International students who pursue higher education in the United States often seek opportunities for practical work experience. These experiences, in the form of internships and job opportunities, enable students to apply their classroom knowledge in real-world settings and gain valuable insights into various career fields and industries. In the USA, two primary programs cater to the employment needs of international students: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). This comprehensive blog explores the differences between CPT and OPT, providing a detailed overview of each program, their application processes, eligibility criteria, and required documents.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT is a program in the USA designed for international students with an F-1 visa, allowing them to gain practical work experience directly related to their field of study. Unlike OPT, CPT is typically integrated into the student’s academic curriculum, emphasizing hands-on training and practical knowledge. Here are the key details about CPT:
Eligibility for CPT
F-1 Student Status: To be eligible for CPT, a student must maintain F-1 status.
Completed One Academic Year: Students must complete one full academic year as full-time students before applying for CPT.
Relevance to Major: The CPT employment must be directly related to the student’s major field of study.
Approval by Designated School Official (DSO): Students must obtain approval for CPT from their Designated School Official (DSO).
Application Process for CPT
The application process for CPT may vary depending on the institution’s policies, but here are the general steps:
Consult with DSO: Schedule a meeting with your DSO to discuss your intent to apply for CPT.
Secure a Job Offer: Find a job or internship related to your major field of study.
Obtain a Job Offer Letter: Request an official job offer letter from your employer, including job details and dates.
Complete CPT Application: Fill out the CPT application form provided by your institution.
Prepare Supporting Documents: Gather required documents, including your job offer letter, academic transcript, and others.
Submit Application to DSO: Submit your completed CPT application and supporting documents to your DSO.
Receive CPT Authorization: If approved, your DSO will issue a new Form I-20 with CPT authorization.
Start CPT: Once authorized, you can begin working according to the specified dates and hours.
Key Features of CPT
Part-time or Full-time: CPT can be part-time (up to 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week).
Duration: The total duration of CPT cannot exceed 12 months.
Employer: Students can work with any employer in the USA.
Academic Requirement: CPT must be part of the academic program.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is another program available to international students with an F-1 visa, but it differs significantly from CPT. OPT allows students to gain practical work experience related to their field of study, either before or after completing their degree. Here are the key details about OPT:
Eligibility for OPT
F-1 Student Status: Students must maintain F-1 status.
Completed One Academic Year: OPT is available after completing one academic year as a full-time student.
Relevance to Major: OPT employment must be directly related to the student’s area of study.
Not Exceeding 12 Months of CPT: Students cannot exceed 12 months of full-time CPT and remain eligible for OPT at the same degree level.
Application Process for OPT
The application process for OPT involves several steps:
Determine OPT Eligibility: Ensure you meet the eligibility criteria for OPT.
Complete Form I-765: Fill out Form I-765 with accurate information and select the appropriate OPT category.
Review and Organize Documents: Review and organize all required documents according to USCIS instructions.
Submit OPT Application: Submit your OPT application to USCIS either online or by mail.
Track Application Status: Monitor the status of your OPT application on the USCIS website.
Receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD): Upon approval, you will receive an EAD card, allowing you to work within authorized dates.
Key Features of OPT
Pre or Post-completion: OPT can be used either before or after degree completion.
Duration: Generally, OPT is available for up to 12 months, with the possibility of a 24-month extension for STEM majors.
Employer: Students can work with any employer in the USA.
Application Fee: A fee of $410 is required for OPT applications.
Training Plan (STEM): STEM OPT extension requires a training plan, Form I-983, and additional employer requirements.
