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F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is temporary employment authorization which allows F-1 students to gain practical experience in their field of study prior to graduation. Both paid and unpaid work requires prior authorization. According to immigration regulations, the work performed must be directly related to the student's major field of study and considered either required or integral to their academic program. For work that is related to the student’s field of study, but does not have a curricular component, the student must apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

To get an overview of CPT and a step-by-step guide to the application process, watch the CPT Workshop recording.

Curricular Practical Training FAQ

  • Am I Eligible for CPT?

An F-1 student must meet ALL of the below criteria to be considered eligible for CPT work authorization from Illinois State University:

  1. Is currently in valid F-1 status
  2. Is currently in a declared undergraduate or graduate degree program. Students currently enrolled in Academic English or Pathway Programs are not eligible for CPT.
  3. Has been enrolled at a US institution for at least two consecutive full-time semesters (Fall and Spring) immediately preceding the semester during which the CPT will take place*
    • If you began your program online, you cannot count time spent studying while outside of the U.S. towards meeting this requirement. Your clock will starts when you enter the U.S. and are officially in F-1 status.
    • Time spent studying at another U.S. institution can only count towards the one-year enrollment requirement if the student has transferred their SEVIS record to ISU from the previous institution.
    • Time spent in an Academic English program (ESL classes) cannot count towards the one-year enrollment requirement. However, time spent in your Pathway Program (credit-bearing courses) can count towards the one-year enrollment requirement.
    • If you are enrolled in graduate studies and your program requires IMMEDIATE participation in practical training, the enrollment requirements can be waived.
  4. Has an offer letter for employment that is directly related to their program of study.
  5. Has been making normal progress towards degree completion and is in good academic standing
  6. Will continue to be enrolled full-time during curricular practical training
  7. Will receive course credit for the work performed in the curricular practical training
  • How Do I Apply for CPT?

Step 1: Read through the information in this section of the website and determine whether you are eligible for CPT. If you are unsure whether you are eligible for CPT or have questions about the application process, you can meet with an International Student Advisor during walk-in hours.

Step 2: Submit a CPT Request in the ISSS Portal.

  • You must have a job offer letter on letterhead that states the following information:
    • Job Title
    • Specific Start Date
    • Specific End Date
    • Specific Number of Hours Per Week
    • Address of Employment Work Site
    • Description of the Work to be Performed
  • If the job offer letter does NOT include all of the above points, then you must also submit supplementary documentation.Most often this supplementary documentation is in the form of an email from a company representative. This email must be sent from a company email address and there should be a signature line that identifies the sender as a member of the employer’s organization.
  • Provide a copy of your job offer letter to your Academic Advisor
  • Your Academic Advisor will be notified that you submitted a CPT Request and will need to submit their recommendation.
  • Once all documentation and your Advisor's recommendation are on file, ISSS will begin processing your application.
  • An ISSS advisor will review your CPT Request and issue you a new I-20 document that reflects our authorization for CPT and lists the employer and employment dates on page 2.

Step 3: You will be notified via email when your new CPT I-20 is ready. Your I-20 will be uploaded digitally in the Control Center (Documents section) of your ISSS Portal. You must print and sign your new I-20 (signed in ink).

Step 4: Begin work. You must be authorized for CPT by an International Student Advisor before beginning any employment. Working prior to obtaining authorization could result in a loss of your F-1 status. Even unpaid work must be authorized.

  • Employment While on CPT
  • CPT is a type of work authorization for F-1 students, but the primary purpose of CPT is educational. The work you perform can be paid or unpaid, but must be considered required or integral to your program of study and occur prior to completion of your coursework.
  • You must receive credit for the work performed on CPT. The specific course and number of credits varies by department and is determined by your Academic Advisor.
  • You must complete the course associated with your CPT and receive a grade that appears on your transcript.
  • For CPT, you cannot work as an Independent Contractor and receive a 1099. Any employer while on CPT is required to provide hands-on supervision and mentorship to enhance the employee's academic experience.
  • CPT is available only before completion of your degree program and should not delay the completion of your program.
  • While on CPT, you must continue to be enrolled full-time in your academic program.
  • CPT is considered part of your curriculum and is therefore authorized based on academic semester. If your employment dates will span across more than one semester, you must submit a CPT application for each semester.
  • If authorized for CPT, you may only work for the specific employer at the specific location and for the specific dates listed on page 3 of your I-20.
  • Any work that begins prior to your authorized CPT start date or after the CPT end date is considered unauthorized employment and could jeopardize your legal status. This includes any training or orientation provided by the employer, even if unpaid.
  • If there are any changes to your CPT employment, you must contact ISSS prior to the change. You will be required to submit updated documentation. ISSS cannot retroactively change your CPT authorization after your employment start date.
  • Part-time CPT authorization is 20 hours per week or less. Full-time CPT is more than 20 hours per week.
  • You may use as much CPT authorization as is required for your degree program. However, if you accumulate 12 months or more of full-time CPT authorization, you will not eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. Part-time CPT does not affect OPT eligibility.
  • If you do not already have a Social Security Number (SSN), you will need to apply for one in order to be paid. See the Social Security and Taxes section of our website for further details.
  • Will I need CPT for un-paid internship
  • An unpaid internship is not the same as volunteering. Depending on the nature of the internship, you may be considered an employee and would therefore require employment authorization prior to beginning the internship.

    According to the DOL Fact Sheet found here, the following seven factors consitute a "primary beneficiary" test used to determine whether you are considered an intern or an employee:

    • The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
    • The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
    • The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
    • The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
    • The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
    • The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
    • The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

    ISSS highly recommends that all F-1 students request CPT authorization for all internships (paid or unpaid) that meet the CPT eligibility requirements. If you choose not to obtain CPT authorization, we highly recommend that you obtain confirmation in writing from your internship supervisor that the position meets the DOL requirements for unpaid internships and that you will not receive any compensation in any form during your internship. If the work you performed is later deemed by U.S. labor laws to constitute employment, then you would have worked without employment authorization. Unauthorized employment can impact your legal status and future visa applications and your employer could be at risk for substantial fines.