Off-campus Employment

Students in F-1 visa status are not permitted to work off-campus without prior authorization from the Office of International Programs, which would appear on page two of your I-20. There are many criteria that must be met before a student can be approved for off-campus work.

CPT is off-campus employment authorization for international students in F-1 status. CPT is defined by U.S. immigration regulations as being an integral part of the student’s curriculum and directly related to his/her major field of study. You must receive academic credit for the experience, and the authorization must appear on your I-20 before you begin work. Working without authorization on your I-20 will result in termination of your F-1 visa status!

Who can apply for CPT?

  • To be eligible, you must have been in lawful F-1 status and enrolled fulltime for at least the past full academic year. If a graduate program requires immediate participation in off-campus training, CPT may be authorized.
  • The training must count as academic credit toward your major degree program. If your academic department will not support your application for CPT, then you are not eligible for CPT.
  • CPT is only available for self-contained internships and practicums that provide a concise opportunity for you to meet specific educational requirements, as described in a program’s course of study in the MSU catalog.
  • CPT is intended for students to meet a specific degree requirement, not to facilitate long-term employment. Therefore, repeat CPT requests will not be approved and CPT cannot be extended.
  • CPT cannot occur after an I-20 extension unless it is a mandatory degree requirement (Ex: Student Teaching).
  • Student must have a 2.5 cumulative GPA.

When can I apply for CPT?

  • You must have an employment offer before applying for CPT. CPT is authorized for one specific employer, at one specific location and during specific dates.
  • CPT applications require a minimum of 5 business days to process after you have submitted the completed application to the Office of International Programs.

How many hours may I work if approved for CPT?

  • CPT authorization is strictly limited to part time employment (20 hours) during the academic year, unless the degree program requires fulltime participation. CPT may be fulltime during the summer as long as you are not enrolled in more than five summer credits.
  • During fall and spring semesters, you are limited to 20 hours of total combined work. Those 20 hours can be divided between on-campus and CPT work. If you plan to work 20 hours of CPT each week during the academic year, you may not work on campus. CPT cannot be authorized for work that occurs on-campus.
  • Students authorized for CPT receive a new I-20 with the training dates indicated on the second page. The new I-20 is your documented proof of work authorization. You must not start the training until the dates listed on the new I-20. Working off-campus without explicit authorization is a violation of your F-1 status. You must stop working on or before the CPT end date indicated on the I-20.
  • According to current USCIS policy, if you use more than 364 total days of fulltime CPT, you will become ineligible for Optional Practical Training. Be aware that USCIS policy can change retroactively and without warning, so CPT may have an unforeseen effect on your eligibility for OPT after you graduate.

What enrollment requirements apply to me while on CPT?

  • You cannot drop the course taken tied to your CPT authorization, even if you stop working before the end of the semester. If you are dropped from the CPT course for any reason, including non-payment, your CPT will be canceled immediately. You will not be able to reapply for CPT authorization until the following semester.
  • You must maintain a full course of study during the period of training in fall and spring semesters, including the course connected to your CPT. The training must take place before you complete degree requirements.
  • CPT cannot be the only course you take in your final semester unless required by your degree program (Ex: Student Teaching).
  • Keep careful permanent records of all assignments submitted for the course along with your F-1 documents. These can be requested by Department of Homeland Security at any time.

A note of caution
While USCIS regulations provide a variety of opportunities for international students in F-1 status to be employed, working improperly or without authorization is a serious violation of your status. You should therefore consult with the MSU International Student Coordinator before taking up ANY employment. It is YOUR responsibility to comply with all immigration regulations that apply to F-1 students.

Remember that CPT authorization is not complete until your I-20 is updated with CPT information by the Office of International Programs. Under no circumstances are you allowed to start off-campus employment until you receive a new I-20 with training dates listed on page 2. Working off-campus without prior authorization is a violation of F-1 status.

Please read all of the eligibility criteria in part one of this website first. Remember that most majors do not fit the criteria for CPT, so many students will not be eligible to apply. Those students should focus on Optional Practical Training instead, which is intended for students to gain work experience in their field of study after graduation

Below are some examples of off-campus experiences that are a good fit for CPT:

  • Required College of Business internships through the Severson Entrepreneurship Academy (BADM 497, BIT 497, FIN 497, ACCT 497).
  • Accounting Internship with VITA program (ACCT 497).
  • Communication Disorders graduate level required externships (CD 517).
  • Nursing summer internship that occurs between junior and senior year (NURS 497).
  • Student teaching that occurs outside of Minot and the surrounding area (ED 491-495).
  • Science summer research fellowship programs that allow the student to earn required research credit toward Biology or Chemistry degrees (BIOL 492, CHEM 494).
  • Broadcasting Internship (COMM 397).
  • Criminal Justice Field Experience (CJ 497).
  • Computer Science Internship (CSCI 497).

