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International Student Employment

F-1 international students are only eligible to seek employment with authorization from an International Advisor.  Students may not begin any type of employment without prior work authorization.  This page covers the various types of employment eligibilities students may seek while in F-1 international student status.  Please make an appointment with an advisor to discuss these options in detail.

The United States has very strict rules regarding the ability of foreign nationals to work in the U.S. International students in valid F-1 status may work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year, and full-time during vacation and holiday breaks. Students in valid F-1 status cannot be employed off-campus without obtaining prior written authorization.  Working off-campus without the appropriate authorization is considered illegal employment according to federal immigration law and is a potentially deportable offense. USCIS regulations require that all unauthorized employment be reported. It is essential for international students to understand the off-campus employment rules that pertain to them.

On-Campus Employment

You may work on campus provided:

  1. You are maintaining F-1 status
  2. Enrolled full-time or have an approved Reduced Course Load (RCL) due to Completion of Study or Thesis/Project
  3. You are in good academic standing at CSUSM (2.0 GPA for Undergraduates and 3.0 GPA for Graduates)
  4. You do not work more than a total of 20 hours (part-time) per week while school is in session. You may be employed up to 40 hours (Full-Time) per week during holidays and vacation periods, including your summer and winter vacation, provided you are eligible and intend to register for the next semester
  5. You do not displace an U.S. resident

You must obtain authorization from the Office of Global Education before beginning any on-campus employment.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Purpose:  Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a temporary employment authorization for International students in F-1 Student visa status.  CPT allows students to take an off-campus training/internship which is required by the major for a specific period of time

Length:  CPT is semester based.  CPT will begin no earlier than the first day of instruction and must end no later than the last day of final exams for the semester

Internship:  Students must enroll in an internship course.  The internship course should be an integral part of students’ established curriculum.  Please note not all majors at CSUSM have internship courses that corresponds to CPT.  Therefore, not all F-1 students at CSUSM are eligible for CPT

How to obtain CPT:  Students must request CPT authorization from the Office of Global Education.  CPT is granted by F1 International Student Advisors at CSUSM


You must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible to apply for CPT:

  • Be in valid F-1 status
  • Enrolled full-time. Minimum 12 units for undergraduate students or 9 units for graduate students.  You are also eligible to apply for CPT if you have approved Reduced Course Load (RCL).  Waitlisted classes will not be counted towards full time requirement
  • Fulfilled one year full-time requirement.  You must have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year prior to submitting an CPT application.  One year enrollment may be fulfilled at CSUSM, a previous university, or between multiple universities
  • Be in good academic standing. Defined as a minimum G.P.A. of 2.0 (Undergraduate students) or 3.0 (Graduate students)
  • Internship offer letter IS required for CPT application process
  • Enroll in an internship, fieldwork, practicum, cooperative education or other course specifically designed for experiential or practical learning.  To find out if your major has internship requirements and internship class, speak to an academic advisor in your major department.  Please note:
    • The internship course must be in the same semester in which you are employed in the internship position

Compensation is not a consideration when determining whether an opportunity qualifies as CPT.  Any off-campus internship positions, whether paid or unpaid, requires CPT before you begin the employment. Under no circumstance can you begin working – not even as a volunteer – before your CPT is approved. Volunteering for a position which normally provides compensation is considered “employment” and is therefore not permitted without appropriate authorization.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a type of employment authorization for F-1 students. It is an opportunity to pursue a 12-month period of work experience in your major field of study. The authorization can be used for a paid position located on- or off-campus—both before (Pre-Completion OPT) or after completion of course requirements for the degree excluding thesis or equivalent or completion of the program of study (Post-Completion OPT). Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one academic year (or 2 consecutive semesters at CSUSM).


The training must be directly related to the major field of study.

The authorization for post-completion OPT must begin within 60 days of completing the program of study. For example, if your program completion date is June 30, you must select a start date between July 1 - August 30. NOTE: The authorization start date will be the requested start date or the date of approval, whichever is later.  It is requested that you apply 2-3 months prior to the end of your program.

The authorization for post-completion OPT must be completed within a 14-month period following the completion of study. The requested end date cannot be more than 12 months after the requested start date. For example, if your program completion is June 30, your OPT will end no later than August 30 of the following year.

An additional 12 months of practical training is available when changing to a new degree program at a higher educational level.

Student can apply for a maximum of 12 months of OPT. Any pre-completion OPT prior to program completion deducts from the maximum total of 12 months allowed for OPT.

A job offer is not required to apply for post-completion OPT. However, if applying for pre-completion OPT, it is recommended that students have a job offer letter.

17-Month STEM OPT Extension

On March 11, 2016 Department of Homeland Security published a new STEM Final Rule, with effective date May 10, 2016. The Office of Global Education is currently reviewing the STEM final rule and will be updating our website, application process, and instructional materials with information as soon as we are able. Once we have completed a thorough review of the rule and policy guidance, we will provide detailed information, including transition plans for current STEM OPT and STEM-eligible students.  

NAFSA: Association of International Educators will provide a summary of the rule and current updates here: (View background on the rules.) Detailed information for students and employers can also be found on the DHS Study in the States OPT STEM Hub

Economic Hardship

If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request off-campus work authorization based on 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 in the exchange rate;
  • Unusually high increases in tuition and/or living expenses;
  • Unusually high medical bills;
  • Other substantial and unexpected expenses

You are eligible to apply for employment based on severe economic hardship if you:

  • Have been in F-1 status for one full academic year
  • In good academic standing (2.0 GPA for undergraduates/3.0 GPA for graduates) and demonstrate that the employment will not interfere with the student's carrying a full course of study
  • Make a good faith effort to locate employment on-campus before applying for employment based on economic hardship

The student is not required to have a job offer before applying for this type of employment authorization, and the job is not restricted to student's field of study/major.  Economic hardship permission does not affect OPT.