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Understanding the Differences Between CPT and OPT Programs

Understanding the Differences Between CPT and OPT Programs

When international students go to the US for their education, they often do this with the intention of being able to work there afterwards. To understand your work-related options there, you must first understand both the CPT and OPT programs. Both were created for the benefit of international students in the US but there are some important differences between the two. 

At HiCounselor, we often work with international students who want to work in the US after completing their education. In an effort to help you figure out what will work best for you, we’ve created this short guide on the differences between the CPT and OPT programs. If you need more assistance in securing a job in America, contact us to find out how we can help. 

What is CPT (Curricular Practical Training)?

If international students want to gain some sort of training or undertake paid internships, they can choose CPT. This gives them the ability to work full-time (over 20 hours per week) or part-time (up to 20 hours per week). They can not only get some work experience under their belt, but they’ll also be able to earn while they’re at it. CPT has to be completed before graduation. Remember that if you work full-time for a year under CPT, you won’t be eligible for OPT afterwards. 

What is OPT (Optional Practical Training)?

This program grants temporary employment in a field directly related to the F-1 student’s major. An OPT permits students with F-1 visas to work up to 12 months. This can be applied for while the student is studying or after they’ve finished their coursework. If the student belongs to a STEM field, they can get an extension of 24 months. All pre-completion OPT periods are deducted from the post-completion OPT period available.

What are the differences between the two?

With CPT, an international student can work for a company before their graduation. They have to first find an internship and then request the college to issue a CPT. OPT, however, only permits the student to work after they’ve completed their graduation. They have 90 days after graduating to find a job. If they can't, they usually have to leave the country. 

CPT is completed while still studying and it is part of the student’s degree requirements. There’s no application fee for it. An OPT can also be undertaken while one is studying. It’s called pre-completion OPT and it lets you work before graduating in case you’ve finished your entire CPT period already. An application fee is paid to USCIS for an EAD card.

CPT is also semester specific. That means it’s granted based on the semester and goes up to 12 months after it’s started. The student must be registered for a course that’s directly related to the work they’re doing. OPT is neither semester specific nor does it require any course registration. However, the job must be related to the student’s main subject. 

With a CPT, students can work part-time (20 hours per week or less) during their college session or they can work full-time during their break. A pre-completion OPT allows you to work part-time during your college session, full-time during a break, or completely full-time if you’re working on your thesis or dissertation. Post-completion OPT lets you work full-time.

A CPT program enables an international student to work for an employer that’s listed on the student’s I-20 and SEVIS. Additionally, they don’t get an EAD from USCIS. OPT allows the student to work for any employer as long as that work is directly related to their field of study. They also get an EAD from USCIS once they’re approved for OPT. 

To be eligible for CPT, a student needs to be authorized by ISSS, which gives them a new I-20 certificate. The processing time is usually 5 to 7 business days. For OPT, a student needs authorization by both ISSS and USCIS. ISSS issues a new I-20 certificate with OPT recommendation and the USCIS then issues an EAD card. The processing time can last from 1 to 3 months. 

We hope that this short guide has clarified the differences between CPT and OPT! If you’re looking to work in the US and need some help getting a job, contact HiCounselor. Our robust job search program is designed to help our clients find the most suitable roles!

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