An Ultimate Guide on OPT and CPT: Difference, Requirements and Eligibility

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The US job market offers many opportunities for international students. It is a hub for job opportunities and has two options job opportunities after graduation: OPT and CPT. 

What are OPT and CPT?

CPT, which stands for Curricular Practical Training, is intended for students who wish to gain practical work experience through internships. It provides temporary authorisation to work. OPT, or Optical Practical Training, is designed explicitly for F-1 students who want to work in their field of study. It permits students to work for up to 12 months in their chosen study area.

OPT and CPT are two terms that often confuse Indian students as they share some similarities. This blog aims to clarify what OPT and CPT are, highlight their differences, and the requirements for each.

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What is CPT?

CPT, or Curricular Practical Training, is a program designed for international students who want to gain practical work experience in their field of study through internships or cooperative education. The program is authorised by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and allows students to work while still in school. CPT is available to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a full-time degree program and enrolled for at least one academic year.

Indian students can work full-time (over 20 hours) or part-time by attending OPT and CPT (20 hours). By doing so, they can earn in US dollars and gain practical work experience in their desired field.

Note: Students who have completed 12 months or more of full-time CPT are not eligible for OPT at the same degree level. However, part-time CPT does not affect their eligibility for OPT.

Eligibility for CPT

For eligibility in CPT, you should have:

  • Have an F-1 Visa valid status.
  • Completed a full year of enrollment as a full-time student.
  • Be enrolled in a degree program at an accredited U.S. institution.
  • Have an employment offer which meets the requirements of your university.

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An Ultimate Guide on OPT and CPT: Difference, Requirements and Eligibility
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Documents required for CPT 

These are the documents that you need to provide for your CPT:

  • CPT workshop completion certificate (online)
  • Your current F-1 visa and valid passport.
  • A complete I-20 form with the CPT endorsement from your DSO.
  • A letter from your employer offering you a job.
  • A transcript or enrollment verification from your school. 
  • A letter of recommendation from your academic advisor. 

Features of CPT

Here are some additional things to keep in mind about CPT:

  • CPT is only available for off-campus employment.
  • CPT authorisation is typically granted in increments of one semester or summer session.
  • You can only participate in CPT for 12 months during your entire course of study.
  • You must maintain a full course of study to be eligible for CPT.
  • If you lose your job or drop below an entire course of study, you will no longer be authorised to work under CPT.

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What is OPT?

OPT is an acronym for Optional Practical Training, a temporary employment program intended for F-1 students in the US. This program allows international students to work for up to 12 months in a job related to their field of study. 

F-1 international students in the US can gain legal work experience through Optional Practical Training (OPT). STEM graduates get a bonus extension, bringing their total OPT time to 17 months. 

While their university recommends OPT, students need approval from USCIS, the US immigration agency. Processing can take several months (3-4).

Eligibility for OPT

For eligibility in OPT, you should have:

  • To be eligible for OPT or CPT, you must have a valid F-1 status.
  • Before you can work, you must be enrolled full-time in a degree program at an accredited U.S. institution for at least one academic year.
  • Your work must be related to your field of study, but you do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
  • You cannot have used 12 months or more of full-time CPT before applying for OPT. Similarly, you cannot have used 12 months of full-time OPT at the same or any OPT at a higher degree level.

Documents required for OPT 

Here’s a breakdown of the typical documents needed for an OPT application:

  • A completed I-765 form
  • Your valid F-1 visa and your passport.
  • A complete I-20 form with the CPT endorsement from your DSO (Designated School Official) 
  • A letter from your DSO recommending OPT for you.
  • While not always required, a letter from a potential employer offering you a job related to your field of study 
  • Documentation showing you have sufficient funds to support yourself during the OPT period. (May vary by school)
  • Depending on your situation, USCIS might request additional documents, such as transcripts, proof of course completion, or evidence of previous OPT authorisation (if applicable).

Features of OPT

Here are some features of OPT that you should be aware of:

  • It allows international students to work for up to 12 months in a job related to their field of study.
  • STEM graduates can get a bonus extension, bringing their total OPT time to 17 months.
  • Students need approval from USCIS, the US immigration agency, to participate in OPT.
  • Processing time for OPT can take several months (usually 3-4).
  • To be eligible for OPT, you must have a valid F-1 status and be enrolled full-time in a degree program at an accredited U.S. institution for at least one academic year before you can work.
  • Your work must be related to your field of study, but you do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
  • Your application window is generally three months before program completion to 1 month after degree requirements. Pre-completion OPT time is subtracted from your total post-completion OPT authorisation.

