CPT vs OPT For International Students

International students have a unique set of circumstances when it comes to their college education in the United States. One of the biggest decisions they face is whether to pursue Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). CPT and OPT are two different types of practical training programs that are available to international students with F-1 status. Both programs allow students to gain experience in their field of study and make valuable connections that can help them in their future career, but there are some key differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the differences between CPT and OPT to help international students make an informed decision about which program is right for them.

International students have numerous chances to work in the US in useful, real-world settings. Students can apply what they have learned in their degrees to real organisations through these experiences, which often take the shape of internships and employment opportunities. Students also receive useful experience in a variety of industries and career disciplines. In this blog, we will discuss the two forms of employment authorisation that may be available for international students i.e. OPT and CPT and also the key distinction between OPT vs CPT.

Key difference: OPT vs CPT

OPT and CPT are fundamentally different in that OPT is given while a programme is in progress, but CPT is only given upon successful completion of an academic degree. Employment held during an OPT period, unlike CPT, must be relevant to the academic course of study. Another significant distinction is the length of time; whereas the OPT can typically be prolonged for up to 24 months, the CPT can only be extended for a maximum of 12 months.

Options for Employment Authorization for International Students

International students may be qualified to use various forms of employment authorization in order to participate in these hands-on learning opportunities.

In general, F-1 and J-1 student statuses permit unpaid jobs and internships, and they don’t call for any further permission. However, it is advised that foreign students seek confirmation of any advice they may have on how to avoid unethical or illegal unpaid employment arrangements from the international office of their university.

International students must first confirm that they have the proper documentation before beginning any form of employment. Their status may automatically grant them this authorization, their school’s international office may grant it, or USCIS may grant it (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services).

International students may be eligible for a variety of employment authorization options. Several of the most widely utilised types of authorisation include: 

  • On-campus Employment
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)

On-Campus Employment

Generally speaking, international students with F-1 and J-1 student status are allowed to work on campus at their sponsoring institution (the institution that issued their I-20) for the duration of their programme.

It’s not necessary for an on-campus job to be associated with the student’s field of study. However, it can be used to develop one’s professional skill set, gain experience in one’s area, or pursue other hobbies.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Students with F-1 visas may be allowed to take part in programmes of practical training that are an essential component of a recognised curriculum and are directly related to their major field of study. Curricular practical training, or CPT, is the name for this kind of permitted job.

Students must submit an application for CPT through the international office of their university because it is not an inherent benefit of F-1 status (unlike on-campus employment).

There are significant differences across universities and the particular programmes within each institution in terms of the types of degree requirements, course requirements, and cooperative education programmes. Thus, students must first ascertain that their particular programme contains a CPT-eligible component (practical experience linked to a degree requirement, course requirement, or cooperative education), after which they must apply for the CPT authorization in accordance with the detailed instructions provided by their university’s international office.

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Key Features of CPT

Although the specifics, availability, and application procedure for CPT may differ by university, the following CPT features are generally available:

  • CPT can only be used when enrolled in an academic programme (up until the I-20’s end date).
  • The international office of the institution has granted CPT authorization for a specified duration and for a specific employer.
  • A qualifying student may participate in part-time CPT (less than 20 hours per week) or full-time CPT (more than 20 hours per week) as many times as they like.
  • If a student is considering the CPT to OPT transition, they should be aware that after using a total of 12 full-time months of CPT, they are no longer eligible for OPT, another type of employment authorization that is covered in greater detail below, at the same degree level. OPT eligibility is not impacted by part-time CPT.

Eligibility for CPT

For students to be qualified for CPT, they must:

  • To hold a valid F-1 Status.
  • Prior to performing the task, you must be enrolled full-time for a full academic year.
  • Enrol in a degree programme at a U.S. institution of higher learning that has earned SEVP accreditation and accreditation.
  • Own a specific job offer that satisfies the conditions set by the institution for the required course, degree, or cooperative opportunity.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is short-term work that is directly relevant to a student’s major field of study and is intended to provide practical training. OPT may be used before and/or after the programme end date on an I-20, as well as during the programme itself. Students with F-1 visas may also be qualified to take part in Optional Practical Training (OPT).

