Working CPT vs OPT in America as Student

Work in America CPT vs OPT – Differences F1 Work Options

Everyone, who want to come to US or who are already here as a student, wonder : can I work legally as a student on visa in USA outside of my camps ? If so when ? How can I work after I graduate( before I find employer to sponsor my work visa) ? We are all excited to work and make money…significant number of us are here to work and make those dream dollars :-)  If you are a student on F1 visa, firstly you can work on-campus. Check out On campus vs off campus jobs , pay ? Besides on-campus employment, you can work after 9 months ( or even before in selected cases) after entering US. You can work using couple of options under practical training options, which are called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and  Optional Practical Training (OPT) . Lets look at the basics of these and then look at the differences as well.

What is Curricular Practical Training ( CPT) :   CPT is primarily given to students to work and gain experience of their field of study, while they work.  Most of the schools allow students to work on CPT after 2 semester or 9 months( one academic year i.e, Fall & Spring) after entering US.  You have to work with the academic department or your specific school within the university to get CPT.  Typically you get credit for working in CPT, it means that it will be part of your degree requirement credits for award of the degree. You can look at it as legally working for a potential employer who is giving you an opportunity to prove yourself, while you are studying. Typically it is called Co-op or Internship for employers when they offer you the job. You can get paid when you work on CPT. You might have to work with the career services at your school too sometimes for processing of the paperwork.  Some schools do not allow CPT if you not in the local city. You can only work in CPT until you graduate. You will need to work with the DSO( Designated School official) or International student Adviser to process your CPT application and issue you a new I-20 indicating the same.  You should not work more than 12 months (full time) in CPT. If you do so, you will not get your OPT. So, be careful ! Also, sometimes, based on the program curriculum your DSO may authorize CPT during first semester, you need to check with your DSO.  There is so much fraud around first semester CPT schools, be careful !

Optional Practical Training (OPT): OPT is meant to give an opportunity for students to work in their field of study.  It is typically given for 12 months for all degree holders, with an option to extend for 17 months for STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics ) Degree holders.  There are two types of OPT called pre-completion OPT and post completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT is something that can be utilized by students to work in their area of study before the graduation. Whereas, post-completion OPT is to work in their area of study after graduation.  If the student chose to use pre-completion OPT, the respective amount of time is deducted from 12 months OPT time period. You can work part time up to 20 hours on pre-completion OPT, when school is in session and you are enrolled full time and full time during summer breaks.  If you choose to use pre-completion OPT, you will lose that amount of time from the overall 12 months OPT. It will be 1 months for 2 months of part time OPT( Fall and Spring terms) and 1 month for 1 month of full time OPT ( summer terms)

Typically, most of the students use OPT after graduating from school. Pre-completion OPT is used only when there is no chance to work on CPT.  To utilize OPT and get Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you will have to fill an application form and send to USCIS. You can apply for OPT 120 days before the start date of the intended employment.  Plan your OPT and  apply on time so that you are in OPT after you graduate. You will lose your status in US if you don’t have OPT started within 2 months grace period. You can work for anyone in OPT, there are no restrictions, but it must related to your course field. It is an option that US Govt provides to international students for finding their right employers. General OPT is given for 12 months duration, if you have not used it before graduation and work on CPT full time for 12 months . In 2008, USCIS announced a new set of rules stating that if you belong to STEM Category you can get an extension for another 17 months for a total OPT of 29 Months. This was primarily given to accommodate the F1 students who were not selected in H1B visa lottery for that year. Read this article for full info: New OPT rules for from USCIS for 29 Months

What are the main differences between OPT vs CPT:

  • Major difference is that you get credit for CPT and the credits you earn is typically counted to your degree program. For instance, if you enroll in 1 credit part time CPT for Fall, Spring and Summer, overall you get about 3 credits and it adds up your degree requirement total credits.  Whereas, there are no credits awarded for OPT.
  • CPT can only be utilized as part of the degree program and when you are enrolled in school full time. Whereas, OPT can be utilized when you are in school using pre-completion OPT option and after graduation using post-completion OPT option.

Did you work on OPT or CPT? What has been your experience? Any thoughts to share on these ?

250 comments… add one

  • Vaibhav Gupta Oct 12, 2015 Reply

    I wanted to know if i work part time CPT in college,will that have any effect on OPT..

  • Dharma Oct 10, 2015 Reply

    Hi ,
    I am a student US and looking to take my CPT in my last semester , would there be any complications or query while filling for H1.
    Kindly advise…..

  • Shashank Sep 18, 2015 Reply

    Is it allowed to apply for H1b while working in CPT? Is it anyway different that applying in OPT?

  • Pro Sep 1, 2015 Reply

    Hi ,
    I am in CPT now , looking for job ,
    Can I buy and sell stocks with my social(work only DHS Authorization )

    • Kumar Sep 1, 2015 Reply

      Pro, you may do it as a side activity that acts as passive income, but not as full time job for your f1 status. You will need SSN for the same.

      • pro Sep 2, 2015 Reply

        I have my ssn
        “Work only DHS authorization”Can i use this SSN to work on Stocks

        • Kumar Sep 2, 2015 Reply

          You can trade stocks, but it cannot be your full time job to keep your status. It must be passive income and activity.

  • Surya kiran Aug 26, 2015 Reply

    Hey guys ,

    Need you help..!!!

    Is work and study visa safe in Usa (f1-cpt).
    I heard we can work 40hours a week and study in the weekends.

    Do we get or convert h1b after completing 2 years of master under CPT visa category.

    Please let me know your concerns.

    • Kumar Aug 26, 2015 Reply

      Surya Kiran, It is not work and study visa. It is Study visa called F1 visa. Some schools offer CPT from day one as part of curriculum. You need to be very careful with these kinds of schools as there is so much fraud involved. If your goal is to just work, maybe you should consider applying for H1B or transferring visa L1 visa…

  • Ezhumalai Aug 2, 2015 Reply

    I am complete in my diploma course .
    So I need mechanical job oriand
    Visa. Please give for one visa

  • reddy May 16, 2015 Reply

    I did my CPT for 8 months during my masters and then transferred to OPT. Since my H1 was not picked, can I plan on going back to F1 student and continue my current job on CPT?

  • Hiren Feb 8, 2015 Reply

    Hi Hiren patel
    I am study In here MBA IT on F1 status but I have already MS Cs degree in London also I have BTech Ce in India degree so we able to apply for H1B in this term .. Or we can wait for cpt Ya OpT ?????

    • Kevin Hart Oct 10, 2015 Reply

      Hiren patel you are able to apply for H1B. Go ahead and apply as there are limited picks yearly do it ASAP and start earning big. all the best

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