Curricular practical training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) both provide work authorization for F-1 students to acquire practical skills in their area of study. While they are distinct from each other, there are similarities in the two types of authorization and areas in which they affect each other.
CPT is a type of work authorization that allows students to gain practical experience in their field of study during their program. CPT is available only before completion of the student’s program, not after graduation.
According to F-1 regulations, CPT is off-campus employment which is required either for:
all students in your degree OR
for a credit-bearing course that will count toward your degree.
At TTIC, we do not have an employment requirement for all students in the degree program, but students are encouraged to pursue internships that will further their research subject. Therefore, CPT employment may be approved for a course that leads to your degree. This course is TTIC 57000 Computer Science Internship. You must register for this course during the quarter that you work, and you will receive a grade for the course from your advisor at the end of the quarter.
Authorization for CPT comes from TTIC’s International Office, rather than from a governmental agency. There is no application fee. To be eligible, you must be in valid F-1 status at time of application and have been lawfully enrolled in a degree program on a full-time basis for one academic year before application.
A student in valid F-1 status may engage in CPT during the school year on a part-time basis, limited to no more than 20 hours per week. There is no limit on the length of time you may participate in part-time CPT.
Typically, full-time CPT may be engaged in only during official TTIC breaks and vacation (between quarters and during Summer Quarter). On occasion, internships requiring full-time CPT may extend for a short period into another quarter. An extension of full-time CPT may be granted to students for these short time periods outside the usual quarter. If a student is registered in a course (other than Independent Research or Reading,) and wants to begin CPT prior to the end of the quarter, or will return to TTIC from CPT after a course has started, the student must receive written confirmation from the course’s instructor that it is appropriate to be absent. This written confirmation should be submitted to the TTIC International Affairs office along with other CPT application materials at the time of CPT request.
There is no limit on how long you can participate in full-time-CPT, however, if you participate in 12 months or more of full-time CPT you become ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Allow at least one week for approval of CPT. Forward the following three items to the International Office:
Copy of your official offer letter, on company letterhead, with the prospective employer’s signature. The letter must include:
Recommendation of CPT Form from your advisor stating the course you will register for (TTIC 57000 Computer Science Internship) and confirming that your employment will meet the requirements of that course.
Once approved, a new I-20 will be issued and forwarded to you. Please Note: working even one day of CPT prior to authorization or after the authorized period is a serious violation of your F-1 status in the U.S. It is also a violation to work full-time if your work authorization is for part-time, and vice versa. Such violations can jeopardize your ability to stay in the U.S.
All regulations pertaining to F-1 status are still in effect when you are on CPT.
Extension of CPT - It is possible to receive an extension of your CPT period. Contact the International Office if an extension is being considered.
Taxes - If you have been in the U.S. for no more than five calendar years, notify your employer that as an F-1 student you are exempt from FICA taxes (Medicare and social security taxes). Some employers are not familiar with this provision of the tax laws.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows for off-campus employment directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study during the degree program or after graduation. OPT can be approved for both part-time and full-time employment, and for employment prior to completion of the academic program as well as post-completion. A total of 12 months per educational level is allowed.
A student applying for OPT must be registered as a full-time student for at least one academic year prior to application. They must be physically present in the U.S. in valid F-1 status at the time of application. The Optional Practical Training must be related to the student’s area of study and commensurate with their degree level.
Students are allowed a total of 12 months OPT at each academic level. So, if a student uses 12 months of OPT while pursuing their master’s degree they are allowed to take another 12 months while pursuing their Ph.D. This applies only to a terminal master’s degree, it does not apply to TTIC’s masters within the Ph.D. degree.
Also please note that students who have been on full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for 12 months or more are ineligible for OPT.
Part-time OPT is considered 20 hours or less per week. Students who are completing the course requirements for a Ph.D. degree may only work part-time during the regular academic year. Students who have completed the course requirements and are working on their thesis may partake in either part-time or full-time employment, during the regular academic year. During break periods, such as the summer months, all eligible students may work full-time. In addition, once a student has completed the academic program and received their degree, work may be approved for OPT.
A student may apply for OPT without a specific offer of employment having been made or accepted. It is not employer-specific. Once the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is issued, however, the student must be actively searching for a job. A student on OPT can accrue no more than 90 days within the 12-month period.
When it is received, a copy of the EAD card must be provided to TTIC’s International Office (IO). For changes to F-1 status during OPT, such as to an H1-B, documentation must be provided to IO so that the SEVIS record can be updated.
While on OPT, a student must notify TTIC’s IO of the following changes to their information and status within ten days of the change:
Name and address of employer
Changes to name or address of employer
Any interruptions of employment
Resignation or termination of employment
F-1 students who completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM field (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and are currently engaged in post-completion OPT may apply for the 24-month STEM extension if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer.
F-1 students may obtain additional information about STEM OPT extensions at https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/optional-practical-training-extension-for-stem-students-stem-opt.
The application process for STEM OPT is the same as the application for pre- or post-completion OPT.