What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a provision offered by US government, which is equivalent to a temporary work permit, which enables international students to undergo training by working in the industry to gain experience in hands-on application of the concepts they learn in an academic setting. An international student pursuing studies in the US on an F-1 visa is eligible for the OPT. The OPT work authorization is granted by the USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). Under the OPT, eligible students are permitted to work in the industry for a 12-month period, which can be extended by 24 months for students enrolled in a program that is classified as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). During the OPT period, the student is allowed a maximum of 90 days when he can stay unemployed while hunting for a job role in an area related to his field of study. If the student fails to secure employment during this window, he or she will have to leave the US.
The working of OPT is divided into two parts:
1. Full time– The student is permitted to work 40 hours or more a week
2. Part time– The student is permitted to work 20 hours or less a week
OPT itself is divided into two parts:
1. Pre-completion – Students can work along with pursuing their studies before or after classes or during weekends.
2. Post-completion– After completing their degree, students can secure employment that requires a minimum of 20 hours per week during their OPT period.
Few students choose to work part-time while still in their program and later work full-time during the vacation. A student has the liberty to decide whether he wants to work only after the program concludes or during and after it. The University that they are enrolled in recommends them the start and end date of the OPT. The students need to furnish information about the completion of graduation within the specified time-frame. Once the I-20 form is received, filled, and submitted, students then have to submit the I-765 form. The application approval might take time (approximately 3-4 months since there is a long wait time. While the petition is under process, the student may continue to work for a maximum of 180 days even after the EAD and OPT period expires. While applying for jobs under OPT, it is not mandatory to mention the job position or have a job offer in hand while making the application. For the benefit of the student, the employer needs to be in contact to prevent the student from being unemployed for more than 90 days.
Constraints to be followed:
➤The start date should be at least one day after and a maximum of 60 days before
➤The total duration of 12 months of the OPT can be used by taking the breaks
The above criteria for OPT require students to be in constant connect with their employers regarding their start date. It is advisable to pick a start date by which the EAD is expected to be received, while also ensuring that the unemployment duration is not more than 90 days. If one has plans to continue higher studies, then it is advisable to not exhaust the entire OPT period. Although breaks are allowed, it is advisable to work in continuity. Traveling outside the US during the OPT period is strictly prohibited, and students can work with any employer in the US as long as the job relates to their field of study.
After completing the degree, the students are provided a grace period of 60 days to obtain a job where they could work as part of the OPT. Applications to extend OPT have to submitted before the OPT completion date. If the Student’s OPT duration is exhausted, the student will not be permitted to work even if he has the grace period. The student can begin working when the student receives EAD which states that their employment under OPT has been approved.
The job undertaken during the OPT has to necessarily be related to the program of the student had enrolled for. The government needs to be presented with the legal paperwork.
For a job to be permitted for work under OPT, students have to secure a position which requires them to work for at least 20 hours a week, to a maximum of 40 hours a week if international students incept their own business. A student may also switch jobs if he gets a better opportunity as long as the new job role also fits in the OPT criteria of the relevance of job role to the field of study and minimum and maximum working hours. Also, a student may be permitted to work more than one job simultaneously, and also work in unpaid internships, for-profit and non-profit jobs, as long as the jobs meet the OPT criteria mentioned above.
Once the work duration ends, students may avail of extension of employment on the H1B visa or through the STEM extension. Also, if the student does not want to continue in the OPT, he may apply for cancellation of the same. When the OPT work authorization for a foreign student expires, and if the student has not managed to obtain the H1B visa, it becomes mandatory for him to leave the US.
The specific degrees that qualify for the extension are:
• Actuarial Sciences
• Computer Science Applications
• Engineering Technologies
• Life Sciences
• Military Technologies
• Physical Sciences
Other common fields with specialty occupations include architecture, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts.
What is CPT?
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is the temporary employment authorization for foreign students enrolled in a college-level degree program in the US on an F-1 non-immigrant visa. The CPT provision allows F-1 international students to work in paid off-campus academic internships during their ongoing degree program to learn the application of conceptual knowledge gained during the program. To be eligible to apply for CPT, the duration of stay in USA must be of 9 months.
CPT work authorization for F1 visa Candidates:
CPT is work authorization as mentioned before for working in a job directly related to the student’s degree major and is an integral part of a student’s academic program, which also includes curricular credits.
