Qualifying and Applying for Optional Practical Training or Curricular Practical Training

Practice Areas

By: Utkarsh Sharma

Optional Practical Training – OPT

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12-month training period given to international students to work temporarily in the United States of America. OPT offers 12 months of work authorization for students looking to gain experience working in their field of study. Students enrolled in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degree programs may get up to total of 3 years OPT, provided they meet all requirement for a the 24 month extension.  

OPT is classified into 2 categories:

  • Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training: Pre-completion OPT is for current students, allowing them to work prior to completing their degree program. Typically, students utilize this period for an internship or apprenticeship.
  • Post-Completion Optional Practical Training: Post-completion OPT provides work authorization from USCIS for a full-time job or internship after graduating.

Prerequisites for OPT

  • Applicants must be enrolled in a full-time program at any university in the United States.
  • Applicants are expected to submit an updated form I-20 with their Designated School Official (DSO). The student is also required to submit form I-765. The I-765 is filed with USCIS along with support documents.
  • USCIS approved the I-765, and mails the student an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  • The start date of the OPT period will be mentioned in the EAD. Students may begin working on or after the start date and must stop once the OPT expires. In order to continue working in the United States students must apply for another form of work authorization (For Non STEM degrees) or extend their OPT (STEM Degrees) depending on the type of degree pursued.

Curricular Practical Training – CPT

International students eligible for CPT, are allowed to work for a fixed employer, in a position relevant to their field of study, while pursuing their curriculum. In order to apply for CPT, students must receive authorization from their DSO for a specified 12-month period. The DSO will provide CPT authorization through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS). International students are not permitted to work in the United States without authorization.

 Eligibility for CPT

  • In order to qualify for CPT, a student must be in the United States on an F-1 Visa. The authorization will be printed on the student’s form I-20.
  • Candidate must be pursuing a minimum 1-year course from the designated university.
  • Candidate has obtained at least a training position or full-time internship.
  • Must be proficient in English.

Difference Between OPT & CPT For F-1 Students

  • International students with an F-1 or J-1 visa are eligible for both OPT and CPT
  • CPT must be completed before the applicant graduates, however, the OPT can be completed during or after graduation.
  • CPT is required to relate to the applicant’s current curriculum and applies to paid or unpaid internships and education programs with a specific employer, however there is no need for a specific employer with OPT.
  • CPT is only valid for 12-months but OPT may be extended to 24 months if the applicant’s field of study is in an eligible STEM program
  • OPT applicants do not need an employment letter or offer to receive work authorization however CPT applicants need, a valid offer of employment to gain authorization from their DSO.


Understanding the requirements and applying for OPT or CPT can be a confusing process. To discuss which program will be right for you, assistance applying for work authorization, or case-specific questions, contact the trusted Chugh, LLP immigration team.


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