For a combined total of up to 12 months of full-time OPT, per degree level, F-1 students are qualified to apply. The university’s international office recommends OPT, but USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) must review and approve it. Processing time for OPT can normally take up to 3–4 months.

Key Features of OPT

Here are a few more crucial aspects of OPT:

  • If you’re seeking CPT after OPT, keep in mind that students cannot apply for CPT until they have completed the entire OPT time.
  • Pre-completion OPT (OPT utilised prior to the I-20 expiration date) may be full-time (greater than 20 hours per week) or part-time (more than 20 hours per week).
  • Only full-time OPT (OPT used prior to the termination date on one’s I-20) is permitted after completion. After completing the programme, F-1 students are qualified to apply for post-completion OPT through USCIS. Students can typically apply for it up to a month after finishing their degree requirements, or as early as three months before the course’s completion date. Additionally, if you have already taken part in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will subtract that time from the authorised post-completion OPT period.
  • When a student is prepared to submit an application for OPT, they can speak with the international office of their university for more information on the procedure and required documents.

Eligibility for OPT

Students that want to participate in OPT must:

  • Own a current F-1 Status.
  • Be one academic year of full-time enrollment prior to the work’s completion.
  • Be enrolled in a degree programme at a U.S. university that has received SEVP certification and accreditation.
  • Plan to work in a field that is closely related to what they are studying (however, a job offer is not required to apply for OPT).
  • Without having utilised a full year’s worth of CPT.
  • Neither has used any OPT at a higher degree level nor have they utilised 12 months of full-time OPT at the same degree level.

Comparison Chart: OPT vs CPT 

Let’s use the comparison table below to better grasp the distinction between OPT vs CPT:

OPT is a brief authorization that allows F-1 visa holders who are students to work in a related field for a total of 12 months. Students on F-1 visas are granted CPT, a temporary work permit that is granted for a total of 12 months and is directly tied to their majors.
Though not necessarily related to the academic curriculum, the OPT work experience must be related to the student’s field of graduation. This is not necessary to receive course credit. In order for CPT work to be accepted for course credit, it must be connected to the student’s degree programme.
OPT, as opposed to an internship or a co-op, allows work and is not employer-specific. As a requirement for your major, CPT enables students to participate in internship, practicum, or cooperative (co-op) education programmes whether they are paid or unpaid.
Any firm in the USA will hire students with OPT authorization. Only those employers who are listed on the I-20 and SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) lists are eligible to participate in CPT.
Finished either prior to or following graduation must be finished in order to graduate.
OPT is valid for 12 months and may be extended for an additional 24 months. CPT is possible for up to a year.
Students do not need to have a job or a job offer in order to receive OPT authorization. Students need a job offer or employment to qualify for CPT jobs.

OPT STEM Extension

If you have finished school and want to start working after your OPT is over, you can choose an OPT STEM Extension. This gives you a temporary window of 24 months during which to find employment in your subject of study. 

Additionally, the work must closely correspond to the Stem Designated Degree Program List, and you must wait at least 60 days after the conclusion of your OPT before submitting an application for an OPT Stem extension. Candidates are then given a 150-day jobless period after which they must begin working.

What is the OPT Cap-Gap Extension?

You can extend the lifetime of your F1 designation with the OPT Cap-Gap extender. Additionally, you can prolong your continuous employment authorization until the start of the following fiscal year, or as long as your F1 status is still in effect (October 1).

Additionally, you must submit your H-1B petition on time and a request to change your status in order to be eligible for an extension.

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How to Take Advantage of OPT vs CPT Opportunities?

OPT and CPT offer fantastic chances for international students to acquire relevant job experience in the US. Students may really make the most of these two temporary work authorizations by putting their theoretical knowledge to use, getting on-the-job training, and implementing it.

During this period, employers frequently assess performance to determine whether to extend a longer-term offer of full-time employment. This stage is crucial for international students to showcase their talent.

They can also get useful networking contacts while learning first-hand about corporate culture and business etiquette. All company functions and professional development opportunities are encouraged for students to attend. They can also make the most of any chance to volunteer for extra initiatives, which can broaden their professional network and put them in contact with more colleagues and prospective hiring managers.

We hope that this blog has completed the OPT vs CPT puzzle for you. If you are still confused and want to know more about this you can connect with Leverage Edu experts.