The primary purpose of F-1 and J-1 status is to allow international students an educational objective in the United States. Employment in F-1 and J-1 student status should not be necessary since students have previously provided proof of all the financial support needed to both the university and the U.S. consular official. Therefore employment of F-1 and J-1 students is restricted in order to ensure that an international student's focus remains on his or her studies.
"Employment" for students in F-1 status is defined as any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food or any other benefit. If you receive no pay or other benefit for work performed, this activity is not defined as "employment" but is considered to be "volunteer work". According to United States immigration law, international students with F-1 visas are eligible to work off campus once they have been in F-1 status for one academic year. Employment for F-1 students is regarded by USCIS as “practical training.”
Off-campus employment of any kind cannot be pursued without the prior written authorization of either the ISSS and/or USCIS. Engaging in employment without authorization is considered a serious violation of immigration regulations.
The primary distinction between the two is that OPT enhances or enriches an academic or curricular experience, while CPT employment is required to meet an academic or curricular degree requirement.
Students are permitted up to 12 months of OPT for each degree level in which they enroll (part-time OPT counts at only 50%, e.g., 4 months of part-time OPT counts as a total of 2 months). Students pursuing full-time CPT for 12 months or more in one degree level become ineligible for OPT in that same degree level.
Note: Completion of an ISSS OPT or CPT online employment workshop is required to apply for either OPT or CPT. Details of signing up can be found in the respective pages linked above.