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… 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 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. 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 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.
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.
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 ?