Unlike the OPT, CPT needs to be completed before graduation, although similar to the OPT, it can be carried out part-time or full-time. Students appear for part-time CPT during their classes while in vacations, they may take up the full-time CPT. Working less than 20 hours a week comes under the part-time, while working for more than 20 and up to 40 hours a week forms the full-time.
Practical Training offers an avenue to sharpen the skill to apply classroom concepts by exploring their application in an industry environment. Before starting the CPT, it needs to be authorized by the DESGINATION SCHOOL OFFICE during the first semester itself. The mandatory requirement for getting the CPT approved is a letter from the employer where the student has applied to and agreed to work with.
The maximum duration of the CPT is 12 months. If the student has utilized his entire 12-month CPT duration, he/she becomes ineligible for the OPT, but if he has only undertaken part-time CPT or has not completed his 12-month CPT, he might be eligible to apply for OPT jobs. Students pursuing MBA should not have worked for more than 9 months during CPT to be eligible for 11 months of OPT.
The benefit of Curricular Practical Training is students can obtain an exemption on one of their courses if they take up the CPT as it is similar to an academic course which adds credits to student’s grades. Those who take up the thesis option however are not eligible for the CPT work authorization. Accumulation of full-time CPT would lead the student to be blacklisted from the OPT program.
The limitation with the CPT is that student’s applying for the program cannot work with any kind of employer, only those who support the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and I-20 list. CPT is employer-specific, and you need to apply for a new CPT authorization before you work in a new job. CPT can be paid or unpaid and if it is a paid one, the student must have his Social Security Number for receiving the payments. The student’s earnings are subject to federal, state and local taxes as applicable, and employers are required to deduct those taxes from your paychecks.
Students do not receive the EAD for the CPT as the I-20 form contains within itself the eligibility proof. The I-20 form is used in complement with the I-94 card for employment formality completion.
A DSO can authorize the CPT for an F1 student who is enrolled at a SEVP-certified college, University, conservatory, or seminary. In order to be eligible for CPT, a student must:
• Be lawfully enrolled on full-time for one academic year (i.e. two full consecutive terms) unless the academic program requires immediate participation for all students.
Note: An exception exists for students in such graduate studies programs where earlier training is part of the program
• Be on a lawful F-1 Visa
• Not be enrolled in an intensive English language training program
• Not be studying English as a second language.
• Have secured a job or training position.
• Have a job must be related to student’s major
• Obtain CPT authorization BEFORE beginning employment
CPT Process Overview
Step 1 Student requests CPT using the schools established processes
Step 2 DSO reviews request and determines student’s eligibility for CPT
Step 3 DSO authorizes CPT in SEVIS for a specific employer
Step 4 Student prints and signs Form I-20 with CPT authorization
Step 5 Student begins work on or after the CPT starting date.
Limits of CPT
• The CPT option is not available once a student completes the degree
• Engaging in 12 months of full-time CPT will eliminate the OPT option at the same degree level
• The student cannot begin working before the start date.
• All work must be completed by the CPT end date.
Types of CPT:
Part-time CPT: Employment for less than or equal to 20 hours per week is considered part-time. The student must be simultaneously enrolled for classes full-time and be physically present on campus so as to maintain lawful F-1 status during the fall and winter terms.
Full-time CPT: Employment for 20 hours+ per week is considered full-time. Availing of the CPT for 12 months or more will eliminate your eligibility for OPT. During the fall and winter terms, a student should be enrolled full-time or have an approved RCL (Reduced Course Load).
Major points that can enable a student to be eligible for undertaking the CPT are:
➤ Holder of F-1 visa
➤ Compulsory enrolment at a University
➤ CPT is for the majors
➤ The credits are added to the degree
There are two variations in the CPT:
➤ Non required for academic- the practical work experience is for credit and directly related to your field of study.
➤ Required for academic- non-academic program mandates practical work experience in the field of study to graduate.
Difference between OPT and CPT?
Many students get confused between the meaning of the terms OPT and CPT, and this part of the article will attempt to resolve the confusion.
OPT is a 12-month work authorization granted to international students to gain industry exposure relating to their field of study.
International students have the provision to work on CPT directly related to their core subjects.
|OPT can be completed either before or after graduation.||
CPT must necessarily be completed before graduation.
To be eligible for the OPT, a student must be pursuing the studies for at least one year.