Some of the most common reasons why CPT applications are denied include:

  • Major degree program does not require CPT participation for graduation.
  • Student wants "work experience," and should wait until graduation to apply for Optional Practical Training instead.
  • Student has previously extended their I-20.
  • Proposed work is not rigorous or academically focused.
  • Proposed work occurs on-campus.
  • Student has had previous CPT authorization.
  • Student has a GPA lower than 2.5 or is struggling academically. 
  • Student submitted an incomplete application.

First, watch the CPT video and take the test on blackboard. The International Coordinator will be able to see that you completed the test electronically. 

Next, meet with your academic advisor or internship advisor to determine whether a specific training opportunity will be approved for academic credit. Without your academic department’s support, you cannot be authorized for CPT. Not all departments allow students to take part in CPT.

Gather all required documentation in the below order. You must gather all six components before submitting your application in a single packet.

  1. Prospective employer:
    • Employer Letter of Offer Template: Ask your prospective employer to write a formal CPT offer letter following this template. The letter must meet the format described in the template, including all bolded information. Your prospective employer needs to understand the regulations and limitations surrounding CPT, as well as their important role in meeting your educational program requirements.
  2. Student:
  3. Academic department:
    • Instructor CPT Objectives Letter Template: Request a formal letter from your instructor that includes all of the information in the linked template. The letter must explain why the training opportunity is required for your major degree program.
    • Syllabus: Request a detailed syllabus for the internship/practicum course from your instructor. You must register for the course before handing in your application.
    • Academic Department Endorsement Form: After you have gathered all of the above information, bring your application and this form to the chair of your academic department or the internship program director. They must review all of your other forms and verify that you will earn required academic credit for the experience.

Finally, submit all six components of the completed CPT application to the Office of International Programs in a single packet. Incomplete applications will be denied and returned to the studentYour CPT application will undergo review within the Office of International Programs. You will receive email notification that the CPT application is granted or denied. Allow at least two weeks for processing. 

If your CPT application is approved, a new I-20 will be printed and you will be notified by email. Verify that the CPT authorization information entered on page 2 of the I-20 is correct, including training dates and location where the training will take place. Authorization is not complete until the I-20 is updated with CPT information by the Office of International Programs. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows students to engage in off-campus employment for 12 months. OPT is defined as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to a student’s major area of study." 

Granting of OPT is not automatic. Students must apply for OPT from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS can take over five months to approve an application for OPT, so students should file their applications with USCIS well in advance of their graduation date. Students who exit the U.S. after graduation or allow their grace period to expire are not eligible to apply for OPT.

Detailed information about OPT can be found here

As you already know, in order for an I-20 form to be issued for an incoming international student, the student must show that they have the necessary funding to study and support themselves in the United States. If a student’s source of funding should suddenly change, through circumstances over which the student has no control, then the student may be eligible to apply for off-campus employment authorization based on "Severe Economic Hardship." The student must document their case carefully, and prove to the USCIS that the change in funding source came unexpectedly. Similar to OPT, an Economic Hardship application has a filing fee, and can take the USCIS over five months to adjudicate. If approved, this off-campus work authorization expires within one-year, whereupon the student (if still eligible) may reapply. If approved, the employment is limited to 20 hours/week while school is in session but may be full-time during breaks. You will be limited to 20 hours total each week, including any on-campus jobs you already have.

To be eligible to apply, the student must;

  1. Have completed at least one full academic year and be in good academic and legal standing,
  2. Demonstrate that there is an unforeseen severe economic necessity beyond the student's control that arose after obtaining F-1 status,
  3. Demonstrate that other employment opportunities are unavailable or are otherwise insufficient,
  4. Establish that employment will not interfere with full-time study.

Specifically, cases where this benefit is NOT available include:

  • You did not have enough money to begin with and your plan has been to make it through one year and then apply for off-campus employment.
  • One or both of your parents retire.
  • Other family members wish to attend school in the U.S. so your family wishes to decrease the support to you.
  • Annual tuition increases have increased cost.
  • Adequate on-campus employment is available.
  • You already have an on-campus job.

If the financial situation is too severe, part-time employment may not solve the problem. Please email the International Student Coordinator for more information if your situation fits the above parameters so that you can begin your application to USCIS.

Please keep in mind that work authorization based on Economic Hardship is very difficult to get.