Overview of F1 CPT
F1 CPT (Curricular Practical Training) is one of several employment options you have to work in the US as an F1 international student.
The other options are OPT (Optional Practical training ) and STEM-OPT for students who have obtained degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics.
F1 CPT provides the best opportunity for F1 international students to gain work experience before the completion of their studies.
Some examples of employment where F1 CPT could be used are for internships, single-semester coops, and multi-semester coops. This employment could be paid or unpaid, and it could be done off-campus at a US employer's location or while working remotely for a US employer at another location.
Now, all nonimmigrants in the US including F-1 students are required to have a social security number in order to receive income and pay taxes while working in the US.
Why You Should Pursue F1 CPT
Some key benefits of participating in F1 CPT are that it:
- Allows you to gain work experience in your field of study early on in your academic career
- Provides the opportunity to build a network of professionals outside of your school's community
- Provides a great opportunity to learn more about a career/industry which you plan to pursue in the future
- Opens doors to a full-time job opportunity, even before the completion of your program of study
Who is Eligible for F1 CPT?
By definition, F1 CPT can only be used to gain work experience when the training is considered integral to an F-1 student's program of study.
In simple terms, this work experience must be required to complete your degree and in the case that it's not required to complete your degree, you should be able to obtain an academic course credit for participating in the CPT.
As a rule of thumb, participating in F1 CPT must not slow down the time required to obtain your degree.
In order to participate in CPT an F1 student must satisfy the following:
- You must be enrolled for two full semesters in an active F1 status. There are exceptions where an F1 student could participate in CPT before the completion of two full academic semesters. This is the case for F1 students who are enrolled in a program of study that requires participation in CPT within the first academic year
- You must have a job offer that is directly related to your program of study
- You must be able to earn course credit during the semester that you're participating in CPT. But there are some exceptions, depending on your university
CPT Rules for F1 Visa Students?
Now let's understand the rules and limitations of F1 CPT.
There are two ways you could participate in CPT. The first way is part-time CPT, defined as work that is less than 20 hours per week.
The second way is full-time CPT, defined as work that is more than 20 hours per week.
Note that if you complete 12 months of full-time CPT, you become ineligible for optional practical training (OPT). Whereas with part-time CPT, there are no restrictions.
So, on part-time CPT, you can work for as many months as you choose to, without affecting your chances of pursuing OPT in the future.
Another limitation of F1 CPT is that it is employer and date specific.
This means that if there are any changes in your employment, such as a change to the length of your employment, you will need to notify your Designated School Official (DSO) and receive a new CPT authorization.
Furthermore, if you're taking a course while participating in F1 CPT, you are required to pass the course. Otherwise, you would be in violation of your F1 status.
How to Apply for F1 CPT
The process of applying for CPT is generally a two-step process.
First, you obtain an approval from your academic advisor that endorses you to participate in CPT.
Normally, you can get this approval from your academic advisor, by showing an employment offer letter that describes the scope of your job with your prospective CPT employer.
This offer letter should show the start and end date of your employment and should also describe how many hours per week you are expected to work.
If your academic advisor agrees that your employment is integral to your program, or qualifies you to receive course credit after the completion of your employment, you will be recommended for CPT.
With this recommendation, you can then move on to the second step, which is receiving an authorization for F1 CPT from your Designated School Official.
Your DSO will prepare a new Form I-20 that's endorsed for your participation in CPT.
This endorsement for CPT on your Form I-20 gives you the legal work authorization to work temporarily with your CPT employer ONLY.
Best Tips to Find CPT Jobs
From my job search experience as an international student, here are some best tips that can help you find employment for F1 CPT
1. Start Your Job Search Early
What you must know as an international student looking for a job in the US is that many US employers are not familiar with hiring international students. Furthermore, there are also many US employers who don't hire international students.
What this means for you is that your job search timeline for F1 CPT employment might take longer than that of a domestic US student.
So, when looking for an F1 CPT job, it is best to start early. Take some time to become familiar with your industry and understand what types of jobs you should be applying to.
2. Attend Networking Events
Your job search efforts should not be entirely online. This is a big mistake many international students make.
What you should do instead is seize the opportunity to attend career fairs on your university campus or attend career fairs organized virtually, where you can network with recruiters.
By attending these networking events, you would have the opportunity to talk with company recruiters one-on-one.
This gives you a tremendous opportunity to sell yourself to a recruiter much better that you could by sending resumes and submitting job applications online.
In person, a recruiter can understand your personality and understand your fit within the company a lot better. And this puts you in a much better position than someone who's just behind a computer screen, applying to jobs online.
3. Take Advantage of Unpaid Employment Opportunities
If you're having difficulty obtaining a paid CPT employment, do not to pass up the opportunity to gain CPT work experience just because you would not be getting paid for it.
Understand that any work experience in your field of study (whether paid or unpaid) is much better than no work experience.
What you should do if you find yourself struggling to find a CPT job, is to find job opportunities where you can work as an unpaid intern, while you receive training and exposure in your field of study.
This work experience gained by working in an unpaid CPT job would turn out to be invaluable in the future when you're applying for full-time jobs or other CPT jobs.
You can learn how to find unpaid employment in the form of an unpaid intern or a trainee in our blog post here.
As you can see, the F1 CPT is a golden opportunity for you to gain work experience while expanding your professional network as an F1 international student. So make the most out of it!