation and further procedures.

You may be permitted to engage in off-campus employment as part of an authorized period of Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training. See the below sections for more details on these authorizations.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is 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 a school. CPT employment is only available to you when it is required by your degree program and is an integral part of an established curriculum. You must obtain approval from the Center for Global Health before engaging in CPT employment. Once you have completed 12 months of full-time CPT, you will be ineligible for optional practical training (OPT). Refer to the CPT Guide (PDF) for more information.

To request CPT authorization, submit the CPT application through your Terra Dotta portal. Your completed CPT application must be submitted at least 3 weeks in advance of your requested CPT start date. If your CPT application is approved, a new Form I-20 will be issued for you showing the appropriate CPT authorization. You are not permitted to begin your CPT opportunity until you have received the new Form I-20 with the CPT authorization.  

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is another type of practical training available to F-1 students. OPT allows a student to obtain practical hands-on work experience in a job that is directly related to the student’s academic program of study. OPT differs from CPT in that OPT is not an integral part of a student’s academic program. In addition, OPT employment requires authorization from USCIS. OPT is available to students while completing their program of study (pre-completion OPT) or upon completion of their program of study (post-completion OPT). Students must be enrolled full-time for a full academic year before being eligible for OPT. A student can participate in a total of 12 months of OPT. Refer to the OPT Guide (PDF) for full details on OPT and the application process.

There are several rules regarding the timing of your OPT application:

  • Your OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the issuance of the OPT Form I-20 from CGH.
  • Pre-completion OPT: You can submit the OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days before being enrolled full-time for one academic year or 90 days prior to the requested employment start date
  • Post-completion OPT: You can submit the OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days before the program completion date on your Form I-20.
  • Post-completion OPT: Your OPT application must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the program completion date on your Form I-20.

To request OPT authorization, submit the OPT application through your Terra Dotta portal.  If your OPT application is approved, a new Form I-20 will be issued for you showing the OPT request. You cannot apply for OPT employment authorization through USCIS until you receive the OPT Form I-20 from CGH.

If USCIS approves your OPT application, you will receive an employment authorization document (EAD card). You cannot begin your OPT employment until you have received the EAD card from USCIS and the valid from start date on the card has been reached. Once you receive your EAD card, you must upload a copy through your Terra Dotta portal.

Once you have found employment, you are required to report your OPT employment details through your Terra Dotta portal. You must report your employment within 10 days of your start date. This is required for your initial employment as well as any time that you change employment during your authorized period of OPT.

OPT STEM Extension

Certain F-1 students in a period of post-completion Optional Practical Training are eligible to request a 24-month extension of their OPT based on a degree earned in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, math). Refer to the F-1 OPT STEM Extension Guide (PDF) for details on eligibility and the application process.

In general, to be eligible for the OPT STEM extension, you must:

There are several rules regarding the timing of your OPT STEM extension application:

  • You can apply for the OPT STEM up to 90 days prior to the expiration of your current OPT period
  • Your OPT STEM application must be received by USCIS prior expiration of your current OPT period
  • Your OPT STEM extension application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the issuance of the Form I-20 form recommending STEM OPT

To begin the OPT STEM process, you must complete and submit the following applications through your Terra Dotta portal:

Both of these records must be completed and submitted before we can process your request. If your OPT STEM extension request is approved by our office, a new Form I-20 will be issued for you indicating the OPT STEM extension request. You cannot apply for OPT STEM extension through USCIS until you receive the OPT STEM extension Form I-20 from CGH. Once you receive the OPT STEM I-20 form, you can proceed with the I-765 application with USCIS.

If USCIS approves your OPT STEM extension application, you will receive a new EAD card. Once you receive your new EAD card, you must upload a copy through the OPT STEM Extension Request within your Terra Dotta portal.

All reporting during your OPT STEM extension is done through the OPT Employment Verification reporting tool through your Terra Dotta portal. This includes changes in employment, mandatory month OPT STEM reporting every 6 months, I-983 mid-point evaluation, and the I-983 final evaluation. Refer to the OPT STEM Extension Guide for more details on the reporting requirements. You will not be reminded to submit the reports – it is your responsibility to comply with the reporting requirements in a timely manner. Failure to submit the reports on time may result in termination of your F-1 status for failure to report during OPT..

Refer to the following websites for more information on the OPT STEM extension: