Curricular Practical Training
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for F-1 Students
Explore the sections below:
Types of CPT
Steps to Apply for CPT
Part-Time vs. Full-Time CPT
CPT and Volunteering/Unpaid Internships
Work Authorization for International Students
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Immigration regulations make employment available to F-1 students who have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least nine consecutive months and such employment is in his or her field of studies, which is an integral part of the curriculum or degree. This could be considered as one type of practical training but it is not optional training.
If you wish to accept employment off-campus, you should pursue Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT is defined as employment which is an integral part of an established curriculum, including: “alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.” Source: [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)]. CPT is available only prior to the completion of your degree program and you must have a job offer at the time of application. Students may not apply for CPT prior to being in the United States for 9 months or participate in CPT employment in their final semester at the law school. CPT employment may not delay completion of the academic program.
Fordham Law permits credit-bearing CPT only. Non-credit CPT is not available to JD/LLM students. Full-time students must limit their CPT during the academic year to local jobs or to working for their employer remotely and may apply only for a part-time CPT option. The full-time CPT option is available during the summer session.
Credit-bearing CPT means that the experience is NOT required as a part of the degree requirements. It means that a work component is a required part of a course that the student is taking for credit. The course may be an elective course but credits must be absorbed into the curriculum towards his or her degree.
To be eligible for CPT, you must:
- Have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis while physically present in the US for one academic year (i.e. two full consecutive terms)
- Be in lawful F-1 status
- Have a job offer
NOTE: CPT is processed and authorized semester by semester and as such, if you wish to extend your CPT, you must contact the Office of Student Affairs and OIS to gain permission to extend. You will need to submit a new application and provide updated documents. Please note that OSA has discretion in matters relating to extensions of CPT.
Plan ahead. CPT authorization takes 1-2 weeks to process and requires several documents that may take you time to compile. Your employer or company must officially offer you a training opportunity. Ask your employer to write a letter on their letterhead detailing the offer. The letter must:
- Be written on the company's letterhead
- Be addressed to you
- Include job title
- Provide a detailed job description (at least a few sentences describing specific duties, tasks, goals, etc.)
- Specify the semester during which the CPT employment will take place.
- Specify the street address where employment will take place (street, city, state, and zip code). If you will work remotely, the letter should specify this and list the company’s physical address.
- Specify number of hours per week you will work
- Specify start and end dates of CPT employment (keep in mind that CPT can only be authorized one term at a time).
A standard job offer letter may not contain the required information. Please ensure your letter contains all the necessary details. If your current offer letter is missing only 1 or 2 details, we may accept one printed email, addressed to you, directly from your employer containing the missing details.
In order to be approved for CPT, you must complete the following steps:
- Obtain an offer, and an offer letter as indicated above.
- Complete the CPT Application form and forward the application with your offer-letter to the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) at email@example.com to be reviewed. Once reviewed and approved, your documents will be submitted to OIS through the OIS CPT Portal. You will be notified via email once your documents have been approved by OSA and submitted to OIS.
- An OIS Advisor will review the CPT application and documents submitted by your advisor, and then OIS will issue your CPT authorization (a new I-20). OIS will notify you when it is ready, give you mailing options to receive the original, and scan a copy of the updated I-20 to you as needed.
- Find an authorized faculty member who will supervise your Independent Study. As part of the CPT, you must complete a research paper through a two-credit independent study in the semester that follows the CPT practical experience. This requirement is a requirement of the CPT approval process and cannot be waived. The corresponding paper must relate to an issue you worked on during the CPT work experience. To be registered for the 2-credit independent study, you must:
a) Seek out an approved faculty member to supervise your independent research. The independent study/research must occur in the semester following your practical CPT experience.
b) Once you identify the faculty member and gain their approval, you must then complete the Independent Research Form located on LawNET in the “FORMS” database.
You may not begin your position without receiving CPT authorization from the OIS.
Part-time CPT: Employment for 20 hours or less per week is considered part-time. You must be simultaneously enrolled in classes full-time and be physically present in order to maintain lawful F-1 status during fall and spring semesters. Part-time CPT is typically done during the fall and spring semesters.
