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4th Dec 2022

OPT & CPT Work Options for Students

Are you confused about the employment policies in the US? If you dream of studying in the US while financially supporting yourself, you must learn about the two important employment categories: OPT and CPT. From their significant differences to the visa procedure, this comprehensive guide by our experts will help you learn more about the employment opportunities while studying at an international university.


International students have two options to work in the US -

  • Optional Practical Training
  • Curricular Practical Training
What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training is a program that allows international students with an F-1 visa to work up to 12 months in relation to the major of their study. Students are eligible to apply for OPT after completing their first academic year. Even though OPT can be completed before or after completing your studies, it is essential to remember that you are only allowed to work for 12 months. However, students who have completed their degrees in particular science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have the option to extend it up to 17 months.

What is Curricular Practical Training?

CPT is a program that allows international students to gain practical experience directly related to their major through jobs, paid or unpaid internships or co-operative education. Curricular Practical Training should be completed before graduation as you are allowed to do part-time or full-time jobs. Another crucial point to note is that if you work full-time for 12 months in CPT, you will lose your eligibility for OPT.

What’s the difference between OPT and CPT?

The significant differences between OPT and CPT are the period for which you are eligible for work and the type of work allowed. While OPT can be completed before or after graduation, CPT must be completed before graduation. Another significant difference is that CPT is required for your major and if it not you must receive course credit whereas for OPT you don’t have to earn course credit.

  • Primary purpose

CPT gives the provision to work in a company for an F1 student to get practical experience before graduation whereas OPT provides the opportunity to gain practical experience in the same field after graduation.

  • Degree Requirements

Working on CPT will be part of your degree requirements whereas OPT is not related to degree requirements.

  • Employment duration

CPT can be done for up to 12 months whereas the typical duration of OPT is 12 months which can be extended up to 24 months. Another important point to note is that you won’t be eligible for OPT if you work in CPT for 12 months full time.

  • Employment Authorization Document

The student does not get EAD from USCIS in CPT whereas the students working on OPT will get EAD from USCIS after approval of OPT.

  • Application Fee

CPT does not have any application fee as the student only has to pay the course credit fee to the school. The student working in OPT should pay an application fee of $410 paid to USCIS.

  • Working full time or part-time

CPT can be either part time or full time and is usually done 20 hours part-time during school and 40 hours during summer. OPT is usually done full time after graduation.

The OPT program has two variants, Pre-completion OPT and Post-completion OPT. As the name suggests, students can pursue the Pre-completion OPT while they are still on their academics, and with Post-completion OPT the students can pursue the program after graduation.

What is the Application Process for CPT and OPT?

If you’re planning to apply for CPT, you should apply at least two weeks before you wish to commence working as it might take 7-10 days for the processing and completion of the process. For OPT, you need to apply to the USCIS, and the processing may take up to 90 days.

The students on OPT are required to pay taxes on their income and should complete a W-4 tax form with their new employer before getting paid. For students on CPT, if you are an F-1 student and have not been in the country for five years, you do not have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes. An OPT report is required within 10 days of gaining employment and changes to the home address.

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To be eligible for CPT and OPT the student must:

  • Lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one academic year.
  • Be in lawful F-1 status
  • Have health insurance.
Traveling While on OPT

Generally, a student on Post-completion OPT can travel outside the United States temporarily and be readmitted to resume F-1 status and employment for the remainder of the period. However, the student has to be careful not to exceed the maximum OPT unemployment time. Also, re-entering the United States in a status other than F-1 will invalidate F-1 status and OPT authorization.

Do you need CPT/OPT for unpaid internships?

CPT authorization is strongly recommended for all unpaid internships.

Here are some of the reasons -

  • The CPT authorization from the university helps to demonstrate that this experience is a part of the curriculum.
  • CPT authorization helps you to maintain your status in SEVIS by reporting your activity, employment, and location.
  • Another important reason to get CPT authorization is when the unpaid internship changes to apid one at some point, you won’t be able to accept the remuneration if it’s not authorized as CPT.

CPT is employment specific, that is you must apply for a CPT authorization for each employer if you are planning to work for multiple employers. Even under OPT, you can apply for multiple employers, but you need to make sure that all employment is related to your degree program.

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Can you study while on OPT?

Typically, most of the students apply for OPT after graduating from school. The pre-completion OPT is used only when your chances are slim with CPT. To utilize OPT and get Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you will have to fill an application form and send to USCIS.

You can apply for OPT 120 days before the start date of the intended employment, and it is recommended to not wait till the deadline. Also, make sure that you plan your OPT and apply on time so that you are in OPT after you graduate. Keep in mind that you will lose your status in the US if you don’t have OPT started within two months grace period.

Another significant advantage of OPT is that you can work for anyone in OPT, but it should be related to your course field. It is an option that the US Govt provides to international students for finding their right employers. The duration for general OPT is 12 months if you have not worked on CPT full time for 12 months.

Can you apply for an OPT or CPT extension after they expire?

It is best advised to apply for your OPT extension before your initial OPT expires. You can stay in the US for 60 days after your OPT expires if you complete the training. However, F-1 students are not allowed to apply for an extension once they enter this grace period.

To qualify for the 24 month STEM extension -

  • USCIS must receive your STEM OPT extension application before your current 12-month OPT.
  • You should have been granted OPT and be in a valid period of OPT.
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