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International Students: Know When You Can Work

International students: If an employer asked you the following questions, would you be prepared?

• “When can you start to work?”
• “Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?”

Not only will you be asked these questions by a recruiter, but you may also have to answer them when completing an online application. You should know your employment options so that you can answer these questions with confidence.

If you are currently on F-1 Visa, you can legally work prior to graduation using Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for internships or after graduation using Optional Practical Training (OPT) for career employment. CPT allows students to work as interns prior to graduation – but only for one quarter per year and only if the work is directly related to their major field. OPT allows students to work in their major field for 12 months following graduation. If an employer wants to sponsor you for additional time and petitions for an H-1B or “Temporary Worker” Visa, the OPT period may be extended from 12 to up to 29 months for qualified F-1 students under the E-Verify Program.

When can you start working? The answer will depend on how long the process takes to apply and when you receive notification of approval for CPT or OPT. If you receive an offer for an internship, you should allow a minimum of two weeks before your projected start date for OIA to process your CPT.

When you apply for OPT, you are given the opportunity to choose the date you want to start working after graduation. Be aware that it may take 2-3 months to receive notification of approval.

How would you answer the question about work authorization? If you are applying for internships, you can say, “I have work authorization through Curricular Practical Training (CPT) which allows me to work for one quarter per calendar year.” If you are graduating, you can say, “I have work authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows me to work for 12 months after graduation.”

It’s important to understand that although you may be authorized to work for specified periods of time, an employer may not be interested in hiring someone with limited work authorization.

To fully understand your employment options and the application and eligibility requirements for internships and career employment, attend a workshop offered by the Office of International Affairs (OIA). The schedule for each quarter is posted on, as is written information on this topic. ECS also holds periodic workshops in partnership with OIA. Check the Calendar on the ECS homepage or the EVENTS/Workshops listing in your ECS job search account.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
-Benjamin Franklin

Authored by Kathy Weaver.