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What do F1 international students need to know about curricular practical training (CPT)?

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We get a lot of questions about CPT.  So we thought we would tackle the most frequently asked questions right here on our website.

What is it?

  • CPT stands for “Curricular Practical Training.” It is, along with “Optional Practical Training” (OPT), one of two forms of practical training available to students in the United States on F-1 visas.
  • CPT is employment that is an integral part of a particular education curriculum, such as work/study, an internship, or a practicum. It can either be required for a program (the educational program requires practical work experience in order to graduate) or optional (the work is related to the field of study, and for academic credit, but is not required).

Who is eligible?

  • It is available to people in the United States on F-1 student visas.

When can someone use CPT?

  • A student on an F-1 visa can use CPT during the course of an academic program.
  • If the program is undergraduate, the student must have declared a major and must use CPT after they have been enrolled full time for one academic year.
  • If the CPT occurs during a graduate program, it can begin immediately (if the program requires work experience immediately).
  • Before applying for CPT, the student must have either a signed cooperative agreement (indicating the relationship of the employer and the school) or a letter from their employer indicating a job offer.


How long does CPT Last?

  • As long as a student follows all of the requirements of CPT, there is no restriction on how long it may last (other than the length of the program).
  • If a student performs twelve months or more of full-time (defined as working more than twenty hours a week) they will not be eligible for OPT following graduation.

Do unpaid internships require CPT approval?

  • This is not always required, strictly speaking, but is highly advisable.
  • The Department of Labor has laid out the following criteria for a legitimate unpaid internship:
    • 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


  • Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has laid out the following rationales for authorizing CPT:
    • 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.


  • The rationale for CPT is not solely the payment of students. It is a way for international students to gain work experience that is an integral part of their academic program.  Many unpaid internships fit this description, and the student and university can save themselves a lot of potential headaches by following the CPT procedure for such an internship.

What are the restrictions on CPT work?

  • There is no restriction on the amount of time a student may do part time CPT (defined as twenty hours a week or less), but they must also take a full time academic course load in order to maintain F-1 status.
  • The CPT employment must be related to the major or field of study and the work experience has to be a part of the program (either required or for credit).

What are the responsibilities of the school?

  • A student seeking to work using CPT must provide all relevant information to the Designated School Official. The Designated School Official must verify all forms, send to the USCIS and then endorse the student’s I-20.

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