Many students, who plan to study in US or already in US studying, would have questions like : can I work legally as F1 student 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… 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 standard good 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 ! If you going for second Masters, you are not eligible for CPT from Day 1, it is a misconception that you have already been in US for two semesters. All the standard rules of CPT apply, read Can you work on CPT from Day 1 in Second Masters in US. Many students, without this knowledge fall into the trap and end up in situations like arrests, deportation as in Univ of Farmington
What is 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 24 months for STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics ) Degree holders. This used to be 17 months, but a new rule was passed in 2015 to extend 17 month to 24 month OPT .
There are two types of OPT called pre-completion OPT and post completion OPT.
- Pre-completion OPT is something that can be utilised by students to work in their area of study before the 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). Usually, pre-completion OPT is used by students only when there is no chance to work on CPT.
- Post-completion OPT is to work in their area of study after F1 student graduation. Typically, most of the students use OPT after graduating from school. So, if you hear students or anyone referring to OPT, they mean post-completion OPT. They usually do not use “post completion” as this is the common way of calling and it is how many use it. General rules of OPT like working in same field of study apply here as well. General OPT is given for 12 months duration, if you have not used it before graduation and have not worked on CPT in full time for 12 months. You maybe eligible for 24 month extension of OPT, if your degree falls under STEM category.
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.
What is STEM OPT ?
In 2015, USCIS announced a new set of rules stating that if you belong to STEM Category you can get an extension for another 24 months for a total OPT of 36 Months. To avail this, you need to be part of the list STEM Designated Degrees by DHS by having the right CIP Code for your degree to qualify for STEM Degree. There are certain rules like you can work for only an e-verified employer and training reporting guidelines that are set forth by USCIS that a student need to follow during the STEM OPT period. If that is not followed properly, then USCIS can question your status details during your H1B period, so all care need to be taken to be in proper status.
High Level Differences between OPT vs CPT:
|Primary Purpose||Provision to work in a company as F1 student to get practical work experience during studying of degree, before graduation||Provision to work in a company on F1 status after graduation to gain experience in the same field of education|
|Typical Student Status||Full time F1 student in school.||In general, student graduated with degree and on F1 status in US, with exception of students leveraging pre-completion OPT,|
|Course Fee||Need to pay the school for the course credit. Usually 1 course credit.||No need to pay the University, but need to file application with USCIS and pay application fee.|
|Degree Requirements||Working on CPT will be part of degree requirements and directly related to students area of study||Not related to degree requirements. Pursued after graduation in the same field.|
|Approved By||CPT is approved by Department in University, Career Center, and DSO authorizes it in SEVIS, gives New I-20||OPT is approved by USCIS. DSO issues I-20 in support of the OPT application and student files application with USCIS|
|Employment Duration||Can be done for up to 12 months. But, if you work in CPT for 12 months full time, you will not be eligible for OPT||Typical duration of 12 months after graduation and can be extended by 24 months, if part of STEM Degree and qualified for it.|
|Employer Info||Employer need to provide training related to study, their name is printed on I-20. Student submits CPT report in School for credit award for degree||It is student responsibility to get training work in OPT in their related field. There is no report submitted to school. Only DSO is informed of the school and details are printed on I-20.|
|EAD||Student does not get Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS||Student gets EAD from USCIS after approval of OPT|
|How long to Process||Few days. Anywhere from a week to 10 days depending on school, department workload.||Can take anywhere from 60 to 90 days or more depending on USCIS work load.|
|Application Fee||No application fee, only course credit fee paid to school||Application fee of $410 USD paid to USCIS|
|Working Full time or Part time||Can be either full time (40 Hours) CPT or Part time. Usually done 20 hours part time during school and 40 hours during summer||Usually done full time after graduation. If leveraging pre-completion OPT, then is part time during classes and full time during summer|
There are many rules that are outlined by DHS to make sure you are using your OPT and CPT properly. You will need to work with your DSO and make sure you follow those rules and use them without violating any status.
Did you work on OPT or CPT? What has been your experience? Any thoughts to share on these ?