Full-time CPT: Employment for more than 20 hours per week is full-time. Please be aware that 12 months or more of full-time CPT will eliminate your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Full-time CPT is permitted only during the summer unless you receive approval from the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs.
It is important to make a distinction between volunteering and unpaid practical training. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a volunteer as an “individual who performs hours of service…for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered.” There is typically no direct supervision or mentorship for a volunteer position.
Common volunteer places include a literacy network, homeless shelter, food pantry, animal shelter, etc. PIRC is a campus resource for volunteer and public service activities.
A volunteer position must meet the following conditions:
- No expectation of compensation
- The volunteer cannot displace a genuine employee
- The services provided by the volunteer should not be the same services for which he or she was previously paid and/or expects to be hired and paid for in the future
- Services are performed for a non-profit organization for public service, religious or humanitarian objective
- Work at a for-profit entity is considered employment and must be for pay, or must meet the criteria for an unpaid internship (see above). CPT is strongly recommended for unpaid internships.
If your experience meets the volunteer criteria, then CPT is likely not required.
If you engage in volunteer activities, OIS recommends that you get a letter from the volunteer organization to keep in your permanent records.
Where 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: https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm
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 strongly recommended for all 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 permission to get paid.
You should have CPT authorization for unpaid internships for the following reasons:
- 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 assurances (preferably written) 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.
Safest Path for International Students
Given the difficulty and ambiguity of the DOL six-factor test, the safest rule for international students should be that, if a student is providing a beneficial service to an employer, whether paid or unpaid, the student should obtain proper authorization to work.
What is proper work authorization for an international student?
That depends on the student's status. International students in the United States can attend university in any one of a number of immigration statuses:
- Students using "dependent" visas (for example, dependents of spouses or parents who are in the United States in a work-authorized visa status, such as H-1B, E-1/E-2/E-3, L-1, O-1). In general, students attending school using a dependent visa are ineligible to work, unless the work is voluntary under the six-factor test.
- Students in F-1 status (which is a typical "student" status for students enrolled in an academic program). F-1 students are not permitted to engage in employment without the requisite authorization. For F-1 students, the work authorization options are:
- On-Campus Employment: F-1 students maintaining their status may work on campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full time during school vacations, as long as they intend to register for the following term. The work must be on campus, or at an off-campus location educationally affiliated with the school. No U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (CIS) authorization is required for this employment.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): F-1 students can be approved by a school's designated school official (DSO) to work for a specific off-campus employer for a specific time period as CPT. In order to qualify for CPT, the work must be an integral part of the established curriculum in the student's course of study. CPT can be approved either for part-time (20 hours or less per week) or full-time employment (for example, in a cooperative situation). DSO approval, and notation of that approval to the student's SEVIS record and Form I-20, are required prior to beginning CPT.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT): OPT is another common way for F-1 students to work as employees or trainees. OPT allows the student to work for any employer in a job related to the student's degree program. Most students in F-1 status are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT, which can be used during the degree program or can be used to work after graduation. OPT can be part time while school is in session, or full time during breaks. OPT used during the degree program is subtracted from OPT time available after the degree is completed.
- Economic Hardship: An F-1 student who has maintained F-1 status for an academic year and is in good academic standing may apply for off-campus employment based on "economic hardship." Economic hardship refers to financial problems caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control. The student must apply to CIS for authorization to work based on economic hardship.
- Designated International Organizations: Certain organizations are permitted to hire F-1 students for work experience (United Nations, IMF, World Bank, and so forth).
- Students in J-1 status (for "exchange visitors" engaged in designated programs at a U.S. university). For J-1 students, the options are:
- On-Campus Employment: J-1 students may engage in part-time employment on campus for no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session and full time during breaks and holidays. The employment must be authorized in writing by the university foreign student adviser before it begins and can be for no longer than 12-month increments at a time.
- Employment Related to Scholarships, Assistantships, and Fellowships: This employment requires written approval by the university DSO in advance of commencement of employment. If the J-1 program is sponsored by an agency other than the school, then the student will need to obtain from that agency written authorization for employment. The J-1 student can work no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session and full time during breaks.
- Unforeseen Economic Circumstances: A J-1 student may be authorized for off-campus employment when necessary because of serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic circumstances that have arisen since acquiring J-1 student status. This type of J-1 student employment is subject to the 20 hour per week maximum while school is in session.
- Employment Pursuant to Academic Training for J-1 Students and Post-Docs: Most J-1 students are eligible for academic training during or after completing their education in the United States (18 months for most J-1 students; up to 36 months for post-doctoral research). This is similar to F-1 optional practical training; however, unlike F-1 students, the J-1 students engaging in academic training do not require formal employment authorization.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.
Q: I just started my studies in the US. Am I eligible to start Curricular Practical Training right away?
A: Most likely not. You need to be in F-1 status and enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year before becoming eligible for practical training.
Q: When am I eligible to apply for CPT if I transfer from another US school?
A: You will be eligible once you have been enrolled in F-1 status for at least one full academic year; this may be cumulative at both institutions.
Q: I found a very good internship opportunity. May I start work next week?
A: No. You must first have authorization from the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) and the Office of International Services (OIS) before you begin paid or unpaid internship or any other form of Curricular Practical Training. You need to get a new SEVIS I-20 issues by the international student advisor which is endorsed with CPT authorization before you begin the internship
Q: How long may I work on CPT?
A: CPT can be approved for part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (over 20 hours). The School of Law permits two (2) CPT experiences during your tenure. A third CPT experience may be available with special permission but this waiver is seldom granted and students seeking a third CPT must show a specific need to be granted this waiver.
Q: May I complete full time CPT and still be eligible for OPT?
A: Students who complete 12 or more months of full-time CPT become ineligible for OPT. Use of part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT. To continue to be eligible for OPT you will want to make sure to complete 364 days or less of full-time CPT.
Q: How long may I work on CPT?
A: This depends on the specific period granted by the OSA advisor. Generally students are required to do one CPT experience with one employer for one semester. If you wish to extend with that employer, beyond the semester, you must seek permission from the OSA advisor. If permission for an extension is granted, the extension constitutes your second CPT and you may not be granted a third, so think carefully before seeking an extension.
Q: Who can be my employer during CPT?
A: Students may engage in CPT only for the specific employer, location and period approved and recorded by the OIS in SEVIS.
Q: I heard that Curricular Practical Training is any off-campus job. Is that true?
A: No. USCIS defines CPT as an employment that is an integral part of an established curriculum. It includes alternative work/study, internship or cooperative education arranged with the approval of your academic program, or any type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements. CPT may take place during the academic year and/or in the summer/winter and MUST be undertaken and completed prior to the final semester of study.
Q: What if I get a new job in my area of studies? Do I need to apply again?
A: Yes. A new application will be required if there is a change of employers or if the employment is to be continued beyond the current ending date. An updated offer letter and CPT application form are required.
Q: Is CPT usually required or is it only recommended?
A: Fordham Law requires CPT for any international student pursuing a paid or unpaid position that falls within the DOL guidelines. CPT is not required where the employment constitutes volunteer employment as defined by the DOL.
Q: Is there a fee for CPT?
A: No fee is required with a CPT application. It is processed and approved by OSA and OIS.
Q: If my professor believes that getting some work experience is "good for me, academically" and he could arrange it for me, but it is not for credit and it is not required, could I work?
A: No! This is not CPT. However; you could apply for optional training. The word "integral" means that the employment is required and/or for academic credit.
Q: My friend told me I don't have to get a job in order to get CPT?
A: If you wish to apply for optional training you do not have to have a job, but to apply for curricular practical training you must have a job and you must know many details of your job (see below).
Q: My friend said that getting CPT is a bad idea because it is deducted from my 1 year of optional training after I complete my studies. Is that good advice?
A: Bad advice. Part-time or full-time CPT is never deducted from your 1 year OPT. Only if a student works in full-time CPT for 1 year or more, the entire OPT period is cancelled.