Key Differences Between CPT and OPT
Certainly, here are the key differences between CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training) presented in a table format:
|Aspect||Optional Practical Training (OPT)||Curricular Practical Training (CPT)|
|Authorization Duration||Up to 12 months, extendable up to 24 months for STEM degrees||Up to 12 months|
|Timing||Can be completed before or after graduation||Must be completed before graduation|
|Field of Work||Must be related to the student’s field of graduation, but not necessarily the academic curriculum||Must be directly related to the student’s degree and receive course credit|
|Employer Specific||Not employer-specific; can work with any employer in the USA||Employer-specific; employer must be on SEVIS and I-20 list|
|Work Types||Allows work but not internships or co-op programs||Part of the major and allows work in paid or unpaid internships, practicums, or co-op programs|
|Job Offer Requirement||No employment or job offer required||Requires a job or internship offer related to the student’s degree|
|Application Timing||Can apply before or after graduation||Must apply before graduation|
|Application Fee||$410 application fee||Typically not required|
Employment Authorization Options for International Students
Apart from CPT and OPT, international students have various employment authorization options, including:
On-Campus Employment: Students can work on-campus throughout their program.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Integral part of the academic curriculum.
Optional Practical Training (OPT): Available before or after graduation.
STEM OPT Extension: Extends OPT for STEM degree holders by 24 months.
OPT Cap-Gap Extension: Allows students to extend F-1 status while transitioning to H-1B visa.
What is STEM OPT Extension?
The STEM OPT Extension is a valuable opportunity for international students pursuing degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields in the United States. It allows them to extend their Optional Practical Training (OPT) period by an additional 24 months. During this extended period, students engage in temporary training directly related to their F-1 student program, enabling them to gain in-depth work experience and a deeper understanding of the practical applications of their chosen STEM field.
STEM OPT Extension Eligibility
To be eligible for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, students must meet specific criteria:
F-1 International Student Status: Students must have F-1 international student status, which is typically the visa status for international students studying in the United States.
STEM OPT Period: Eligibility for the STEM OPT extension requires that the student is currently in their initial OPT period, and they must apply for this extension before their current OPT expires.
Bachelor’s or Higher Degree in an Eligible STEM Field: To qualify, students must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a field that falls under the STEM category from a U.S. educational institution. The degree program must be on the list of eligible STEM fields designated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Employer Participation in E-Verify: The employer where the student intends to work during the STEM OPT extension must be enrolled in and actively using the E-Verify program. E-Verify is an internet-based system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
Training Plan for STEM OPT Students (Form I-983): Both the student and the employer are required to complete and sign Form I-983, commonly known as the ‘Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.’ This document outlines the specific training and learning objectives that the student will achieve during the STEM OPT extension period. It serves as a critical component of the application process.
The STEM OPT Extension provides an excellent opportunity for international students to gain practical experience in their STEM field and enhance their career prospects in the United States. It’s important for eligible students to follow the application process carefully and ensure they meet all the requirements outlined by USCIS.
Making the Most Out of OPT and CPT Opportunities
To maximize the benefits of CPT and OPT, international students can:
Develop English-language Conversational Skills: Building language skills enhances confidence during interviews.
Attend Corporate Events: Participation in events and professional development opportunities helps in networking.
Volunteer for Additional Projects: Expanding portfolios and networking with colleagues can lead to better opportunities.
Explore Different Roles: Use CPT and OPT to explore various job roles and employer types.
Consider OPT Flexibility: Utilize the flexibility of OPT to switch jobs and find the right fit.
In conclusion, understanding the differences between CPT and OPT is crucial for international students pursuing education in the USA. These programs provide valuable opportunities for practical work experience, but their eligibility criteria, application processes, and duration vary significantly. By making informed decisions and leveraging the support of campus career centers, international students can navigate these programs successfully and embark on a rewarding career journey in the United States.
At D-Vivid Consultant, our mission is to empower and guide students like you in realizing your dreams of pursuing higher education abroad. With our expertise and personalized guidance, we facilitate your journey towards obtaining the right educational opportunities and navigating complex processes like CPT and OPT. Your success is our priority, and we’re here to provide you with the support and insights you need to thrive academically and professionally in the USA. Contact us today to start your journey towards studying in USA.