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Navigating CPT and OPT: A Guide for International Students in the USA

If you’re considering studying in the USA or are already studying there and looking for work experience, you might be aware of two training programs: “CPT” and “OPT.” CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training) allow you to work in the United States. Still, it’s important to know that CPT is required in specific academic programs, while OPT offers optional work opportunities after you finish your degree. This blog will explore CPT and OPT, their features, eligibility, and benefits, helping you understand the distinctions between these programs.

OPT

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a way for F-1 students to get temporary jobs only in the field of their degree’s major. This could be a paid job or an unpaid internship. To check your eligibility for OPT, you need to contact your Designated School Official (DSO). If you are eligible, you can apply for up to 12 months of work permission with OPT. There are two different ways to go about it:

  1. Pre-Completion OPT – You can apply for Pre-completion OPT after completing a full academic year at a certified US school. Once approved for Pre-completion OPT, you can work up to 20 hours a week while the school is in session and full-time during school breaks.
  2. Post-completion OPT – This one comes after you finish your studies. If you allow Post-completion OPT, you must work at least 20 hours a week, but you can also work full-time.

When considering Pre or Post-completion OPT, it is important to remember that the maximum period for OPT is 12 months. If you decide to do Pre-completion OPT, the duration of Post-completion OPT will be reduced by the amount of time you have already spent on Pre-completion OPT.

If you are a student with an F-1 visa pursuing a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degree, you may be eligible for the STEM OPT extension. Visit the STEM OPT page on Study in the States for more information.

CPT

Curricular practical training (CPT) is a work/study opportunity, such as an internship or cooperative education program, required as a part of your curriculum and offered by a U.S. employer in partnership with your college or university. CPT is exclusively available for F-1 students and must be integrated in your academic program. Unlike pre-completion OPT, CPT can be full-time and is not restricted to a maximum of 20 hours per week.

To be eligible for CPT, you must be an F-1 student and have completed one full academic year of study at a SEVP-certified school unless your graduate program requires immediate CPT participation. Students who engage in one year or more of full-time CPT are not eligible for post-completion OPT. To obtain permission for CPT, your Designated School Official (DSO) must authorize it in SEVIS and issue an updated Form I-20 reflecting your approval for the training opportunity.

If you are interested in CPT, it is essential to consult with your DSO to comprehend your school’s specific policies fully. Your DSO is the best resource to ensure compliance with federal regulations and your school’s guidelines.

Difference between OPT and CPT

Features Curricular Practical Training (CPT) Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Authorization Requires authorization from the designated school official (DSO) at your educational institution. Requires approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Timing Can be undertaken during the academic year or during scheduled breaks. Can be undertaken after completing a degree program or during annual vacation periods before program completion.
Work Eligibility Must be directly related to your field of study and an integral part of your curriculum. Must be directly related to your field of study.
Academic Credit Some schools may require students to earn academic credit for their CPT experience. Academic credit is not mandatory.
Duration No strict time limit, can be granted for multiple semesters or until the completion of your program. Initial period of 12 months. STEM degree holders may be eligible for a 24-month extension, totaling up to 36 months of OPT.
Off-Campus Work Allows off-campus work while still enrolled in the academic program. Available only after completing the degree program.
Employment Opportunities Generally limited to a specific employer or a group of employers specified by the school. Offers flexibility to work for multiple employers or in various locations during the authorized period.
Impact on Immigration Benefits Excessive use of CPT may affect eligibility for OPT and other immigration benefits. OPT can provide a pathway to H-1B visa sponsorship and other long-term employment opportunities.

Deciding between CPT and OPT will largely depend on your academic program’s specific requirements and career aspirations. If your program mandates practical training or internships as part of the curriculum, then CPT is your mandatory choice, as it is a critical component of your studies. CPT allows you to gain hands-on experience while still enrolled in your program and complements your classroom learning.

On the other hand, if your program does not require practical training, you may consider OPT after completing your degree to gain more work experience and explore various employment opportunities. OPT allows you to work longer, which can be beneficial if you need substantial work experience in your field of study.

