F-1 Student Employment

Working off campus without authorization is a violation of your status which will result in your I-20 being terminated without the option for reinstatement. Read the sections below to learn more about the different types of work authorization available to you as an F-1 student.

On-Campus Employment

You may work up to 20 hours per week during fall and spring semesters without written permission from International Student Services (ISS) or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). During winter, spring and summer breaks, you are allowed to work up to 40 hours per week. However, UA policy may only allow 30 hours per week depending on enrollment and term during these official breaks.

Upon initial entry to begin a new program, you may not begin on-campus employment more than 30 days prior to the first day of classes. If you are an incoming (SEVIS) transfer student, you may only engage in on-campus employment after receiving a new Form I-20 from the University of Arizona. 

Some off-campus locations are treated as on-campus sites if they are directly owned by the University of Arizona or have strong educational affiliation. If you are unsure whether your work site is considered on-campus, you should speak with an ISS advisor for clarification.

Your on-campus employment authorization ends on the end date of your I-20 or DS-2019.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

You can apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to receive authorization from International Student Services (ISS) to work off campus. CPT will only be authorized if the opportunity is related to your major and is a required or integral part of your program’s established curriculum. It cannot be used to facilitate employment or solely for career development.
 

Eligibility Criteria

  • You are in F-1 status.

  • You have been continuously enrolled full-time for at least 1 academic year. Exceptions apply for graduate students whose programs require immediate participate in CPT. Download the CPT Packet for more information.

  • You meet the minimum GPA requirements:

    • Undergraduate Students: 2.5

    • Graduate Students: 3.0

  • You have reached Advanced Standing or Professional Admission in your major, if applicable (undergraduate students only).

  • You must enroll in at least 1 unit of internship/practicum credit or, if you are a graduate student working on your dissertation/thesis, enroll in 900-level dissertation/thesis/recital units. If you are a doctoral student applying for CPT in the summer in order to collect data or conduct research for your dissertation, you are not required to enroll during the summer if you have registered for 900-level units in the semesters before and after your summer CPT.
     

Limits on CPT

CPT is a one-time opportunity during your academic career and it is authorized for one semester only (fall, spring, or summer). Some exceptions may be granted. For example, if your program requires multiple internships or if you are a PhD student working on your dissertation. See the CPT Packet for more details.

CPT is limited to part-time employment (up to 20 hours a week) during the fall and spring semesters. If you are a graduate student who has completed all coursework you may be eligible for full-time CPT (more than 20 hours a week).  During official school breaks, CPT can be authorized part-time or full-time.

If you complete 12 or more months of full-time CPT you will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
 

How to Apply

 Submit the following paperwork to ISS at least 3 weeks prior to your proposed start date:

  1. Document Request Form

  2. Current I-20

  3. CPT Recommendation Form completed by your academic advisor and printed on departmental letterhead. Template in CPT Packet.

  4. Letter from employer (internship site) including: title and duties of the position, company information, number of hours per week, start and end date. Must be printed on official employer letterhead. Template in CPT Packet.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a form of temporary employment authorization for work directly related to your program of study. It is generally awarded for up to 12 months.

You can apply for OPT during your program of study (pre-completion OPT) or after you finish your program of study (post-completion OPT). If you are interested in applying for pre-completion OPT, you must meet with an international student advisor first to discuss specific requirements.

If you are a student in an STEM-designated major, you may be eligible for a 17-month extension of post-completion OPT. You are only eligible for the 17-month extension once during your entire time in the United States.
 

How to Apply

Applying for OPT authorization is a 2-step process:

1. Apply to International Student Services (ISS) for an I-20 recommending OPT.  Download the OPT Packet and use the checklist on the request form to prepare your application. Processing time is up to 15 business days.

2. Use the Step 2 checklist in the OPT Packet to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. It is your responsibility to verify the accuracy of the Form I-765 prior to submission to USCIS. Average processing time is 90 days.

  • USCIS application fee: $380 for each application
     

Eligibility Criteria

  • You are in F-1 status.

  • You have been continuously enrolled full-time for at least 1 academic year.  If you were in a different status previously or fell out of status in the last year, meet with an international student advisor.

  • You have not completed more than 12 months of full-time CPT.

  • You have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same degree level.
     

When can I apply for post-completion OPT?

USCIS can receive your post-completion OPT application:

  • No earlier than 90 days before your program completion date

  • No later than 60 days after your program completion date

If you have filed your application with USCIS during this period, you can remain in the U.S. after the 60-day grace period has ended with a pending application.
 

