Difference Between OPT and CPT

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  • By:CANAM Group
  • Updated On:Jan 31,2023 11:17 AM IST

The US allows students to apply for CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training), practical training programs which allow students to gain work experience during and after the completion of their course.

Difference Between OPT and CPT  

The USA has always been a popular study destination among international students for its wide variety of courses and post-study work opportunities. While studying, one of the main concerns of every international student is to find possible opportunities to put theory into practice and earn money to support them financially.

Fortunately, the US allows students to apply for CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training), practical training programs which allow students to gain work experience during and after the completion of their course.

What is CPT?

CPT or Curricular Practical Training is a temporary work authorization for international students to work while actively studying. It is given to students holding an F-1 student visa to help them gain practical training through paid/unpaid internships or co-op programs relating to their major field of study. It is employer-specific training that a student must complete prior to graduation. The key thing to note here is that if students work full-time for 12 months under CPT, they will lose their eligibility to apply for OPT. 

CPT is offered in two ways:

  • Part-time, allowing students to work for 20 hours or less within a week.
  • Full-time, allowing students to work beyond 20 hours a week. 

Guidelines for CPT

  • The student must be a holder of an F-1 student visa.
  • Students must be enrolled in a full-time course with a minimum length of one academic year.
  • Students must have a declared major and be enrolled full-time to get their preferred internship.

  • Since CPT is employer-specific, the student must provide a letter of agreement from the employer, meeting the requirements of the institution for the relevant course.

How to apply for CPT? 

It is important to confirm one's eligibility and requirements before applying for CPT. Students need to inquire about the internship course credit policy from their academic advisor. The key requirement is to find an internship or job offer. Apply after carefully filling in the advisor and student sections of the application. 

What is OPT? 

OPT or Optional Practical Training is a flexible training program directly relating to the significant area of study of an international student holding an F1 visa. OPT allows students to work full-time for up to 12 months which can extend to 17 months if the student is pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

There are three types of OPT:

  • Pre-completion OPT- Begins before the completion of the program. This period is then later deducted from the 12 months of OPT eligibility.
  • Post-completion OPT- Begins after the course completion and is the most preferred option for students.
  • STEM OPT- This is a 24-month extension allowed to some STEM majors to extend their post-completion OPT. 

Guidelines for OPT

  • Students can only apply to jobs related to their area of study.
  • Students are eligible to apply for OPT upon completion of their first academic year. 
  • Students are eligible to apply for OPT before or after the completion of their course duration. However, it should be noted that students can only work 20 hours or fewer per week if the classes are in session.
  • To apply for OPT, a student must be enrolled in a full-time course for at least one academic year.
  • To work in the US, international students must contact their Designated School Official (DSO) to provide them with the correct information and steps to begin working while studying. 

How to apply for OPT?

Students must make a request to DSO (Designated School Official) to recommend the OPT. The DSO will then recommend it by endorsing the I-20 form. Students must file form I-765 along with the required fee and the supporting documentation as given in the form instructions. 

Difference between CPT and OPT 

Here are some of the key differences that students should be aware of:

CPT offers a practical experience to students before graduation.
OPT helps the student to gain practical experience after graduation.
CPT is a part of the degree requirement.
OPT doesn't relate to the degree requirements.
Training Host
Consent from ISS and the academic department is required.
Consent from USCIS (US government) is required.
Valid for 12 months
Valid for12-24 months
Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
The student doesn't get EAD under CPT. 
Student working on OPT gets EAD from USCIS.
Mode of Applying
Application Fee
An application fee of $410 is paid to USCIS.
Permitted Work Time
Students can either work part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (40 hours)
Generally, OPT is a full-time training done after graduation.
Employment Type
Students get to work with any employer across the US.
Students can only work with employers who feature on the I-20 list.

Interested to learn more about studying in the USA? Visit your nearest Canam office today for a free counseling session with experts, or book a virtual slot by visiting the website. 

General questions about CPT and OPT

Can I extend OPT beyond 12 months?

Yes, if you are a student with a STEM degree, you can extend your duration to 17 months or more. 

What is OPT Cap-Gap Extension?

If a company wishes to hold back the student for a longer time than permitted under OPT, the student is required to upgrade from an F1 visa to an H1B visa. A cap-gap extension permits students to stay in the US at the time of upgrading from F-1 OPT or OPT STEM to H-1B status.

How many hours can I work in CPT?

Students can work up to 40 hours a week during CPT.

Who is eligible for OPT in the US?

Eligibility to apply for OPT: 

  • The student must be an F1 visa holder at the time of application.
  • Should be enrolled in a full-time course for at least one academic year.
  • The student should not have previously applied for and used an OPT for the same degree level. 

Is CPT better than OPT?

Both CPT and OPT are designed to provide international students with valuable work experience where one allows students to work while studying, and another allows students to work either during or after studies.

Can I switch from CPT to OPT?

Yes, the federal rule for working international students stipulates that they can change to OPT only if they meet the necessary requirements. However, if students are employed in a full-time CPT for 12 months or more, they will lose their eligibility to apply for OPT.

Can I work more than 20 hours weekly under OPT? 

Yes, international students can work over 20 hours per week, depending on the type of job role and chosen OPT.

For more details on CPT and OPT, visit the official website of Canam.

To know more about studying abroad in detail, click here!

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