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