If you’re currently enrolled in a U.S. college and holds an F-1 student visa, the best solution is to use Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization for your internship. If you want authorization to work after graduation, you need to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). An OPT allows you to work in the U.S. for a maximum duration of 12 months. It is often used by the students who are a graduate and are waiting for an H-1B work visa to be issued.
Rules tend to change over time, so it is best to contact the International Student Services Office on your campus for the latest information.
Here is a quick comparison of CPT and OPT:
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
|Should internship be related to the area you are studying?||Yes||No|
|What is the eligibility criterion?||Students with F1 visa, who have spent at least 9 months in the US||Full-time students for at least 1 academic year with valid F1 visa|
|Is offer letter required from the employer?||Yes||No, OPT is not specific to an employer|
|Who issues employment authorization?||Issued by international student services office at the college. Processing time could take 2-3 weeks.||Issued by United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). Processing time could take 2-3 months.|
|Is internship paid?||Depends||Depends|
|Do you get course credit for the internship?||Yes||No|
In case there is a long delay in your H-1B authorization, say beyond the 12-month limit for OPT, you can also get an extension on your OPT for up to 17 months. The condition is that you should have graduated from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) program. There are additional conditions and criteria for this extension, so be sure to confirm the details by visiting your International Student Services Office or the USCIS website.