Since the primary purpose for being in the United States is to participate in an academic program of study, international students have limited ability to be employed while in F-1 status. F-1 students are normally only permitted to work on-campus. Off-campus employment is allowed only in cases of severe economic hardship or in emergent circumstances, and this type of employment requires authorization by USCIS. When school is in session, F-1 students can work up to 20 hours per week on campus, as long as they continue to be enrolled full-time in the program of study. During holidays, when school is not in session, F-1 students are permitted to work up to 40 hours per week on campus. On the day that classes begin, F-1 students must go back to working no more than 20 hours per week.
If an F-1 student plans to work on campus at MUSC, CGH must have a letter from the employing department/faculty member describing the employment and compensation and stating that the student will be working no more than 20 hours per week when school is in session.
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 F-1 students when it is required by their degree program and is an integral part of an established curriculum. Students must obtain approval from a DSO before engaging in CPT employment. Students must be enrolled for one academic year before being eligible for CPT (except graduate students). Once a student has completed 12 months of full-time CPT, the student becomes ineligible for optional practical training (OPT). Please refer to the CPT Guide (PDF) for more information.
If you need to participate in any alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of practicum (such as a rotation) to fulfill your degree requirements, you must be authorized for CPT through SEVIS prior to beginning the training. To request CPT authorization, complete the CPT Request Form (PDF) and submit it to the Center for Global Health.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is another type of practical training available to non-immigrant students. However, it 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 more information on OPT and the application process.
Students must obtain approval from a DSO before applying for OPT with USCIS. To start the OPT application process, you must submit the OPT Request Form (PDF) to CGH along with any required documents. CGH will contact you once the I-20 has been issued with the OPT recommendation.
You will not be able to begin OPT employment until you have received your EAD card from USCIS and the valid from start date on the card has been reached. Once you have obtained OPT employment, your employer must complete the OPT Employment Verification Form (PDF), and you must submit this to CGH along with a copy of your offer letter. You must submit these documents to CGH as soon as possible after obtaining OPT employment so that we can update SEVIS with your employment information as required by law.
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:
- Be maintaining valid F-1 status and in a period of post-completion OPT
- Have earned a degree found on the DHS STEM designated degree program list
- Have accrued no more than 90 days of unemployment during post-completion OPT
- Have a job offer from an employer registered with E-Verify
- Complete the Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students with the employer and agree to abide by the terms outlined in the plan
Students can apply for the OPT STEM up to 90 days prior to the expiration of the current OPT period. Furthermore, the OPT STEM application must be received by USCIS prior expiration of the current OPT period. The OPT STEM extension application must also be received by USCIS within 60 days of the issuance of the I-20 form recommending STEM OPT.
To begin the OPT STEM extension process, submit the following to the Center for Global Health:
- F-1 OPT STEM Request Form (PDF)
- Completed Form I-983
- Copy of employment offer letter
Refer to the following websites for more information on the OPT STEM extension: