Curricular Practical Training (CPT) – Off-Campus Employment in the US

October 25th, 2006 by admin

Today’s post covers Curricular Practical Training (CPT), a category of off-campus employment allowed for F1 students in the US. This post is part of our series covering employment rules for international students in English-speaking countries. You can see the earlier posts here:

Off-Campus Employment Now Permitted in Canada
On-Campus Employment in the US
Off-Campus Employment in the US – Severe Economic Hardship
Off-Campus Employment in the US – Optional Practical Training

Curricular Practical Training

Curriculur Practical Training (CPT) is an off-campus employment option for F1 students when the practical training is an integral part of the established curriculum or academic program. CPT employment is defined as “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 the school.” To qualify, the work experience must be required for your degree, or academic credit must awarded. And yes, you can get paid for CPT employment. Prior authorization by your school’s international student office and notification to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is required.

To be eligible for CPT employment:

*You must have been enrolled in school full-time for one year on valid F1 status (except for graduate students where the program requires immediate CPT)
*The CPT employment must be an integral part of your degree program or requirement for a course for which you receive academic credit
*You must have received a job offer that qualifies before you submit your CPT authorization request
*Your job offer must be in your major or field of study

Your International Student Office must authorize you for CPT. Once you receive CPT authorization, you can only work for the specific employer and for the specific dates authorized (unlike with OPT or severe economic hardship off-campus employment, where you can work anywhere in the US). Your CPT authorization will also specify whether you are approved for part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) CPT employment. While in school, you can only be approved for part-time CPT.

Regardless of whether you are approved for full or part-time on CPT, there is no limit to how long you can work. However, if you work full-time on CPT for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for OPT. If you work part-time on CPT, or full-time on CPT for less than 12 months, you are still eligible for all of your allowable OPT. So make sure you watch the dates and hours closely – don’t jeopardize your OPT!

As with all employment, you should work closely with your international student office. The general rules will apply somewhat differently to undergraduates, graduate students and PhD candidates, and the advisors in your international student office can guide you. They can help you determine your eligibility for CPT, make sure your job offer qualifies, and make sure you follow all necessary steps in applying to USCIS. They also have to authorize your CPT, so you have no choice – you have to work with them. But they are pros, especially when it comes to USCIS regulations, so use them – they are there to help you.

To see the text of the entire rules governing Curricular Practical Training by F1 students, click here and scroll down to paragraph (10)(i).

Next Post:

Approved International Institutions

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Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F1 Students in the US

October 18th, 2006 by admin

Today’s post covers Optional Practical Training (OPT), a category of off-campus employment allowed for F1 students in the US. This post is part of our series covering employment rules for international students in English-speaking countries. You can see earlier posts in the series here:

Off-Campus Employment Now Permitted in Canada
On-Campus Employment in the US
Off-Campus Employment in the US – Severe Economic Hardship

Optional Practical Training

International students in the US in valid F1 immigration status are permitted to work off-campus in OPT status both during and after completion of their degree. Rules established by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) govern the implementation of OPT, and all OPT employment requires prior authorization from USCIS and from your school’s International Student Office.

You can apply for OPT after being enrolled for at least 9 months, but you cannot begin employment until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and you have been enrolled for at least a year. You do not need to have a job offer to apply for your OPT EAD, and your OPT employment can occur anywhere in the US. Start early — USCIS takes up to 90 days to process your application – and make sure you work closely with your school’s International Student Office. As with everything you will do while in the US, permission is based on maintaining lawful F1 status, and your International Student Office is there to help you maintain that status throughout your stay.

General OPT Requirements

• Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
• Student must maintain lawful F1 status
• Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
• Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curriculur Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
• OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total – part-time OPT (while still in school) reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part time for 6 months, you can work full-time for up to 9 months)

Students can be authorized for 12 months of OPT for each successive level of degree achieved – for instance, you can do 12 months of OPT after receiving your undergraduate degree, go back to graduate school, and then do 12 months of OPT after receiving your graduate degree. Pre-completion OPT (students are still in school) and post-completion OPT (students have completed their degree) each have different rules:

OPT before completing a degree:

• Students must be enrolled in school full-time
• Students may only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
• Students may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as the student will return to school after the break)
• Student may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree

OPT after completing a degree:

• After completion of your degree, OPT work must be full time (40 hours/week)
• All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree
• Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS before the completion of the degree

One final note – be mindful of the travel regulations governing F1 students on OPT. If you leave the country after completion of your degree, but before receiving your EAD and obtaining a job, you may not be readmitted. You can leave the country after completion of your degree if you have your EAD and a job, but make sure you bring everything that you’ll need to get back in (including valid passport, valid EAD card, valid F1 visa, all your I-20s with page 3 endorsed for travel by your international student advisor within the past 6 months, and a letter of employment, including dates of employment and salary).

To see the text of the entire rules governing Optional Practical Training by F1 students, click here and scroll down to paragraph (10)(ii).

Next Posts:

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Approved International Institutions

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Off-Campus Employment for F1 Students

October 6th, 2006 by admin

Following our post explaining the rules for F1 students working on-campus, the next four posts will address the four general categories of off-campus employment opportunities for F1 students. As a general rule, off-campus employment is regulated more strictly, and employment requires prior authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

Off-Campus Employment. International students in F-1 status have several off-campus employment options available to them, provided they are maintaining lawful student status and are doing well academically.

The four general categories of off-campus employment are:

Severe Economic Hardship
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Curriculur Optional Training (CPT)
Recognized International Institution

Severe Economic Hardship

Any F1 student suffering “severe economic hardship” as defined by USCIS is eligible to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and full-time during breaks.

To be eligible, a student must:

* be in valid F-1 status for at least one academic year (9 months)
* be in good academic standing
* provide evidence of economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control
* show that on-campus employment is neither available nor sufficient
* make a good faith effort to locate employment on campus before applying

The rule gives examples of the types of things that could be considered “severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control.” These circumstances may include:

• loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student
• substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate
• inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs
• unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support
• medical bills
• or other substantial and unexpected expenses.

You must apply for an “employment authorization document” (EAD) with the help and guidance of your International Student Office — you do not need a job offer before you apply for the EAD. But several forms and documents are required, together with fees and photos, etc., and processing can take up to 12 weeks or longer — and you cannot start work until you receive the EAD. The designated school official (DSO) at your school’s International Student Office — typically an international student advisor — must certify to USCIS that you meet all the requirements.

Once you receive the EAD, you may work for an employer at any job, anywhere in the United States. Employment authorization is automatically terminated when a student fails to maintain valid F1 status.

To see the text of the entire rules governing “severe economic hardship” off-campus employment by F1 students, click here and scroll down to paragraph (9)(ii)(C).

Links to posts in our international student employment rules series:

Canada Off-Campus Employment for International Students
On-Campus Employment in the US for F1 Students

Next Posts:

Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Recognized International Institution

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US Employment Rules for F1 Students (On Campus)

October 6th, 2006 by admin

Most international students in the United States hold an F1 visa, which is the US non-immigrant student visa. F1 students are allowed to work in the United States, but only under certain conditions and in accordance with complex guidelines and restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

Generally, all employment is contingent on remaining within the terms and restrictions of your F1 visa. There are several categories of employment during the term of your stay as an F1 student in the US. This post will address on-campus employment. In the next posts, we’ll address off-campus employment, including severe economic hardship, optional practical training (OPT), curricular practical training (CPT), and recognized international institution employment categories.

On-Campus Employment. On-campus employment is the category most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations, and does not require USCIS approval. However, although F1 status includes an on-campus employment privilege, on-campus employment opportunities at most schools are limited. Even if you can obtain on-campus employment, you may not rely on it to prove financial resources for the year, and often these jobs are not related to your studies. Many schools do require that you obtain permission from the International Student Office prior to accepting any on-campus employment, and may not permit such employment in a student’s first semester or year.

For on-campus work, an F1 student is subject to the following rules:

* You must maintain valid F1 status

* You can work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session

* You can work full time on campus during holidays and vacation periods, if you intend to register for the next academic semester.

* The employment may not displace (take a job away from) a U.S. resident

The definition of on-campus employment includes:

*Work performed on the school’s premises directly for your school (including work affiliated with a grant or assistantship).

*Work performed for on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria.

(Employment with on-site commercial firms which do not provide direct student services, such as a construction company building a school building, is not deemed on-campus employment for the purposes of the rule.)

*Work performed at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school. The educational affiliation must be associated with the school’s established curriculum or related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level. In any event, the employment must be an integral part of the student’s educational program.

Since your status is always contingent on your school’s support, you must seek guidance and clearance from your International Student Office prior to applying for or accepting any employment, and you should request their particular interpretation of any ambiguous situation. You will also need your school’s guidance to ensure that you file all appropriate forms with USCIS and receive any necessary USCIS approval.

To see the text of the entire rules governing on-campus employment by F1 students, click here.

Click here to subscribe if you would like to get an update when the next post comes out, addressing off-campus employment for F1 students.

Work Opportunities for International Students

October 3rd, 2006 by admin

International students cannot and should not rely on employment during school as a primary funding source for their education. For one thing, you typically cannot use future employment income to meet the financial requirements of your visa. In addition, students cannot earn enough to fund their education solely or primarily through work.

However, there are definitive advantages to being able to work while you study internationally. The income can help supplement other sources of funds, and can provide living and travel expenses. The experience you will gain is invaluable, and will help you to get the most out of your time abroad. You will learn to use your English skills in a different setting. You may find a job related to your future career, which will give you a significant advantage when applying for jobs after graduation. And regardless of the type of work, employers want employees who have worked, not just studied.

Canada Off-Campus Employment

The next few posts will highlight the employment rules for international students studying in english speaking countries. We’ll start with Canada, which has had the most dramatic recent change. There are over 150,000 international students in Canada, and as of this semester, the majority of them are eligible to work off-campus. Previously, international students were restricted to on-campus work, as they are in the US.

On-campus work is very limited, difficult to obtain, typically not very lucrative, and not often related to your studies. So opening up off-campus work for international students in Canada is a great leap forward, and will help to make Canada an even more attractive location for international students.

Some details of the new rules, adopted last April:

In order to be eligible for the Canadian program, foreign students must have a valid study permit, and they must have studied full-time at an eligible Canadian public, post-secondary institution for at least six months out of the 12 months preceding their work permit application. Schools must sign an agreement with the province or territory in which they are located in order to participate in the program. The agreement includes monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure that students retain their eligibility for the program.

Under agreements with the provinces, eligible full-time students who retain satisfactory academic standing can apply to work for a maximum of 20 hours a week off-campus while
classes are in session and full-time during scheduled breaks (including summer or winter
holidays and reading weeks).

Exchange students, students enrolled in English- or French-as-a-second-language programs, and students who have received awards from the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program, the Government of Canada Awards Program or the Canadian International Development Agency are not eligible for work permits under the Off-Campus Work Permit Program.

For more information, read the full press release from Citizenship and Immigration Canada regarding the new rules here:

Scholarships for students from the Middle East, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia

September 15th, 2006 by admin

Today there are 2 scholarships that I’d like to draw attention to, both for students from particular countries, and a quick update on the Saudi scholarships.

First, the Karim Rida Said Foundation provides full and partial scholarships for Master’s degree study in the UK to Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian students. You must have a first degree, be proficient in English, agree to return home, have two years work experience, and meet some other requirements. Application deadlines vary throughout the early part of the year based on the school in England that you will attend. For more information or for an application, go to:

You can also find this scholarship listed on

The Get Foundation provides one or two $5,000 scholarships per year to deserving students from Hong Kong, based on financial need, to pursue undergraduate education at schools in the US. Application deadline is April 15 of each year. For more information or for the application go to:

The Saudi scholarship program, under which the Saudi royal family will pay full scholarships for up to 15,000 Saudi students in the US each year, is in full swing. Of the 10,229 Saudi students registered at schools in the US for this fall, the Saudi embassy reports that over 90% of them are receiving scholarships. President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah launched this program last year, and by next year it is expected that the full 15,000 scholarships will be awarded. Click here to read a CNN story with more information on the impact of these scholarships: CNN story on Saudi scholarships

College Costs On the Rise

September 8th, 2006 by admin

After our short series on evaluating school program costs, budgeting and opening a US bank account, I thought this article from the Jacksonville Times-Union online was very interesting and timely.

The point — everyone knows that college tuition has been increasing rapidly, but recently there has been a significant rise in all other college-related costs. An excerpt from the article:

“It’s no secret that college tuition has been on an upward climb for the better part of a decade.

What might be a surprise for college students and their parents, though: the rising cost of everything else, from books to cafeteria food to transportation.

The College Board, in its annual survey of college pricing, is reporting big increases on all those incidentals college students can’t live – or study – without: textbooks, supplies and a room to call their own. It’s a national trend that has touched most every school, from community colleges to four-year universities, both public and private. And while Southern states fared better than, say, the Northeast, books, supplies, transportation and room and board in recent years have all been hit by upticks in price.”

Click here to read the rest of the story:
College Costs On the Rise — Times Union Story

Opening a US Bank Account

September 1st, 2006 by admin

Why Open a US Bank Account?

A US bank account will make managing your finances a lot easier, and you should set one up as soon as you arrive. You can deposit your financial aid awards, loans and stipends, all of which are typically paid to you by check, as well as money from home. You can pay all of your bills by check, and with most bank accounts, you can even manage and make all of your bill payments online. In addition, most banks now issue debit cards with a MasterCard or Visa emblem, which means you can use the card to make purchases against your account anywhere that accepts credit cards, including online and in stores. Paying cash or purchasing money orders for payments is inefficient, carrying cash can also be dangerous and paying in cash doesn’t leave much evidence behind to prove your payment in case of a dispute. Certainly a bank account will make budgeting a lot easier.

How Do I Open a Bank Account?

Even though lots of banks now advertise that they allow new customers to open accounts online or by phone, as an international student, plan to open your account in person at a local branch. You do not fit neatly into a category for US banks, and if you need additional services it’s always good to have established a face to face relationship. When you go, make sure you bring your passport and the funds you want to deposit. In addition, you should bring as many of the following documents or ids as you have — although every bank has slightly different requirements, in addition to your passport you will likely need at least one of the following: your school id, your state driver’s license or id, your visa, your I-20, and your I-94. You do not need to have a social security number to open an account. If a bank asks for it, offer up your passport and any of the other id documents mentioned above.

Many schools have relationships with banks where they refer their international students. Ask your international student office or check their website for any guidance to a specific bank. If a bank is used to seeing international students for new accounts, things will go smoother. Here’s a good example of the guidance that an International Student Office can provide to its incoming students, from the University of Wisconsin.

How Do I Choose a Bank and an Account?

Banks offer many different financial services. You may wish to compare the services and costs of several banks before choosing one at which to open an account. If your school has a relationship with a particular bank for all of its international students, you should certainly consider that bank first. You will need a checking account for proper money management (for writing checks, online bill payment, debit cards, etc.), and if you have large amounts of money just sitting in your account, it may make sense to open a savings account as well. Investigate the accounts the bank has available, with an eye towards how much it could cost you to keep the account. Find out whether the bank offers interest on checking accounts, what the interest rate is on savings accounts and whether the account offers overdraft protection. Hopefully you never write a check, accidentally, for more than you have in your account — but if you do, does the bank pay the check and just fine you, or do they refuse payment to the company you wrote the check to (“bounce” the check)? If so, both the company AND the bank will fine you and that adds up quickly!

Ask how long it will take to “clear” a check — that is, how long from the time a check is deposited in your account until the time you are allowed to withdraw the funds. Typically wired funds are available immediately, but the “hold” on checks (local, out-of-state and foreign) varies by state and by bank, and can be several days to a week or even longer.

Most major US banks offer “student checking”, accounts and services designed specifically for students — here’s a small sample:

Wachovia Bank Student Checking
Key Bank Student Checking
Bank of America Student Checking

Initial Money Needs on Arrival

You should evaluate your needs for the first few weeks of school — most schools suggest bringing about $2,000 in readily available funds. You can bring this amount in traveler’s checks, or better yet, bring your foreign bank card, after checking that it will work in US ATMs (automated teller machines), to access an account at home. All other money can be wired to your new US bank account after you arrive. Remember, if you have a scholarship, assistantship or another form of employment, it will typically take a month or more to get your first payment, so make sure you have enough money to live for your first few weeks.

Before you arrive, find out from your bank at home how to wire money to the US, and how much it will cost in fees. After you have set up your new bank account, you can arrange the transfer by providing your home bank with your US bank details. You will need to provide your account number, the US bank’s name and address, and the US bank’s ABA number. Wire transfers typically take between 2-5 days. Ask your home bank for a confirmation once the funds are wired.

Check out our posts on Evaluating School Program Costs and on Creating a Realistic Budget.

School Estimated Budget vs. Reality

August 25th, 2006 by admin

When you are admitted to a US institution, take a close look at the international student budget provided by your school. These estimated expenses will also appear on your I-20, and they are usually accurate insofar as they go. International students are required to prove that they have funds to cover the full amount shown, and you cannot arrange for more financial aid once you arrive at school. Click here to see three samples of school-estimated international student budgets from our last post.

Although the summary budget provided by your school and shown on your I-20 is helpful in outlining some of the bigger expenses, like tuition, fees, and if you live on campus, room and board, it does not tell the full story. For instance, if you are not planning to live on campus, you should check carefully what your accommodations will cost. There is always a range of off-campus housing, and costs vary widely. Some students want their own luxury one-bedroom condo, while some are happy to share an old 2-bedroom apartment with 3 other students. Perhaps the biggest variant is the “Personal/Other” category, for which most schools include a budgeted amount between $1,000 and $2,000. For many students who intend to travel, who may need clothes, who have taxes to pay, who call home frequently, or who like to eat out, or who spend money in any other myriad ways, this number may not be realistic at all.

Use this list to help you think about all the possible expenses you may have. When you prepare your own realistic budget, make sure you have considered all of the following categories:


* Tuition
* Fees
* Rent
* Meals (Board)
* Health Insurance
* Medical costs (doctor visits, prescriptions, dental and eye care)
* Books and supplies (computer equipment, etc.)
* Communications (cell phone, internet, home phone, international calling)
* Utilities (electric, water, gas, cable)
* Car ownership (insurance, registration, gas, parking, repairs, etc.)
* Other transportation (buses, trains, etc.)
* Clothes
* Personal Expenses (laundry, haircuts, contact lenses, eyeglasses, etc.)
* Family Expenses
* Entertainment (shows, restaurants, nights at the pub, dates, movies, cds, music, parties, etc.)
* Recreation (gym fees, club dues, hobbies, teams)
* Travel
* Taxes (you will pay US taxes on assistantships, scholarships, job income, etc.)
* Bank fees, credit card payments, etc.

Preparing a realistic budget can be an uncomfortable experience, as it forces you to examine how you spend your money. However, going through the process will ensure that you have a good handle on how much money you actually need to live. Or you will understand much better that you’ve really got to cut back in certain areas to make your budget hold up in the US.

Having a US bank account can really help you stick to a budget. You can set bills up for automatic payment, write checks or use a debit card instead of carrying cash, and track all of your expenses much more accurately and easily.

Next Post: Opening a US Bank Account

Evaluating School Program Costs

August 18th, 2006 by admin

International students spend a lot of time and energy trying to find enough financial resources to fund their foreign study. An important part of this effort is understanding exactly how much money you will need for your time overseas, and then carefully managing your finances to stay within your budget. Dealing with a new currency and cost of living add to the challenge, but with a little effort and planning you won’t have to spend your academic experience in a constant state of panic over money.

Evaluating School Program Costs

The first step is to carefully evaluate the cost of your program, and be realistic about your ability to afford a particular school. Many students are amazed at the range of cost for the same basic product — a US post-secondary education. To give you some idea of the range of cost you can expect, here are the 2006/2007 estimated annual international student budgets at 3 schools — Harvard Law School ($59,300), the University of Washington ($38,312), and Western New Mexico University ($14,867):

Harvard Law School

Tuition $ 37,100
Room/Board/Personal $ 16,966
Health & Insurance Fees $ 2,606
Books and Supplies $ 1,050
Travel Allowance $ 1,578

University of Washington:

Full-time Tuition & Fees $ 23,113
Health Insurance (required) $ 1,536
Room & Board on Campus $ 9,902
Books & Supplies $ 1,100
Transportation (local) $ 396
Clothing, Entertainment,
Personal Items $ 2,265
Total Annual Expenses $ 38,312

Western New Mexico University (Graduate):

Insurance, Health and Accident $ 500
Tuition and fees $ 7997
On-campus room and board $ 4,370
Textbooks/supplies $ 1,000
Other/personal living expenses $ 1,000
(*not including travel)

A 3-year program at Harvard Law School would cost close to $200,000, while a 3-year graduate program at Western New Mexico University would cost less than $50,000. Remember, these estimated budgets, though usually fairly accurate insofar as they go, do not necessarily cover all of your needs, as the personal living expenses are unlikely to capture all of the travel and basic needs you will face. Also, the cost of living is much greater in urban areas like Boston, New York and Los Angeles, and you’ve got to take that into account when evaluating personal needs.

Next topic: Preparing a realistic budget

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