If you have applied for H1B visa and did not get selected in H1B Visa Lottery, you might be wondering about the options. Also, if you have been working on OPT might be considering Options to work in USA, if not selected in H1B lottery, of going for second masters. Some of the common questions that can arise are like below.
- Will I get CPT for second Masters after I have used CPT and OPT in first masters ?
- Can I start working right away on CPT for second masters ?
- What are USCIS rules for working on CPT in general ?
- What do most of the schools comply to for giving CPT authorization ?
- Do I have to be enrolled full time when I am on CPT for second masters ?
- What happens to my OPT after Second masters, if I use CPT?
Many such questions…Let me take some time shed some light on the above.
Curricular Practical Training ( CPT ) General Rules by USCIS and DHS
It is very important to understand the basics of CPT before we dive in to intricacies of using the CPT.
What is CPT ? In general, CPT is a type of employment that is given to F1 students, where it is part of academic curriculum or degree program, and required to be done for completion of degree. Typically it could include supervised field work, any work that is mandated by curriculum for hands on exposure. CPT is of three to four types, depending on school.
- CPT Required to obtain degree, which is for specific field training and experience.
- CPT available as an elective and available as credit towards degree completion
- CPT given as part of Thesis/ Dissertation for field experience towards research.
- CPT for co-op programs, generally combining education with practical work experience.
You will have to be enrolled full time in the degree program at school to avail CPT. Also, it is given only after approval from academic department and your DSO will give you a new I20 indicating the same. It will have to be taken every semester as required. If you do CPT full time for 12 months will lose the option to utilize 12 month OPT, so you have to watch how you use it. Of course, doing part time CPT work will be fine. Also read : Working options CPT vs OPT on F1 Visa
What are the general requirements for CPT ?
The basic requirement for availing CPT is that you have to be an F1 student enrolled full time in a program for one academic year ( Fall and Spring ). The only exception to the rule is that, if you are in a Graduate/Masters degree program requires internship/field work from first year/semester, then you can take CPT ahead of time. It has to be clearly defined in the program curriculum that internship/ field work is required from first semester. Also, this has to be approved by academic advisor and DSO/ international student advisor.
Can I work on CPT from day one in my Second Masters ( MS/MBA) from US ?
The basic rules of CPT applies all the time, unless there is an exception as mentioned above that is stipulated by the academic program, especially as part of the graduate or masters program. Below is an example requirement on one of the schools : CPT Rules for Second Masters – Lamar University
Can I get CPT for 12 months in my second Masters ?
This is a grey area and subject to interpretation. In the past many were using 12 months of CPT in second masters, without properly interpreting the rule of Practical Training and sometime getting away with it. But, in recent years, USCIS is looking at it closely and they are interpreting differently, applying OPT rule on degree levels, stating that you get 12 months of practical training for one degree level, including CPT. They have raised flags as RFEs and in some cases COS was denied, for H1B petitions stating that F1 students did not maintain their F1 status properly. Their whole argument is Practical Training means in general it includes CPT and OPT. See below screenshot from ICE Reference. So, be very careful on how you use CPT in second masters at the same degree level. Many of the Day 1 CPT universities do not provide this clear guidance and as it is grey, they say possible, but it is you as student who need to aware of the risk as you will be the one having the issues in future. If you are not clear, discuss with a qualified attorney.
Also, some established public universities like North Dakota State University have started to clearly tell that you get 12 months of CPT for each degree level. See below and check their NDSU CPT Deck on Eligibility
What about OPT after Second Masters ? Will I get 12 months of OPT ?
Typically 12 month OPT is given for every academic level i.e., one for Bachelors, one for Masters and one for PhD. Same rule as in above screenshot applies here. If you have used 12 month OPT after MS, then you will not be eligible for OPT for another MS degree. You will have to progress to higher level. Read full details on OPT rules for Second Masters ( MS/MBA) in USA . Also, if you have not use OPT in first masters, basic rule of full time CPT for 12 month still applies here, which is you will not get OPT, if you use full time CPT for 12 months. If your degree is from STEM Category, you may be eligible for OPT extension, if you degree falls under STEM Category, check with the school.
What NOT to do with CPT rules by USCIS or ICE ?
As you can see from above the clear goal of CPT is academic and should NOT be abused to continue your existing work. It should NEVER be used as an option to continue employment. There have been few schools that have abused the CPT and been barred by ICE and USCIS as fraud. Be cautious when someone says that they offer CPT from first semester for all the programs. There are some programs in some schools that mandate CPT from day one as part of the curriculum, but you would have to execute with caution. There are many schools that are considered degree mills which offer CPT from day one, you need to be very careful with these as you may end up in trouble later during H1B process, if you violate something. Recently, in 2019, many F1 Students were arrested for doing Day 1 CPT for Second Masters at University of Farmington, so be careful and do not break any law or knowingly engage in something fraud.
Note : You need to talk to Academic Advisor and DSO ( international student advisor) for any of the CPT related questions because, it directly relates to your F1 student status and ICE and USCIS will have a close watch. Do NOT assume anything by reading the above article as rules always keep changing and there can be subtle variations.
What are your thoughts ? Any other CPT rules that everyone should be aware of ?