Everyone, who wants to come to US or is already here as a student, wonder : can I work as a student legally? If so when ? How should I work after I graduate( before I have employer to sponsor my visa) ? We are so excited to work and mint money…significant number of us are here to work and make those dream dollars
If you are a student in F1 visa, you can work after 9 months after entering US. It is called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) . After you graduate you can work on Optional Practical Training (OPT) .
Differences between OPT and CPT :
CPT : You can work after 9 months (one academic year i.e, Fall & Spring) after entering US. You have to work with the school to get CPT. Typically you get credit for working in CPT. It is legally working for a potential employer who is giving you an opportunity to prove yourself. Typically it is called Co-op or Internship. You can get paid in CPT. You might have to work with the career services at your school too sometimes. Some schools do not allow CPT if you not in the local city. You can only work in CPT until you graduate. You should not work more than 12 months (full time) in CPT. If you do so, you will not get your OPT. So, be careful! Also, based on the program curriculum your DSO may authorize CPT during first semester, you need to check with your DSO.
OPT : A student can work in OPT after graduating from school. You will have to apply to US department of Immigration for approval to work in OPT. You will have to initiate this process approximately about 6 months before graduation as it can take time. Plan your OPT so that you are in OPT after you graduate. You will lose your status in US if you don’t have OPT started within 2 months grace period. You can work for anyone in OPT, there are no restrictions, but it must related to your course field. It is an option that US govt provides to international students for finding their right employers. You get an Employment Authorization Document(EAD) from US immigration to work legally after graduating. It is typically given for a validity of 12 months. With new OPT rules, if you belong to STEM Category you can get an extension for another 17 months for a total OPT of 29 Months. Read this article for full info : New OPT rules for from USCIS for 29 Months.
Rules keep changing, for up-to date information, check more details at US Immigration website on CPT and OPT and always check with your school DSO and international students office.