Apply for Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training

Most F-1 students studying at the college and university level can seek authorization for practical training to engage in temporary employment to gain practical experience directly related to their field of study. There are two types of practical training:

  1. Curricular practical training (CPT)
  2. Optional practical training (OPT), which consists of two kinds:

Practical training is not available for students in English language training programs. A student studying English in an intensive English language training program is not eligible for practical training. Practical training is limited to college, university, conservatory, or seminary students.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Federal regulations state that a student may participate in a "curricular practical training program" that is "an integral part of an established curriculum" and "directly related to the student's major area of study."  They further define curricular practical training as "alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school” or “the student must receive credit for the training/internship” through registration in an internship or independent study course.

Link to Code of Federal Regulations about CPT »

Practical training must be an already established part of a program of study. An example of this would be the Service Learning Internship course (CD 290) required for the Child Development program at NMC. A job or internship not related to the student’s program of study does not meet the qualification for CPT.

 

Preconditions

Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a DHS-approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for CPT. Available only while student is in F-1 status, before completion of the educational objective. Students in English language training programs are ineligible for CPT.

Location

Students may engage in CPT only for the specific employer, location and period approved and recorded by the DSO in SEVIS.

Duration

Depends on the specific period granted by the DSO. May be granted by DSO in increments of no more than one year, or until expected date of employment completion, whichever is shorter. No cumulative maximum, except that it can only be approved before completion of the academic objective.

Hours per week

Can be approved for part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (over 20 hours).

Field/level of work

Must be an integral part of an established curriculum, in the student's course of study.

Offer of employment

Must have an offer of employment from an employer offering work that qualifies as curricular practical training.

Effect on other work

Use of full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training. Use of part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for Optional Practical Training (see 3.38 Effect of use of CPT on eligibility for OPT).

Approval process

Must receive written authorization from DSO, who records authorization in SEVIS and issues SEVIS I-20 with notation, before work begins. USCIS approval is not required.

Miscellaneous

Must continue to maintain a full course of study in F-1 status during the period of employment.

What the Student Must Do

The student should do the following, and submit everything to an International Advisor:

  • Review and complete the CPT Information Packet » [hyperlink to PDF] and submit it to an International Advisor in Admissions
  • Call or e-mail to request a meeting with the International Advisor where you will review your CPT packet. Allow 5-7 business days for processing of your new I-20
  • Sign the new I-20 that will be issued to reflect CPT and read page 2 of your I-20
  • Refrain from beginning the training until the new I-20 bearing the DSO’s (International Advisor’s) CPT authorization has been issued and the CPT start date has been reached.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional practical training (OPT) is available to F-1 students who have been enrolled on a full-time basis for one full year or who have completed their program of study. The work done for OPT must be directly related to the major area of study. Standard OPT can be authorized for a maximum aggregate period of 12 months per educational level. A student becomes “eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher education level.”

Pre-Completion OPT

OPT before completion of the course of study (graduation) is commonly called “pre-completion OPT.” A student who still has coursework remaining to complete his/her educational objective or degree program is limited to 20 hours per week of optional practical training while school is in session.

Standard Post-Completion OPT

OPT done after completion of the course of study is referred to as “post-completion OPT.” This type of OPT can be part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full time (21 hours per week or more) and must be directly related to the student’s program of study.

Link to Code of Federal Regulations about OPT »

 

Preconditions

Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a DHS-approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for OPT. Available both before and after completion of the educational objective, but different rules apply to pre- and post- completion OPT. Students in English language training programs are not eligible for OPT. Part-time F-1 "border commuter students" are eligible only for OPT following completion of the course of study. OPT must be “directly related to the student’s major area of study.”

Location

Students may engage in OPT for any employer for the duration of OPT authorization, as long as the employment qualifies under OPT standards.

Duration

  • Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level.
  • A one-time extension of 17 months (for a total of 29 months) is available to certain STEM degree recipients (talk with your advisor about this).

Hours per week

  • 20 hours/week limit for pre-completion OPT done while school is in session and student still has coursework to complete.
  • Full-time employment can be requested for pre-completion OPT done during official school breaks, and for students who have completed all requirements for their degree except for thesis or dissertation.
  • For post-completion OPT, according to SEVP guidance a student must be adequately employed to avoid limits on unemployment [see AM § 3.52 ]

Field/level of work

Must be directly related to the student's course of study.

Offer of employment

  • No offer of employment is required to apply for standard OPT, but the student is expected to work during the OPT EAD validity period. Students on post-completion OPT are limited to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment.
  • To apply for a 17-month STEM extension, student must have an offer of employment from an employer registered with E-Verify.

Effect on other work

Prior use of full-time Curricular Practical Training for one year or more eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training.

Approval process

  • DSO recommends OPT in SEVIS.
  • Student files I-765 application for EAD with USCIS Lockbox Facility.
  • Work can begin only after receiving EAD issued by USCIS, and on or after the start date on the EAD.
  • Special rules govern applications for the 17-month STEM OPT extension.

Miscellaneous

  • If doing pre-completion OPT, must maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (unless done during school breaks).
  • Degree candidates that have completed all coursework must continue to make normal progress towards completing the thesis or dissertation required for their degree.

What the Student Must Do

  • Review the OPT Information Packet and direct any questions to an international advisor.
  • Complete the OPT packet and gather all supporting documents.
  • Call to schedule an appointment with an international advisor to review your packet and submit your request form for OPT. You will bring your entire completed OPT packet to this meeting.
  • Allow 5-7 business days for a new I-20 to be generated for you by the international advisor.
  • Photocopy your entire OPT application packet (including all forms I-20, any previous employment authorization documents (EAD), form I-765, and letters) and send the original packet to USCIS for review. Find average USCIS processing times »
  • Prepare a resume and begin searching for a job that is directly related to your degree program.
  • Stay in contact with your international advisor and maintain your student health insurance coverage for the duration of your OPT.

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