Skip to main content


Employment: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)


Cirrcular Practical Training (CPT)

What is CPT? 

  • CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training and is an off-campus work authorization for a position that enhances your studies. Federal immigration regulations state the work or internship experience must be integral to (part of) your academic studies.

When do I need to seek CPT authorization?

  • You MUST apply for and receive CPT authorization BEFORE you begin any type of off-campus work or internship.
  • Off-campus means not officially affiliated with Buffalo State. This includes employment or internship at a different university, college or community college.
  • Paid or unpaid off-campus work or internship requires CPT authorization.
  • CPT is authorized with a specific employer for a specific amount of time.
  • CPT can only be used prior to completion of studies, while you are enrolled as a student.

Am I eligible to apply for CPT?

  • Are you in valid F-1 status?
  • Are you registered as a full-time student?
  • Have you been a student in the United States for at least two consecutive academic semesters in your current degree program immediately before the start date of your proposed CPT?

* If you answered “yes” to all three questions, then you can submit an application for CPT. Final authorization is dependent upon review of your application by ISSS.
* Re-enrolling students in F-1 status must confirm their eligibility with our office.

When should I apply for CPT?

  • When you have a job offer from an off-campus employer. This job must be directly related to your field of study.
  • Before you have finished all of your coursework toward your degree.
  • At least two weeks before you want to begin work.
  • After you have registered for the semester, including the CPT course credit.
  • When the internship or employment is paid or unpaid.

What if my employer wants me to start working right-away?

  • You must tell your employer that you cannot begin work until you are authorized by this office.

When can I start working at this job?

  • After you have received a new I-20 for this period of CPT, the start date of the CPT is the first day you can work. Note: Submitting paperwork to the ISSS office does NOT mean you can automatically begin working! You must wait until you receive the new I-20 for CPT.

Can I begin training or volunteering in the position before the CPT I-20 is ready?

  • No. This puts your valid F-1 status at risk and your employer in jeopardy with U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Protect your valid F-1 status. You cannot begin job training until you receive the new I-20 for CPT from ISSS and the start-date has occurred.

I’m a new student here. Can I apply for CPT?

  • Only after you have completed two continuous academic semesters in your current degree program as a full-time student will you be eligible to apply for CPT.
  • This means that if you arrived in the United States as a new F-1 student in the fall semester, you can begin working on CPT after the last day of classes in May. If you arrived as a new student in January (spring semester), then you can begin work under CPT after fall semester classes end.
  • Note: If you have studied previously at another U.S. school, come to the ISSS to see if you are currently eligible to apply for CPT.

Unpaid Work, Unpaid Internships

I’ve been offered an unpaid internship. Do I have to apply for CPT?

  • Yes. All work off campus, whether paid or unpaid, must be authorized. In the eyes of immigration, the job-experience you receive at this internship is considered “compensation” and a benefit. Do not place your immigration status at risk!
  • If you have questions about volunteering, come talk to us at the ISSS office.

What happens if I do not register?

  • The course registration is required by federal immigration regulations. Immigration regulations are U.S. law. There is no way around it. If you do not register for the required credit, as part of your necessary full-time course registration, then you place your immigration status at risk. This is a serious violation of federal immigration regulations.
  • ISSS checks your student record to be sure you are in compliance with this rule. Failure to register will result in your CPT authorization being cancelled. ISSS will contact your employer to tell them you are no longer authorized for employment.

What course should I register for?

  • You and your academic advisor decide which course you should register for the CPT.
  • The course credit should reflect the work you are doing for the CPT employment. For example, you could register for an internship credit, an independent study credit or for a specific course in which the job experience is used toward your class work (for example: in the form of a project, research paper or journal writing).
  • A thesis/final project credit can also be used to cover the CPT course-registration requirement if the advisor has certified that the CPT is directly related to your final project or thesis on your Academic Advisor's form.

Do I have to be registered full-time to apply for CPT?

  • Yes. To be eligible for CPT you must be registered as a full-time student. This is part of your SEVIS responsibilities to maintain valid visa status. You cannot be authorized for CPT unless you are in valid visa status.
  • Is CPT only available during the academic breaks (like summer or winter)?
  • No. You can apply and work under CPT during any time during the year, as long as you meet the eligibility guidelines.

How much CPT can I have?

  • As much as you want while you are a student in valid F-1 visa status. However, if you accrue more than 365 days of full-time CPT, then you become ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). This means that you forfeit OPT. (Some students decide to do additional full-time CPT and forfeit OPT after discussion with ISSS staff.)
  • Note: The “365-Day Rule” only applies to full-time CPT. You can accrue more than 365 days of part-time CPT without affecting your eligibility for OPT.

The Application Process

How do I apply for CPT? 

The CPT Form must be signed by both you and your academic advisor. You need to:

  • Download the form.
  • Fill out the top portion of the form.
  • Print and sign the form.
  • Give the form to your academic advisor so they can complete and sign their section.
  • Obtain a letter from the employer containing
    • Your Name, position of (Job Title), start and end date, number of hours and brief description of duties.
  • Once you have both the completed and signed CPT Recommendation Form and a letter from the employer, you need to submit the application to ISSS for review.

CPT and Graduation

I’ll graduate at the end of this semester. Can I still apply for CPT?