If you are unsure which option is right for you, you should talk to our team of experts. Our counsellors can help you navigate through the study abroad application process. Book a free 1-to-1 counselling session with us.

FAQ

You should maintain F-1 student status, which requires full-time registration. While most students do need to register as full-time students during CPT, in some cases, graduate students are considered as full-time students with lesser than 10 credits while on full-time CPT. This includes students who are registered for Engineering Co-op credits, and students registered for thesis or dissertation credits, along with their CPT-related credit.

You need an employment offer to apply for CPT since the authorization is employer-specific.

Since CPT authorization is specific to the employer, you must apply for a fresh one before working for the new employer.

Typically, as an F-1 student, you would be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the U.S. so long as you continue to declare non-resident status for tax purposes.

Unless you qualify for tax exemption under a tax treaty between the U.S. and the government of your home country, your earnings will be subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes. Employers are required to withhold those taxes (i.e. deduct tax at source) from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, you can consult the Internal Revenue Service.

The US government allows a maximum of 12 months for training, or 36 months for STEM students. This means that whether you do CPT and OPT or just one of them, the granted time will remain the same, that is, 12 months or 36 months for STEM students. It is advisable to complete CPT first, as it is an integral part of your degree. If you have any time remaining, then you can apply for OPT.

You can use up as much CPT as is required to complete your degree program. However, if you end up using 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you will not be eligible for OPT. Engaging in part-time CPT does not affect OPT in any way.

Yes, you may change the number of hours, though you can only do so within the limits of part-time or full-time. For example, you may change from 12 to 18 hours per week without needing a new authorization. However, if you change from part-time to full-time or vice versa, you must request a new authorization.

Yes, you must obtain your Social Security number for both CPT and OPT to receive payment from your employer.

No. The CPT authorization on page 2 of your I-20 serves as proof of employment eligibility, which along with your I-94 record, may be used to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 as required by the employer. Suppose your employer has questions about the documentation required for I-9 purposes. You may refer them to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services "I-9 Central" page, including the section about international students with training authorization.

 

You should maintain F-1 student status, which requires full-time registration. While most students do need to register as full-time students during CPT, in some cases, graduate students are considered as full-time students with lesser than 10 credits while on full-time CPT. This includes students who are registered for Engineering Co-op credits, and students registered for thesis or dissertation credits, along with their CPT-related credit.

You need an employment offer to apply for CPT since the authorization is employer-specific.

Since CPT authorization is specific to the employer, you must apply for a fresh one before working for the new employer.

Typically, as an F-1 student, you would be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the U.S. so long as you continue to declare non-resident status for tax purposes.

Unless you qualify for tax exemption under a tax treaty between the U.S. and the government of your home country, your earnings will be subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes. Employers are required to withhold those taxes (i.e. deduct tax at source) from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, you can consult the Internal Revenue Service.

The US government allows a maximum of 12 months for training, or 36 months for STEM students. This means that whether you do CPT and OPT or just one of them, the granted time will remain the same, that is, 12 months or 36 months for STEM students. It is advisable to complete CPT first, as it is an integral part of your degree. If you have any time remaining, then you can apply for OPT.

You can use up as much CPT as is required to complete your degree program. However, if you end up using 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you will not be eligible for OPT. Engaging in part-time CPT does not affect OPT in any way.

Yes, you may change the number of hours, though you can only do so within the limits of part-time or full-time. For example, you may change from 12 to 18 hours per week without needing a new authorization. However, if you change from part-time to full-time or vice versa, you must request a new authorization.

Yes, you must obtain your Social Security number for both CPT and OPT to receive payment from your employer.

No. The CPT authorization on page 2 of your I-20 serves as proof of employment eligibility, which along with your I-94 record, may be used to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 as required by the employer. Suppose your employer has questions about the documentation required for I-9 purposes. You may refer them to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services "I-9 Central" page, including the section about international students with training authorization.

 

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Address: Office No. 204, 2nd Floor, ML Spaces, Dashrathlal Joshi Rd. Opp. Old Jain Mandir, Vile Parle West, Mumbai – 400056.

 

Email: info@collegepond.com

 

Call Us:  022-46003655

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