The Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs are intended to provide F-1 students with an opportunity to gain practical training in their course of study. These programs can also provide a student with an avenue to form a relationship with an employer, who may later wish to petition for a nonimmigrant worker status for the student.

An F-1 student is only eligible to apply for CPT or OPT after she has been enrolled full-time in her school for at least one full academic year. To eligible for CPT and OPT, she must also be employed in a position that is related to her course of study.

Curricular Practical Training

An F-1 student may only apply for CPT before graduation, while she is still in her degree program. In order to apply for CPT, the student must have a job offer, and must receive academic credit for her employment.

CPT can take the form of an work/study program, internship, cooperative education or any other required internship or practicum which is offered by an employer through a cooperative agreement with the student’s school. The student may work in either a part-time or full time capacity. As long as the student maintains her F-1 status, there is no limit to the duration of her CPT employment. However, the student should be aware that she will not be allowed to apply for OPT if she has completed 12 months or more of full-time CPT.

F-1 students must work with their designated school official (DSO) at their international student office to apply for CPT. The student may not start working until she is granted CPT.

Optional Practical Training

An F-1 student is also eligible to apply for OPT both before and after graduation, through which she may work in a part- or full-time position. Unlike CPT, the student does not need a job offer in order to apply for OPT, and the student may also change jobs during her OPT period.

F-1 students are allotted 12 months total of OPT time per degree level. (Any OPT time that a student uses before graduation is deducted from this 12 month period.) OPT may only be used before or after the student graduates – it is not possible to combine pre- and post-completion OPT. After graduation, the student may not work in a part-time position.

Students may apply for OPT up to four months ahead of their program end date, but no later than 60 days after their program end date. After applying for OPT, the student may not start working until she receives her employment authorization card.

The student can remain in the US for a maximum of 14 months after her graduation date by using her 12 months of post-completion OPT and including her 60 day grace period in which she can prepare to leave the US, transfer to another degree program, or change her immigration status.

Extensions: Student in OPT may qualify for a cap-gap extension, which automatically extends F-1 status and post-completion OPT for an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition. Also, students who are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) graduates may qualify for a STEM extension if they are working for an employer who is participating in the E-Verify Program.

Unemployment: By law, F-1 students who are taking part in OPT must report their employer’s name and any periods of employment to their DSO. Students should be aware that there are strict new limits to the number of days of unemployment under OPT. These limits are as follows:

  • A student in post-completion OPT, may accumulate up to 90 days of unemployment.
  • If the student qualifies for a cap-gap extension, she is still only permitted 90 days of unemployment. 
  • A student who has received an STEM extension may accumulate up to 120 days of unemployment.

Periods of unemployment time include weekends and holidays and time spent outside the US (unless authorized by the student’s employer). However, unemployment time does not include the days in between employment, and the 10 days at the start of a student’s employment authorization.

Students who exceed their unemployment period while on post-completion OPT are in violation of their F-1 status, unless they can show that they have: applied to continue education by a change of level or transferring to another SEVP-certified school; departed the United States; or taken action to otherwise maintain legal status.

More Information

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