  • It depends. The purpose of CPT is to enhance your studies. Consult with the ISSS if you are currently in this situation. CPT cannot be used to begin full-time permanent employment early.

CPT and Other Employment Authorizations:

Can I apply for OPT and CPT at the same time?

  • Yes, but CPT cannot be used to start your OPT employment early. CPT cannot be a “bridge” to OPT.

Can I have a job on-campus and apply for CPT?

  • Yes. The employment rules governing on-campus work and off-campus work are separate. Again, this can be add up to a lot of work hours. We recommend that you discuss the employment with your academic advisor. We want you to be a successful student.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT provides students one year of eligibility to work in the United States in a job that is directly related to their major area of study. Students can work for any employer, anywhere in the United States and do not need a job offer to apply for the OPT work authorization through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

1. When should I apply for OPT?

  • About 3 months before you wish to begin working, because it can take USCIS up to 90 days to process your application, approve it and then send you the EAD card. The earliest you can send your Post-Completion OPT application to USCIS is 90 days before your program end date (which is usually your date of graduation). The latest day USCIS is able to accept your application is 60 days after your program end date (but this is not recommended). Before you send your application to USCIS, your International Student Advisor must make a new OPT I-20 for you. You must send your application to USCIS no later than 30 days after this new I-20 is created!

2. How long will it take for USCIS to process my application?

  • On average, it is usually about 3 months. So start early! However, during busy times, it may take longer for USCIS to process your application. It is important to make sure all of your information and documents are accurate, because if they are not, the application can take much longer to process. If you apply less than 3 months before the end of the grace period, you might not be able to work for the full 12 months allowable for OPT! This is because your OPT end date cannot be more than 14 months past your completion date. It’s always best to plan ahead and apply early.

3. How can I choose a start date when applying for OPT if I don’t have a job offer yet?

  • This is often the hardest part! Talk with your favorite professor in your major, the Career Development Center and alums working in your field. Ask them when hiring for positions normally happen so you can make your "best guess" of a start date. As an F-1 visa holder, you have a 60 day grace period when you can stay in the U.S. after your program ends. Your start date can be any date within that 60-day grace period.

4. Where do I mail my OPT application?

Step by Step Guide to filing OPT online I 765 Form

5. When can I start working on OPT?

  • 1. You have received your EAD card, AND
  • 2. between the valid start and end dates stated on your EAD card. For example, if you receive your EAD card on July 16, and the "start date" on the card is July 26, you MUST wait until July 26 to start working. Likewise, if you have been approved to start OPT on July 26 but do not receive your EAD card until July 30, you cannot work until July 30.

6. What if I get my EAD card but can’t find a job?

  • Please refer to question 9 below about what types of jobs are allowed while on OPT (you might be surprised!). Keep in mind, you are allowed 90 days of unemployment on OPT (starting with the "start date" on your EAD card). If you have not found an employer by 90 days after your start date, you must leave the U.S. or begin a new degree program If you don’t, you will begin accruing "days of unlawful status" which will affect future visas.

7. How many hours per week do I need to work?

  • To be considered "full-time" under current immigration regulations, you must be working 20 hours per week or more. If you are working fewer than 20 hours per week, you are considered "unemployed" and accruing days of unemployment. You must be working 20 hours or more to stop the "unemployment clock

8. Do I need to tell ISSS when I get a new job or leave my job?

  • Department of Homeland Security will provide you with a link to a portal where you can submit your employment information and any address changes. If you have questions or can’t find this email, of course you can contact ISSS for assistance.

9. What if the start date I applied for has already passed, but I don’t have my EAD card yet?

  • You cannot start working until you have your EAD card on your person. If it has been 75 days or more since the "received date" on the Receipt Notice and USCIS is still processing your application, then you can call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. See this page for details: you call, note the date time and person you speak with and any ticket numbers they give you. Ask them to "elevate" (not expedite!) the status of your I-765 OPT application. If nothing changes with 10 days, please contact GEO.

10. What kinds of work can I do on OPT?

  • The must be related to your major and suitable for the degree level It can be paid or volunteer work, or even an internship or research opportunity.

11. Can I travel while my OPT application is pending or while I am on OPT?

  • It can be risky! You should have an offer letter from the employer before traveling. Our office recomends once you mail in your OPT application not to travel, even to Canada. without an offer letter from your employer.

OPT Checklist

  1. OPT Approval Form
  2. USCIS Forms I-765 and G-1145
  3. Copies of all previous Form I-20s (all schools attended)
  4. Copy of new OPT I-20 (request from ISSS after you choose start date)
  5. Copy of Passport Biographical Information page
  6. Copy F-1 Student Visa Page
  7. Copy of Form I-94 (print out from website)
  8. Two passport-style photos. Write your name and I-94 number on the back of each one.
  9. A personal check, money order, or cashier's check to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $410 USD
  10. Make an "Application Review" appointment with ISSS office

Be sure to make your return address on the envelope the same as the address you put on your I-765!

You must mail the application within 30 days that your OPT I-20 was issued

For USPS Priority Mail:


PO Box 660867

Attn: AOS

Dallas, TX 75266


Back to Top

International Student and Scholar Services

1300 Elmwood Ave  •  South Wing 410 •  Buffalo, NY 14222
Phone: (716) 878-5331 •  Fax: (716) 878-3054