Workshops

ISS holds OPT workshops each semester to explain the application process and regulations affecting OPT in detail. They are open to all UA students. Check your UA email and the Programs & Events Calendar for dates. If you are a UA department interested in arranging a workshop for your students, contact Lara Pfaff.
 

Maintain Your Status on OPT

While you are on OPT, you are still in F-1 student status and your SEVIS record is still maintained by the University of Arizona.  ISS will remain your point of contact for all immigration questions and requests related to your F-1 record.

While you are on OPT, it is your responsibility take the following actions to maintain your status:

  • Only work in jobs related to your major field of study (paid, unpaid or volunteer positions). For information about the types of employment you can accept on OPT, review the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) OPT Policy Guidance.

  • Work an average of 20 hours per week

  • Do not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment. Students on the 17-month extension of OPT are allotted an additional 30 days of unemployment for a total of 120 days for the entire 29 months of OPT.

  • Report all changes to your address, employment information, visa status or permanent departure from the U.S. within 10 days through the OPT Reporting E-Form.
     

Travel on Post-Completion and 17-Month Extension OPT

As an F-1 student, you must carry the documents listed above in order to reenter the U.S.:

  • I-20: You must have a valid travel signature on your I-20. To request a travel signature or a travel signature and updated I-20 with your employment information printed on page 2, submit the OPT Reporting E-form. Normal processing is 5 business days. Travel signatures are only valid for 6 months while you are on post-completion OPT.

  • Passport: Your passport must be valid 6 months into the future from the date of your entry into the U.S. Exceptions apply for students from countries with agreement with the U.S. allowing entry with a passport until the date of expiration.

  • Visa: You must have a valid visa to reenter the U.S. If you are from Bermuda or Canada, you are not required to apply for a visa but you still must carry your I-20 with valid travel signature. If your visa has expired, you must renew it while you are outside the U.S. Visit the U.S. Department of State website to find the nearest consulate or embassy in the country and learn about application requirements. If your visa has expired and you are traveling to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island for less than 30 days, you may be eligible for automatic visa revalidation. Meet with an international student advisor to discuss your specific situation.

  • EAD: On the bottom of the EAD card it says “not valid for reentry to the U.S.” This statement means that the EAD card alone is not sufficient documentation for entry to the U.S.  Present your EAD card in combination with the documents listed above.

  • Employer Letter (recommended): The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) recommends that you carry a letter of employment if you have one (read Can I reenter if I left while on OPT?). There is no specific template for the employer letter.

If your application for post-completion OPT is pending and your I-20 end date has passed, it can be risky to leave and reenter the U.S.  Read Can I reenter if my request for OPT is pending? If you must travel, meet with an international student advisor to discuss your specific situation.
 

Health Insurance

You are not required to carry health insurance while you are on OPT, however, we strongly recommend that you purchase private insurance if it is not offered through your employer.  If you are a resident for tax purposes (read The U.S. Tax System for more information), then you may be subject to the federal law requiring residents to either carry health insurance compliant with the Affordable Care Act or pay a tax penalty for not carrying it.

For informational purposes only, here are some examples of health insurance providers that offer plans tailored to international students.  ISS does not endorse or monitor these insurance companies or their plans.

Severe Economic Hardship

If you are an F-1 student experiencing severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances, you might be eligible to apply for employment authorization.

Examples of economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances include:

  • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment due to no fault of your own

  • Substantial changes to the currency or exchange rate of your home country

  • Substantial increases to the cost of tuition and/or living expenses

  • Excessive medical bills

  • Unexpected changes to your source of financial support

If you are approved for economic hardship, you can work off campus part-time (up to 20 hours a week) during the fall and spring semesters and full-time (more than 20 hours a week) during official breaks.

To apply, make an appointment with an advisor at International Student Services (ISS) to discuss your eligibility. If the advisor recommends that you proceed with the application, they will tell you what documents to submit and issue you a new I-20. Processing time is 10 business days.

The employment authorization document (EAD card) is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The average processing time for USCIS is 3 months. Even if the ISS advisor recommends your application, USCIS has the final authority to grant or deny your work authorization.

Economic hardship can be authorized for up to 12 months. You must reapply if you want to continue working after the expiration date. The authorization becomes invalid if you complete your degree, leave the University of Arizona, or violate your F-1 status.