Upon completion of the full OPT period, the students would not be eligible to apply for the CPT.
To receive OPT authorization, students do not need to have any employment offer.
While applying for CPT jobs, students must have an employment offer.
|OPT has two parts. The pre-completion OPT is the work undertaken while the student is pursuing studies while the post-completion OPT is the OPT work authorization post completing graduation.||
CPT is can be either part-time or full-time and lasts for a total of 12 months.
Students on the OPT need not work continuously for 12 months but can work in shorter stints totaling to 12 months. STEM students also have the provision to avail of OPT period extension.
CPT requires students to work for 12 months but if they have used the total 12-month OPT period, they cannot then use the CPT time.
The work can be undertaken either part-time or full time during the OPT.
Similar to OPT, students can work part-time as well as full-time during the CPT.
The OPT work must be related to the field of graduation, though not necessarily to the academic curriculum. Students also do not earn course credit through OPT.
To work for CPT, the employment should be directly related to the studies major, should be required by the program, and the student earns credits after completing it.
Students on OPT have the freedom to work with any employer. They can work with any company across the USA.
A student who is on CPT is allowed to work only with such employers who are on SEVP.
OPT is not employer-specific, and a student on a F1 Visa can work during the OPT period as a professional.
CPT employment is part of your Major’s curriculum, under which a student can work in a paid or unpaid internship, practicum, or cooperative (co-op) education program.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Do I have to be registered while on CPT?
You should maintain F-1 student status, which requires full-time registration. While most students do need to register as full-time students during CPT, in some cases, graduate students are considered as full-time students with lesser than 10 credits while on full-time CPT. This includes students who are registered for Engineering Co-op credits, and students registered for thesis or dissertation credits, along with their CPT-related credit.
Q. Does CPT usage affect OPT eligibility?
You can use up as much CPT as is required for completing your degree program. However, in case you end up using a total of 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you would not be eligible for OPT. Engaging in part-time CPT does not affect OPT in any way.
Q. Do I need to have a job to apply for CPT?
Yes, you need to have an employment offer to apply for CPT since the authorization employer-specific.
Q. Can I change the number of hours I work?
Yes, you may change the number of hours, though you can only do so within the limits of part-time or full-time. For example, you may change from 12 hours per week to 18 hours per week without needing a new authorization. However, in case you change from part-time to full-time or vice versa, you must request a new authorization.
Q. Can I change employers?
Since CPT authorization is specific to employer, you will have to apply for a fresh CPT authorization before working for the new employer.
Q. Do I need a Social Security number?
Yes, you will need to obtain your Social Security number to be able to receive payment from your employer.
Q. Will I be required to pay Social Security and other taxes?
Normally, as a F-1 student, you would be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the U.S. so long as you continue to declare non-resident status for tax purposes.
Unless you qualify for tax exemption under a tax treaty between the U.S. and the government of your home country, your earnings will be subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes. Employers are required to withhold those taxes (i.e. deduct tax at source) from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, you can consult the Internal Revenue Service.
Q. Will I receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?
No. The CPT authorization on page 2 of your I-20 serves as proof of employment eligibility, which along with your I-94 record may be used to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 as required by the employer. In case your employer has questions about the documentation required for I-9 purposes, you may refer them to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ “I-9 Central” page, including the section about international students with training authorization.
Q. Is it better to go for the CPT before the OPT or to go directly for CPT?
There are two situations that can happen.
a) Study, CPT, study, graduate, OPT
b) Study, CPT, graduate, OPT
c) Study, graduate, OPT
In the first case, you study for a semester or two, do an internship, come back for another semester, graduate and start your OPT.
In the second case, you do three or more semesters, then go for internship, graduate with the internship semester and then start your OPT.
Case (a) is ideal, since that will help you to pay for your last semester of tuition.
Case (b) is also good. It basically depends, if you have fulfilled all your credits and have a full time job, you would opt for OPT, but in case you have a 3 or less credits remaining for your final semester and have an internship at hand, then you can take the internship in your graduating semester. Sometimes it may also happen that you have all the credits you need for graduating but don’t have a job instead you have an internship. You can push your graduation a semester forward, take up the internship and then graduate a semester later.
Case (c) is when you study for a couple of semesters, don’t get an internship, finish your credits and get a job before graduating and go on OPT. (As explained in Case (b))