What Are OPT and CPT for International Students
June 08, 2022
Author : Administrator

Are you among the thousands of students who enrol in an American university every year? Do you plan on pursuing a degree and career in the United States? But, before you can accomplish your American dream of a six-figure salary and a lavish lifestyle. You need to know this important distinction between the various visa types required for the same. 

Studying in an elite foreign university is a dream for many. Yet, only a few pull-through till the end. Enrolling into a university, completing a degree program, and getting a job are different scenarios requiring manifold efforts and determination. Did you know that over 300,000 people get deported from the U.S. every year? 

As per National Centre for Education Statistics, there are far more than 26 million enrolments in a college or higher educational institute in the United States for the 2019-20 academic year. 

Moreover, out of 4 million visa applicants each year, only 66,000 get approved. In addition, out of the 50 million immigrant population, the U.S. only grants a million green cards per year. The numbers speak for themselves. You need to read all about the OPT and CPT visa grants if you want to avoid accidentally breaching any immigration protocols and have a stress-free stay in the U.S.

study visa in usa

What is OPT?

First and foremost, if you are flying to the U.S., you must have an F-1 student's visa to pursue any form of education in the U.S. The F-1 visa allows the holder to enter the USA to study for a full-time degree - university, college, elementary school, conservatory, or a linguistic program. This is the visa that a student must obtain before entering the U.S. 

OPT or Optional Practical Training is temporary employment. Immigrant students in the U.S. opt to pursue to gain experience in the area of study they picked as their major. An OPT is authorised for twelve months only. Students applying for employment in the STEM field get an extension of up to seventeen months.

There are two types of OPT:


You can apply for a pre-completion OPT once you have lawfully completed one year in a full-time academic year. You may be studying at a university, college, or seminary certified under the ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) with an F-1 visa.

As mentioned earlier, students who don't yet possess an F-1 status for a complete academic year in any education can wait and fulfil the same requirement regardless of their non-immigrant status. 

Studies show that over 22 percent of U.S. university students reside in university dormitories. Fifty-five percent live in rented apartments, and the rest, 23%, live in off-campus housing.


You can also apply for an OPT after the completion of your academia. The conditioning for a post-completion OPT is that you have to work part-time (less than or equal to twenty hours/week) or full-time employment. 

Such is the major difference between OPT and CPT. For students who have completed one year of part-time employment before applying to pre-completion OPT, the available OPT time will be reduced to six months. For such scenarios, you can only work or train for a period of the remaining six months of the OPT.

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What is CPT?

We've discussed all of the OPT in the above section, now moving on to the other one. CPT or Curricular Practical Training is the sanction that permits students to pursue paid internships in the U.S. along with their academic studies. Under a CPT, one can get experience and get paid in USD while pursuing their degree program. 

It includes working full-time (less than or equal to twenty hours a week) or part-time (not more than twenty hours a week) to gain experience in their area of interest. You must complete the internship or employment before completing your graduation, as it is a protocol for the CPT. The point to be noted here is that working full-time for twelve months will make you ineligible for an OPT. This is also how OPT and CPT differ. 

Various universities and colleges provide work-study opportunities to domestic students only, and it is financed with federal funding. Universities aren’t apt to offer such financial aid to immigrant students; they are paid for their internship from the on-campus office or through private institutions.

Around 19.4 million students pursued a university degree in the fall semester of 2020. 11.9 million students pursue a full-time study degree, and 7.5 million students pursue a work-study degree. - National Centre for Education Statistics, USA.

Hence, international students' work-study options are less compared to domestic students. Still, the CPT work-study program supports students to earn a paid internship/employment on/off-campus. In addition, such programs are designed to allow international/domestic students to commence working right in the first year of their academia.

Who Needs an OPT or a CPT?

It is a challenge to study at an international university. Many students are focused on saving up their money to meet all their expenses. But, in the U.S., you can work-study simultaneously. Different programs offer opportunities for students to pursue a paid internship/employment as they complete their degree program. 

CPT entails work-study opportunities, and OPT courses are useful for students to develop experience in an area of their interest post-graduation. But do you know which programs need internship/employment? Here's a list:

  • Actuarial sciences
  • Engineering
  • Life sciences
  • Military technologies
  • Physical sciences
  • Fashion Design
  • International Business Studies
  • Marketing and entrepreneurship
  • Mass communication
  • Culinary arts and more

The employment rate in the U.S. was at 59% on average between 1948-2022, with the highest at 64.7 percent in April 2000 and the lowest at 51.3 percent in April 2020. - Trading Economics 

If you plan on pursuing a paid internship or a summer internship, international students can opt for a degree program that requires an internship. Hope you understand the difference between OPT and CPT. Working while you study can benefit you as you can earn in USD, gain experience and establish professional networks for your future career. 

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