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At least 8 out of 10 Indian students going to universities in the US wonder about job opportunities available after graduating. CPT and OPT are the two options they can avail in this regard. CPT is taken up as an internship and OPT is undertaken in the form of post-study work. Since the rules of these two programs are very similar, there is a lot of confusion amongst students regarding them. This article talks about both programs, their features, eligibility, and the application process.

What is CPT or Curricular Practical Training?

Curricular Practical Training allows foreign students to obtain employment training and undertake paid internships. Students can work full-time (over 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours or less per week). They can earn money and gain invaluable work experience in their field of interest and expertise. Since CPT allows students to take part-time or full-time jobs, CPT must be completed before graduation.

What is OPT or Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training indicates temporary employment that is closely connected to the international student’s major field of study. Eligible students can apply for OPT either before completing their studies (pre-completion) or after completing their studies (post-condition).  Students are allowed to work for 12 months under OPT but those who have a STEM degree can extend it up to 24 months. The entire duration of pre-completion OPT will be removed from the available post-completion OPT period.

How to Choose Which is Right for You? CPT vs OPT

Important Features of CPT

  • CPT allows you to pursue an internship during the course period. Once you find an internship, the college will issue you a CPT.
  • CPT can be undertaken only during the course curriculum before you finish your studies.
  • You may complete your CPT with your F1 visa.
  • The employment or experience gained through CPT must be integral to the curriculum of the degree program you are pursuing, or the student must be registered for a course relevant to the employment.
  • CPT is semester-oriented, it can be taken up either in fall, spring, or summer. It can begin with one semester and extend for up to a year.
  • CPT students can work part-time that is 20 hours a week or less when college is in progress or full-time during the summer break.
  • CPT students can work only for those employers who are listed on their I-20 and the SEVIS.
  • The CPT is authorized by the International Student and Scholar (ISSS) through the issue of a new I-20 with CPT recommendation.
  • A CPT is typically processed within 5-7 business days.
  • Employment through CPT is allowed only within the duration specified in the I-20 and the SEVIS.

Important Features of OPT

  • OPT is a year-long work permit given to the students after they finish a degree program in the US. But they must find a job within 90 days after graduation.
  • OPT may be taken up during your studies (Pre-completion OPT) or after completing your studies (Post-completion OPT).
  • The job through OPT must be directly connected to your field of coursework.
  • Both USCIS and ISSS must authorize OPT. ISSS issues an I-20 with OPT recommendation and USCIS issues the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
  • OPT is generally processed within 1-3 months.
  • Employment is permitted on the dates mentioned in the EAD card post which you must apply for the H1-B visa.

What are the eligibility requirements for CPT?

The eligibility requirements for CPT employment are:

  • You must have completed one full year in school on a valid F1 visa (except those programs that require immediate CPT employment).
  • Employment must be an integral part of your degree coursework and a requirement to secure academic credit.
  • You must have received a job offer before you submit your CPT request.
  • The CPT employment offer must be related to your major subjects in your area of study.

What are the eligibility requirements for OPT?

The general eligibility requirements for OPT employment are:

  • The OPT employment must be directly connected to your major.
  • You must maintain a legal F1 status.
  • You must apply for OPT before finishing all the work towards procuring your degree.
  • If you have undertaken CPT training for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for OPT.
  • If you take up part-time OPT, it reduces the time of full-time OPT by half of the part-time OPT.

Requirements for pre-completion OPT:

  • You must be enrolled in a school full-time.
  • You are allowed to work only for 20 hours a week while school is in progress.
  • You can work during Summer and other breaks under the condition that you return to school post the break.
  • You may work after completion of coursework even if a dissertation or thesis is pending.

Requirements for post-completion OPT:

  • A post-completion OPT must be undertaken after finishing your degree and it must be full-time or 40 hours per week.
  • Post-degree OPT must be finished within 14 months after you complete your degree.
  • You must submit your post-completion OPT application to the USCIS before you finish your degree course.

How to apply for CPT?

Here are the steps to apply for a CPT:

  • Connect with your Student Advisor to find out about the available CPT programs.
  • Get an employment offer letter from the company.
  • Apply to the CPT program through your university and keep the necessary documents ready.
  • After the approval of your CPT application, you will receive the CPT document with the duration post which you can begin your CPT program.

How to apply for OPT?

Here are the general steps to apply for an OPT:

  • Connect with your Student Advisor to find out about how to apply for an OPT.
  • Request your designated school officer for an OPT recommendation and updates in the I-20 form and the SEVIS.
  • Fill up form I-765 and send it to USCIS with the essential documents.
  • You will receive your EAD once your form I-765 is approved.
  • Begin your OTP program on the stipulated date.

The Final Word

After considering all the above factors, you must decide whether CPT or OPT is right for you depending upon your degree program and its requirements and by talking with your student advisor. CPT and OPT can help you navigate unique career opportunities during your stay in the USA and gain valuable work experience. Good luck!

Have more questions about studying and jobs in the USA? Our counselors are ready with answers. Call us for a free 15 minutes session and we will guide you through!

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