Getting Your First Off-Campus Job

Many international students in the US have the misconception that if they need extra money, they are only allowed to hold on-campus jobs. Even though in general terms this is correct, there are some situations where international students can be authorized to work off-campus. It’s called Curricular Practical Training (or CPT).

CPT allows international students to get experience in their major field before graduating college, and begin using their God-given Optional Practical Training (or OPT). CPT can be full time or part-time. (If you decide to do full-time CPT, make sure that you don’t do it for more than 12 months. If you do, you will no longer be eligible for OPT after you graduate.) Part-time CPT does not affect OPT in any way. You can have as many different jobs as you want and use part-time CPT as many time as you’d like.

Of course, there are very strict requirements to become eligible for CPT:

  1. The paid position must be a job/paid internship in your major field.  (Business majors rejoice because you can argue that every job in the world is related to business!)
  2. The job must be an integral part of furthering your education. So, basically you can’t apply for CPT to work retail or at Starbucks, unless it’s in the corporate part of it.
  3. You must have been enrolled in an American university for at least two semesters before you are eligible for CPT.

After receiving a job offer and meeting the requirements above, you must meet with your international student advisor to discuss the next steps. You might also get away with doing this via email. Different schools have different policies, but for the most part all your international advisor needs from you is a letter from your prospective employer (on company letterhead) with the dates of employment, number of hours you’ll be working a week, an explanation of duties and a brief description of how the job is important for your education.

We would like to also stress the importance of having a good relationship with your school’s international student advisor. They are the only ones that get to approve or reject your CPT application, so your life will be a lot easier if they like you.

Once your CPT gets approved, you will get a new I-20 with the job on it. If you happen to freelance (like Emilie does), then you will get a new I-20 with every job offer you get… even if that means 10 new ones per year. You have to hold on to all of your old ones too, so the pile grows pretty quickly.

If you don’t have a social security number yet, make sure you go get one before you start working. To learn how to, check out our post here.




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