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Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a program that allows international students’ in the United States carrying an F-1 visa to gain practical training related to their major. It can be through employment, paid or unpaid internships, or cooperative education.
It is a temporary program and must be completed before graduating. CPT is a part of a student’s major curriculum. If it is not a part of it, the student must receive course credit. The student has to be enrolled in college or university for a full academic year (three quarters, including final exams weeks) to be eligible for CPT.
There are two ways of completing CPT,
- Part-time: 20 hours or less a week.
- Full-time: 20 hours or more a week.
However, if you work full-time for 12 months in CPT, you will not be able to apply for an OPT. Part-time CPTs and overlapping times will count as full-time CPT. Less than 12 months of full-time CPT will not affect the eligibility for OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program that allows international students in the United States with an F-1 visa to work up to 12 months (excluding STEM extension) in relation to their major of study. It is an optional and temporary program that can be completed before or after graduating. The latter is very common.
The student has to be enrolled in college or university for one academic year (three quarters, including final exams weeks) or will complete one academic year by the date the OPT approval begins. Students do not need to earn course credit. OPT is not an internship or cooperative education program. It is not employer specific and allows work.
There are two ways OPT can be completed,
- Post-completion OPT: Post-completion OPT begins after the completion of the students’ academic program. It is full-time and can be completed after the students’ degree or exchange program or after they complete all course requirements for their degree.
- Pre-completion OPT: Pre-completion OPT begins while the student is still enrolled in their course of study. By doing pre-completion, it is deducted from the 12 months of total OPT. The student may start the OPT application process up to 90 days before the employment start date.
Pre-completion OPT can be done in three different ways:
- Full-time: More than 20 hours per week during the annual vacation quarter and between quarter breaks.
- Part-time: 20 hours per week or less during the annual vacation quarter and between quarter breaks.
- Part-time: 20 hours per week or less during study.
Students with science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees can apply for a 24 month extension to their post-completion OPT. The student must have a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the STEM field and can apply while currently working on their 12-month OPT.
They should have a paid job with an employer enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program, works 20 hours per week. The job has to be related to their STEM field. The student has to able to complete the I-983 Training Plan with their employer.
Volunteer work, unpaid work or self-employment is not eligible. Students cannot apply for STEM OPT extension during the 60-day grace period right after their post-completion OPT.
OPT Grace Period
The United States visa for F-1 students’ is granted for the duration of their academic program and grace period. Grace period is the amount of time the student can stay in the United States on an F-1 visa, before and after the duration of their study and training. The amount of grace period is therefore required by the student to know when they can transfer to another program.
- An F-1 student can apply for OPT, 90 days before and 60 days after the completion of his academic course.
- If it is denied, then they can use their full 60 days grace period after the completion of their program to apply again.
- If the OPT is denied again, the student gets an additional 60 days grace period from the date of denial.
- If however, it is denied again, the student will lose their eligibility for another grace period.