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Difference Between OPT and CPT in the US?

What is OPT & CPT In The USA? A Lucid Guide!

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Difference Between OPT and CPT in the US?
 John Millar   Published On May 19, 2022 | Updated on Oct 05, 2023  Student Guide

OPT and CPT are two temporary training/employment programs for F-1, non-immigrant students in the USA. This article offers some valuable insights into both these programs. Find out all the different requirements, eligibility criteria, restrictions, and necessary documentation for OPT and CPT below.

Let’s begin!

Optional Practical Training & Curricular Practical Training Essentials

"The Optional Practical Training Program"

Optional Practical Training is a temporary employment program for international students. Eligible students can apply for this program after completing a year's graduation and receiving 12 months of OPT employment authorization. The program allows them to work before completing their studies or even after completing their academics.

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All OPTs must be in line with one’s major course of study. International students with an F-1 visa are eligible for two different types of OPT programs.

  • Pre-Completion OPT

International students in pre-completion OPT once they have enrolled in a program on a full-time basis at a certified college, university, etc. In addition, the institute must be accredited and identified by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department's Student & & Exchange Visitor Program.

You do not need an F-1 status for the entire academic year; any other non-immigrant status and concurrent fulfilling one full academic year will work.

  • Post-Completion OPT

Eligible candidates can also take part in post-completion OPT after completing their studies. If you have been authorized, you can choose to partake in part-time or full-time jobs.

The US Customs and Immigration Services will deduct the amount of time of pre-completion OPT from post-completion OPT periods.

Must Read: How Early Should An International Student Arrive Before Their Program

OPT For STEM Students

If you possess a full-time degree in science, technology, engineering, and math programs, you are eligible for a 24-month extension to your post-completion OPT employment authorization. You need to fulfill certain conditions, however.

  • You need to be an F-1 student who received a full-time STEM degree from the designated USCIS list.
  • You are an employee of an organization that uses the USCIS E-Verify platform.
  • You have been granted post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.

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How To Apply?

Following are the essential rules for OPT application.

  1. Place a request with your designated school official at your institution. You will need Form I-20, the Certification of Eligibility for Non-immigrant student status, and make an appropriate notation for Student & Exchange Visitor Information Systems. (SEVIS)
  2. You must also fill & file FORM I-75, the Application For Employment Authorization with the USCIS, alongside the required fee and proper supporting documentation.

When To Apply?

 If you have a STEM degree, then for Pre-Completion OPT:

  • You can apply after your institute's designated official enters a recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record.
  • You may apply up to 90 days before completing an entire academic year.

For post-completion OPT:

  • Apply after the DSO enters the recommendation into your SEVIS record. You must apply within 30 days after the DSO recommendation.
  • You can also apply up to 90 days before degree completion but no later than 60 days after completing your program.

If you are a non-STEM student, then for pre-completion OPT:

  • Once your institute's DSO enters the recommendation into your SEVIS record, you must apply.
  • You can apply 90 days before completing a full academic year.

For post-completion:

  • Again, you must apply after the DSO recommends your SEVIS record and within 30 days of completing your program.
  • You can apply up to 90 days before completing your degree but not after 60 days.

Next up, we will investigate the Curricular Practical Training program.

Curricular Practical Training Program

According to the official website of The United States Customs & Immigration Services, an F-1 non-immigrant student can also work in the United States through the CPT program.

The Curricular Practical Training program can involve alternative work, study, cooperative education, or any other sort of internship. These programs are offered by sponsoring employers through mutually agreeable agreements with the academic institution. Students need to maintain full-time employment during winter and fall CPT.

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Following are the key features of the Curricular Practical Training program:

  • Training must relate to a student's primary area of study.
  • The academic institute’s Designated School Official must authorize CPT in an F-1 immigrant student's Student & Exchange Visitor Information System.
  • Students must be able to secure an employment training opportunity before authorization of CPT.
  • CPT needs to be authorized before one can start working. Students can have more than one CPT authorization at one time.
  • One year of full-time CPT nullifies OPT eligibility.

Requirements & Eligibility

The DSO must authorize CPT for every F-1 student. In addition, the institution must be SEVP enrolled (Student & Exchange Visitor Program).

  • F-1 students must be lawfully enrolled full-time in a certified institute for one whole academic year.
  • They must have U-M-approved health insurance.
  • Students must have a job offer and not have English as a second language.

Following are the necessary documents:

  • CPT Workshop Completion Email
  • Academic or Faculty Advisor Recommendation Form
  • Detailed Training Description From The Designated Employer
  • Photocopy of Current I-20 Form
  • Photocopy or printout of I-94 Form

The DSO will review a student’s CPT request and determine their eligibility. They will then authorize CPT in the student’s SEVIS for a particular employer and print & sign the I-20 form for CPT authorization.

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How To Apply?

  • It is best to plan. CPT authorization generally takes 1-2 weeks for complete processing and compilation.
  • Students need to take the CPT Online Certification Course and print the CPT Online Workshop completion email.
  • One must get a Detailed Job Description from the company/employer.
  • Detailed discussions with an Academic or Faculty Advisor regarding one's CPT plans are essential.

They will go through the Detailed Job Description and note if the training is integral to the student’s curriculum. If so, Faculty Advisors will recommend the applicant by completing the Academic/Faculty Advisor Recommendation Form.

  • Gathering all necessary documentation is a must. Incomplete and invalid applications are automatic rejections.
  • An International Student & Scholar Advisor will also review the CPT application. If all requirements are met, they will approve the CPT and create a CPT I-20 citing their approval.
  • Students will receive an email on successful authorization once their I-20 is ready. Students cannot engage in part-time or full-time work until CPT I-20 is printed.
  • Students must ensure to sign and date their CPT I-20 and keep permanent records safely & securely.

And that rounds up this write-up. Hope this article is a handy guide for anyone to partake in CPT or OPT.

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