To learn more about OPT and CPT, contact LeapScholar.

Difference between OPT and CPT 

International students who wish to gain practical work experience while studying in the United States have two options: Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). While OPT allows students to work in their field of study for up to 12 months before or after graduation, CPT is designed for students who want to gain practical work experience through internships before graduation.

The main difference between them is the time period. For instance, OPT allows you to work after graduation, and CPT only allows you to work during your stay.

Here are the details of the differences between OPT and CPT. 

CriteriaCPTOPT
PurposeIt allows an F-1 student to get practical experience working in a company before graduation. It allows an F-1 student to gain practical experience in the same study area after graduation. 
Full FormCurricular Practical TrainingOptional Practical Training
Training TimeBefore graduationAfter graduation
Approval bodyNeeds consent from International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) Needs consent from USCIS (US government)
Application modeOnlinePaper
DurationIt can be done for up to 12 months.It can be done up to 12 months and extended to 24 hours. 
Application FeesNo application Fees$470 (INR 39K)
Working part-time or full-timeIt can be done both part-time and full-time. It is only done full-time.
Employment typeStudents are permitted to work with any employer in the US. Only employers listed on the I-20 and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System are eligible to participate in OPT and CPT programs.

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OPT and CPT: Detailed Explanation

OPT and CPT programs allow you to work in the US within their time frames and rules. However, it’s important to note that both OPT and CPT have specific visa requirements and a process that needs to be followed. Understanding and following these guidelines is essential to avoid legal complications. 

Here are the details of the rules and procedures of CPT

  • Eligibility: CPT allows F-1 students to intern in the US during their studies.
  • Process:
    • Secure Internship: Students must first find an internship opportunity.
    • CPT Authorisation: The college issues the student’s Curricular Practical Training authorisation (CPT).
  • Timing: CPT is only valid before program completion and aligns with the academic curriculum (semester-based).
  • Visa: A separate visa is not required; a valid F-1 visa suffices for CPT.
  • Eligibility Criteria:
    • Internship experience must be directly related to the student’s degree program curriculum.
    • Student’s course registration must align with the internship field.
  • Duration: CPT authorisation is granted on a semester basis (fall, spring, or summer), ranging from one semester to a full year (364 days).
  • Work Schedule:
    • During semesters: Part-time work (20 hours/week or less) is permitted.
    • Summer breaks: Full-time work is authorised.
  • Authorisation Process: Upon approval, International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) issues a new I-20 with a CPT recommendation.
  • Processing Time: The CPT application process is typically completed within 5-7 business days.
  • Employment Limitations: Work is only permitted for the timeframe outlined in the CPT recommendation on the I-20 and SEVIS.

Here are the details of the rules and procedures of OPT

  • Eligibility: Awarded to F-1 students after completing a US degree program.
  • Duration: One year total authorisation period.
  • Application Window:
    • Pre-Completion OPT: During studies (if the CPT period is exhausted).
    • Post-Completion OPT: After program completion (apply within 90 days).
  • Job Requirements: Directly related to the student’s major field of study.
  • Course Registration: Not required for OPT authorisation.
  • Work Schedule:
    • Pre-Completion OPT:
      • Part-time (20 hours/week) during semesters.
      • Full-time during breaks (winter/summer).
      • Full-time while working on thesis/dissertation.
    • Post-Completion OPT: Full-time employment authorisation.
  • Authorisation Process: Requires approval from both:
    • International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS): Issues a new I-20 with OPT recommendation.
    • USCIS: Issues Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) card upon application and fee payment ($470).
  • Processing Time: It typically takes 1-3 months for USCIS to process the EAD application.
  • Employment Validity: Work is permitted only during the validity dates listed on the EAD card.
  • Visa Transition: After OPT expires, an H-1 (work visa) is required for continued employment.

What is OPT Extension?

The OPT STEM extension allows eligible F-1 students with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degree to extend their OPT period for 24 months. The Cap-Gap extension allows F-1 students who have filed for an H-1B visa to promptly extend their OPT period until the start of their approved H-1B employment. 

These two extensions can give students more time to gain practical work experience in their field of study and transition to long-term employment in the US.

Let’s discuss both of them in detail.

What is OPT STEM Extension?

OPT STEM extension is an additional 24 months of work authorisation for F-1 students who have completed a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics degree. This extension allows them to work in the US for up to 36 months. 

Eligibility: F-1 students with STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in good standing on OPT may be eligible for a 24-month extension.

