Students who are in the United States on an F visa have the option of working within the United States by performing practical training employment, either during their academic program or upon completion of their program. The two categories of practical training employment are CPT, Curricular Practical Training, and OPT, Optional Practical Training. Either CPT or OPT is available to students who have completed at least one full-time academic year of study, which is typically 8-9 consecutive months of study (unless they are a graduate student in a special program). Under OPT or CPT, the employment must be related to the student’s course of study and pursued for practical training, not for English language training.
CPT is practical training employment in the form of work study, internship, cooperative education or any other type of employment that is required as part of the curriculum of the course of study. CPT may be granted on either a part time (less than 20 hours a week) or full time (more than 20 hours a week) basis.
In order to apply for CPT, the student must have a job offer; further, to accept CPT, the student must complete one academic year, or be enrolled in a language program prior to the completion of their studies. The student must request CPT from their designated school official (DSO) and follow the procedures established by the school official. A graduate student, however, may have CPT authorized by their school official during the first semester of the academic program if the program requires practical experience. The DSO will provide the student with a new Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, showing that the DSO has approved the student for the employment.
Students that engage in part time CPT may pursue OPT as well, however it should be noted that students who have engaged in 12 months or more offull time CPT are ineligible for OPT.
OPT, or optional practical training, may be pursued either before or after completion of the student’s academic program. OPT may be performed before completion of the academic program either during the student’s vacation or while school is not in session, or while school is in session so long as the student does not work more than 20 hours a week. OPT may be performed after completion of the student’s program either after completion of all course requirements (excluding thesis requirements) for a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, or after completing their entire course of study. The student cannot, however, combine pre- and post-completion OPT.
OPT must also relate to the student’s course of study. OPT is generally limited to a 12 period, though student’s can apply for a 12 month period at each education level, such as a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree. The DSO will provide a new Form I-20 showing that they recommend the student for the employment.
The student must, however, apply for work authorization to obtain OPT, by electronically filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with USCIS and paying the filing fee. USCIS will then send the student a Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) upon approval of the application for employment authorization. The student must wait until they receive the EAD before working.
Additionally, if the student’s degree for a period of post completion OPT is in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) program, they may qualify for a 17 month extension of OPT. For this extension, the prospective employer must use the E-Verify program and the student has not already received a 17 month extension of their OPT.
If you are a university student and are interested in applying for CPT or OPT, contact us! We can help in determining which is the best program for you and to ensure that your employment will be suitable to the program.