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Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) – Student Work Authorization

What is Practical Training?

Practical training allows certain eligible international students who are studying in the United States on an F1 and M1 visa to gain on-the-job experience in their field of study. Practical training supplements international students’ regular courses of study and may be for paid compensation or not. Students who receive paid compensation for their practical training work must apply for a social security number. There are two types of practical training: curricular practical training and optional practical training.

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

CPT allows F1 students to work in a job that is related to their field of study and is with an employer that is sponsored by the student’s college or university to offer practical on-the-job training as part of the school’s curriculum. This includes work in a paid or unpaid internship, practicum, or cooperative education program. CPT is available for F1 students who have completed their first full academic year or graduate students whose program requires CPT. Students participating in CPT must do so for school credit as a requisite for their major field of study. CPT may be participated in on full-time or part-time (20 hours a week or less) basis.

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT allows F1 students to work temporarily in a job related to their field of study for a period of 12 months. Students participating in OPT may do so before completing their academic work or after completing their academic work. OPT allows for paid and unpaid work; however, students who engage in paid work must receive a social security number.

Pre-Completion OPT

An F1 student may participate in pre-completion OPT after finishing their first academic year in a full-time program at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Under pre-completion OPT, students can work 20 hours or less per week (part-time) while engaging in their courses for study during the academic year and can work 40 hours per week (full-time) when not engaged in courses for study.

Post-Completion OPT

An F1 student may also participate in post-completion OPT after finishing all of their academic work, after graduation. Individuals who participate in post-completion OPT may work part-time or full-time. If an individual participated in 12 months of pre-completion OPT or CPT, they cannot participate in post-completion OPT. Similarly, if an individual spent any amount of time in pre-completion OPT or CPT, this time will be deducted from the post-completion OPT time.

STEM Extension OPT

F1 students who completed certain eligible STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs may apply for a 24 month post-completion OPT extension to be employed with an employer enrolled in E-Verify. The F1 student must have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT based on his or her STEM degree.

Who is Eligible for Practical Training?

F1 and M1 undergraduate or graduate students may participate in practical training. F1 students may participate in pre-completion or post-completion practical training while M1 students may only participate in practical training after the completion of their program. M1 students accrue eligible practical training throughout their program of study. For every four months of program enrollment, an M1 student accrues one month of practical training time. F1 students do not need to accrue practical training eligibility.

What is the Process to Receive Practical Training?

The process to participate in practical training generally follows the same steps but has minor differences depending on whether a student seeks to engage in CPT or OPT and whether the student is studying in the United States on an F1 visa or an M1 visa.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

In order to participate in CPT, the F1 student must request to participate in CPT with his or her school’s designated school official (DSO) and through his or her school’s established process. After making a request with the school’s DSO, the DSO will review the student’s eligibility for CPT. If the student is eligible, the DSO will authorize the student to participate in CPT with a specific employer through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The DSO will print and sign Form I-20 with the CPT authorization.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

In order to participate in OPT, the F1 student must request to participate in OPT with his or her school’s DSO and through the school’s established process. After the DSO confirms the student’s eligibility for OPT, the DSO will enter the student’s request into SEVIS and print and sign Form I-20. The student must then also sign Form I-20 and submit a completed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization along with the application fee to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within 30 days of the DSO’s SEVIS request. The USCIS may request additional information from the student evidencing his or her eligibility. If the USCIS approves the student’s application, the student will be issued FormI-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Pre-Completion OPT

Students who apply for pre-completion OPT must apply after their DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into SEVIS. Additionally, students may apply up to 90 days before they complete a full academic year, but cannot begin OPT employment until one full academic year has been completed.

Post-Completion OPT

Students who apply for post-completion OPT must apply within 30 days of their DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into SEVIS. Additionally, students may apply up to 90 days before they complete their degree, but no later than 60 days after completion of the degree.

STEM Extension OPT

Students who apply for an STEM extension of OPT must do so within 60 days of their DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into SEVIS. Additionally, students may apply up to 90 days before their current OPT employment authorization expires.

M1 Students

Students studying in the United States on an M1 visa must request practical training through their DSO. Since M1 students can only receive practical training after the completion of their program, they may need to apply for an extension of status with the USCIS at the time they apply for practical training authorization.

Transferring Schools

If a student transfers to a new school or begins a new course of study, the authorization to engage in employment will terminate automatically. The student will have to re-apply for practical training authorization through the DSO at his or her new school or course of study.

Students with Approved H-1B Petitions

Students in the United States on an F1 visa who will receive an H-1B visa and have requested to change their status can have their F1 status and current employment authorization extended to accommodate the start date of the H-1B visa.

What is the Cost to Receive Practical Training?

The cost to file Form I-765 is $410. There is no filing fee to update information on Form I-20.

Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.