Application Process: Similar to OPT, but with additional requirements:

  • Employer Training Plan (I-983): Required from the employer outlining the specific STEM-related training provided to the student.
  • Employer Eligibility: Employer must meet additional criteria set by USCIS.
  • Sponsoring School: Contact your international student office for eligibility confirmation and application guidance.
  • USCIS Website: Refer to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website for the official list of STEM fields.

What is OPT Cap-Gap Extension?

Purpose: Allows certain F-1 students to bridge the gap between OPT/OPT STEM authorisation and the start of H-1B visa status.

Eligibility:

  • Employer H-1B Petition: The student’s employer must petition USCIS to change the student’s status to H-1B.
  • H-1B Start Date: The petition must request an October 1st start date and be filed on or after April 1st.
  • OPT Status: The student must be under valid OPT authorisation or in the 60-day grace period after OPT expiration when the H-1B petition is filed.

Final Thoughts

OPT and CPT are excellent options for international students seeking practical work experience in the US. They both have eligibility criteria, application procedures, and work limitations. It’s important to understand and follow the guidelines to avoid legal complications. 

Additionally, extensions such as OPT STEM extension and Cap-Gap extension can give students more time to gain practical work experience in their field of study and transition to long-term employment in the US. 

Overall, OPT and CPT can be a great way for international students to earn money and gain valuable experience in their desired fields.

If you need further assistance, please contact LeapScholar.

You can also download our app for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. How long is OPT for?

    A. OPT is Optional Practical Training and is typically granted for 12 months. However, students in certain fields, such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT extension.

  • Q. Who is eligible for CPT in the U.S.?

    A. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is available to international students enrolled full-time in a U.S. college or university who have completed at least one academic year of study. The training must be integral to the curriculum and lead to academic credit.

  • Q. Can I apply for H1B on CPT?

    A. Yes, you can apply for an H1B visa on CPT. However, you must meet the eligibility requirements, and the employer must be willing to sponsor your visa. Additionally, your CPT must be in a field related to your H1B job.

  • Q. What are the benefits of CPT?

    A. The primary benefit of CPT is the opportunity for international students to gain practical work experience in their field of study while still in school. CPT also allows students to earn money to support their education and living expenses while gaining valuable work experience.

  • Q. Is it easy to get an H1-B visa after OPT?

    A. It’s not easy to get an H1B visa after OPT. The program is highly competitive, and the number of visas available each year is limited. Additionally, employers must sponsor H1B visa applicants and meet certain requirements, including paying prevailing wages and demonstrating that no qualified U.S. workers are available for the job. However, having OPT work experience may increase your chances of getting an H1B visa.

  • Q. Can I participate in both CPT and OPT during my studies in the US?

    A. Yes, you can participate in both CPT and OPT during your studies in the US. However, you should remember that there are limitations on how much time you can participate in each program. For example, you can only participate in CPT for 12 months, and you can only participate in OPT for 12 months (or 36 months if you qualify for the STEM extension).

  • Q. What is the difference between OPT and CPT?

    A. The main difference between CPT and OPT is that CPT is intended for students who wish to gain practical work experience through internships while still in school. At the same time, OPT is designed for F-1 students who want to work in their field of study after completing their degree. Additionally, CPT is only available for off-campus employment, while OPT can be used for both on-campus and off-campus employment.

  • Q. Can I apply for CPT after graduation?

    A. No, you cannot apply for CPT after graduation. CPT is only available to students enrolled in a degree program who have completed at least one academic year of full-time study. However, you can apply for OPT after graduation if you meet the eligibility criteria.

  • Q. Can I work for multiple employers while on OPT or CPT?

    A. Yes, you can work for multiple employers while on OPT or CPT, but you must ensure each job is related to your field. Additionally, you must report any changes in employment to your designated school official (DSO) and ensure you stay within the maximum number of hours allowed under the program. For OPT, you are limited to working a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time during breaks, and for CPT, you can work either part-time or full-time, depending on your program requirements.

  • Q. Can students apply for both OPT and CPT?

    A. Yes, students can apply for both OPT and CPT, but it’s important to note that the total amount of time spent on both programs cannot exceed 12 months at the same degree level. Additionally, students must meet the eligibility requirements for both programs and obtain the necessary authorisation before beginning any work.

  • Q. What are the advantages of OPT?

    A. OPT allows international students to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months (or 36 months for STEM students) after completing their degree program. OPT allows students to gain work experience in their field of study, make professional connections, and potentially secure employment in the U.S.


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Jhansi Rani

Jhansi Rani is an experienced overseas education counsellor and specializes in helping students choose the right academic path in the USA.

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