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Is Day 1 CPT legal?

interstride logo by Interstride
May 29, 2024

This blog post was co-authored by Aaron Blumberg, Partner & Attorney at Fragomen.

Most international students on F-1 visas in the US must wait one academic year before they can begin working off-campus through the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program. Exceptions to the one academic year requirement are provided for students enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in curricular practical training. This is often referred to as “Day 1 CPT” and it enables eligible international students to start working as soon as their academic program begins. However, there is some controversy over the use (and misuse) of Day 1 CPT, and international students should be cautious to avoid risking their future visa options.  

It’s important to note that day 1 CPT is not common. Only a few schools/programs allow students to start utilizing CPT from the beginning of their graduate program.

The issue with Day 1 CPT

As discussed above, the F-1 regulations permit Day 1 CPT for graduate students in programs that require immediate participation in CPT. However, given the difficulty in obtaining an H-1B, we have witnessed a significant expansion in schools and programs that permit this immediate CPT.  While every school and program is distinct, there are questions as to whether all of these programs truly require immediate participation or if the immediate CPT is merely being authorized to help facilitate increased enrollment. 

It is very important for all F-1 students to understand that their primary role in the US is to be a full-time student and not a worker. If the CPT does not complement or add value to the academic program, there could be questions down the road. We would recommend that you consider consulting with an immigration attorney before enrolling in a program offering Day 1 CPT, especially if it’s unclear how the training component will complement the degree program. Again, even though these programs are authorized in the regulations, if the intent of enrolling was merely to find an alternative avenue for work authorization, these actions could be questioned by immigration when applying for future benefits (like an H-1B or Green Card). 

Is Day 1 CPT right for anyone?

Some master’s degree programs in the US are only one year long. Without day 1 CPT, international students in one-year programs would not be able to work off-campus at all during their studies. Many other legitimate graduate programs require Day 1 CPT because of the value it adds to the academic program. 

F-1 visa holders in graduate degree programs that require immediate participation in CPT can legally request day 1 CPT. Like with all CPT jobs, the work must be related to the student’s field of study and be approved by a Designated Schools Official (DSO) through SEVIS to ensure compliance. 

Interstride tip! Make sure to only apply to accredited colleges and universities in the US. Unfortunately, there are some scams targeting international students where unaccredited schools attract paying students by offering illegal day 1 CPT or marketing themselves as “day 1 CPT universities”. There is no such thing as a day 1 CPT university.

How is day 1 CPT different from standard CPT? 

Generally, international students can only use CPT after they have completed a full year of academic study. Standard CPT is open to all eligible students on F-1 visas whereas day 1 CPT is only available at some schools/programs and only for graduate students. Most importantly, standard CPT does not usually come with the same legal risks as day 1 CPT. 

Both CPT and day 1 CPT have the same hour limitations. Part-time CPT is up to 20 hours per week, and full-time CPT is up to 40 hours per week. Usually, a CPT job or internship will last either one semester or one year. Graduate students may also use CPT for fieldwork or other work that is necessary for a thesis, dissertation, or capstone project. 

Interstride tip! What if you are doing an unpaid internship during your graduate studies? Check out this blog to learn whether you need CPT for your unpaid internship.


Ensure your CPT is legal by making sure your school’s DSO gets the CPT approved through SEVIS before beginning your training. While you are working, make sure you do not go over your allotted hours and only work for the employer and location listed on your I-20 document. Following these guidelines, you may be able to legally use CPT to start working on or after the first day of your graduate program, bypassing the usual one-year wait time for off-campus work for international students. However, students whose long-term goal is to remain in the US on a work visa should be extra cautious about using day 1 CPT and may be better served by exploring the H-1B, O-1, L-1, TN, E-3, and other work visas.