Difference Between OPT and CPT – Features, Eligibility & More

Are you an international student studying in the United States of America (USA)? If yes, you must know that you can choose to work part-time only if you operate within the restrictions set by your visa.

So, if you wish to work in the country, it would be advisable to familiarize yourself with a few restrictions and regulations to avoid considerable trouble later. 

If you are a student planning to apply for a job, you probably hold the most common U.S. non-immigrant student visa or the F1 visa. In this case, you will have to operate within the specific guidelines set by the USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service). 

These guidelines split the F1 visa employment into various types, namely:

  • On-Campus Employment 
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)

The on-campus employment type needs USCIS approval and is the most readily available. On the other hand, CPT and OPT are complex and need to be understood. 

These employment types are regulated by strict guidelines set down by the USCIS and have requirements you must fulfil. So, what is the difference between OPT and CPT? The next part of the article delves deeper into finding these answers for an F1 student visa holder. 

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Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

What is CPT? Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is classified under an off-campus employment program, so the rules are slightly different. CPT temporarily allows international students with an F-1 visa to gain practical experience directly related to their major. As a part of CPT, students have to secure a job as practical training experience alongside an established curriculum. In simple terms, getting a job is a part of your academic curriculum. CPT has to be completed before graduation.

However, qualifying for the CPT registration requires work experience, or you must be awarded academic credit.

Moreover, CPT also offers to pay students for their work. To qualify for CPT, you must be recognized by your institute’s International Student Office. Moreover, a notification to the USCIS is also a compulsion. 

Eligibility Criteria for CPT

The eligibility criteria for CPT employment are as follows.

  • Candidates must possess a valid F1 status and must have enrolled in a full-time school for a minimum duration of 1 year
  • The CPT program must be integrated into the candidate’s curriculum and award them academic credit at the end of the program
  • Candidates must be fielding an eligible job offer before submitting an authorization request
  • The job must be from your field of study

Features of CPT

The features of the CPT employment type are as follows.

  • Offers practical experience in your designated field of study
  • Makes way for you to leverage paid employment training and internship positions
  • Offers both part-time (less than 20 hours per week) and full-time (20 hours and above per week)
  • Offers you the chance to earn in your first year of college

Note: If you work on CPT for 12 months or more (full time), you are no longer eligible for OPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is OPT? The regulations set for OPT are different from CPT. Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows students to work off-campus while choosing to work both during and post-completing their degree. 

Besides, the USCIS has also set up Optional Practical Training, and hence several stringent regulations are in place. It requires authorization from the USCIS and the University’s International Student Office. 

Applications for OPT jobs can start once you have been enrolled in the college for a minimum duration of 9 months, but there is a catch. You cannot start applying for jobs until you receive an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) from the USCIS. You need to be enrolled in college for at least a year to receive this document. 

Eligibility Criteria for OPT

The eligibility criteria for OPT employment are as follows

  • The job must be directly related to the candidate’s degree
  • Candidates must possess valid F1 status
  • Candidates must first apply for OPT and then work towards their degree
  • Candidates must not be a part of full-time OPT employment for more than 12 months

Features of OPT

The features of OPT employment type are as follows.

  • Allows you to work part-time or full-time in your major or field of study
  • Imparts practical experience in your field of study
  • Does not require you to have a job offer while applying
  • Offers paid employment and internship opportunities 
  • Allows you to work both during and after your degree

OPT STEM Extension

If you have completed your education program and wish to take up a job post completion of your OPT, you can opt for an OPT STEM Extension. This grants you a temporary time frame of 24 months to get a job in your field of study. 

Moreover, the job must be directly related to the Stem Designated Degree Program List and you cannot apply for an OPT Stem extension for at least 60 days post completion of your OPT. Post this, candidates are allowed an unemployment period of 150 days, after which they have to start working.

What is the OPT Cap-Gap Extension?

The OPT Cap-Gap extension is a way to get your F1 status duration extended. On top of that, you can also extend your ongoing employment authorization for as long as your F1 status is valid, i.e., the first day of the following fiscal year (October 1).

Moreover, to qualify for an extension, you must fill out the H-1B petition on time and submit a request to change your status. 

Difference between OPT and CPT for International Students

Here are the critical differences between CPT vs. OPT:

CPT OPT
Purpose  Allows you to gain practical experience as a part of your curriculum before completing your degree.  Allows you to gain practical experience both while pursuing and after completing your degree. 
Requirements  It is mandatory to work on your CPT as a part of your curriculum. It is not mandatory to work on your OPT as a part of your curriculum.
EAD Does not require EAD Requires EAD
Duration 12 months 12 months, can be extended up to 24 months
Application fee none $410 
Part-time or full-time employment  Available for both part-time and full-time employment opportunities. Full-time work opportunities both during and post your degree.

Get the Most Out of OPT and CPT Opportunities

Now that you have understood the difference between OPT and CPT, you can make the right call and choose a practical training opportunity accordingly. 

Additionally, you should know the various eligibility requirements and restrictions put down by the USCIS, and navigate them efficiently to make the most out of your CPT and OPT opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I apply for OPT and CPT at the same time?

Yes, you can apply for CPT and OPT simultaneously. However, if students work for 12 months on full-time CPT, they won’t be able to apply for OPT. Part-time CPT won’t affect the eligibility for OPT.

2. Does CPT usage affect OPT ability?

Yes, it does. If you work on CPT for 12 months or more (full time), you are no longer eligible for OPT. Part-time CPT won’t affect the eligibility for OPT.

3. How to choose between OPT and CPT?

If your course requires you to participate in CPT, go for it. However, if your university isn’t offering credits for CPT, you can go for OPT, which is optional and usually done post-graduation. 

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