Can I accept an internship off-campus? This is one of the most common questions I received when I worked as a Designated School Official (DSO). The DSO is the university official who issues immigration documents (I-20s), answers questions, and approves certain matters for F-1 students. F-1 students must take the time to plan for the steps required to accept an internship so that they can take advantage of important opportunities to advance their careers – like the Google internship! Take a minute to understand the options:

1. Can F-1 students work at an off-site internship?

YES, but plan ahead! Students have the option of working in the United States by engaging in practical training during their academic program or after it ends. Practical training can provide valuable work experience by sharpening and adding to the skills students are learning in school.

There are two types of practical training available for F-1 students: (1) curricular practical training (CPT) and (2) optional practical training (OPT). CPT is most often used for the standard internship done prior to graduation from an academic program but F-1 students need specific school authorization prior to working on CPT. Eligible F-1 students can work either full-time or part-time using CPT.

2. What are the requirements of CPT?

  • Generally, CPT is authorized to F-1 students who are lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis, in a USCIS service-approved college or university and who have been enrolled for one full academic year. There are limited exceptions to this rule. Check with the DSO!
  • The internship must relate to the student’s academic major and the experience must be part of the program of study. Some universities and colleges coordinate CPT through the cooperative education program or individual academic departments. Check with the DSO on the specific procedures at the school.
  •   CPT is employer specific, so the employer must work with the university to ensure that the internship is part of the approved program of study.

3. Be aware of the restrictions!

  • At the graduate level, the DSO may authorize CPT during the first semester if the program requires this type of experience.
  • CPT requires a signed cooperative agreement or a letter from the employer.
  • Once approved, the DSO will provide the student with a new Form I-20, which shows that the DSO has approved the student for the requested employment. The specific employer will appear on page 3 along with the dates of eligibility.
  • Exceeding more than 1 year of full-time CPT will make a student ineligible for OPT.
  • Students in English language training programs are ineligible for practical training.

So, plan ahead, ask questions and get out there and seize the day! F-1 students have the same internship opportunities as their U.S. counterparts, they just need to plan ahead to make it happen.

Posted by: Holly Hatton