OPT/CPT Student Visas – What You Need to Know

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a status given to undergraduate and graduate students with a F-1 (student) visa, who have graduated or have been pursuing degrees for more than nine months. Students who qualify for OPT are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for 12 months on a student visa, which allows them practical training to complement their U.S. education. Students must work in a field related to their focus of study. OPT typically must be granted within 90 days of graduation, which means it is extremely important that recent graduates secure a qualifying position as soon as possible or risk being required to leave the U.S.!

Certain F-1 students who have earned their degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and who meet additional requirements, are eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT. This gives a total of 36 months of OPT for these STEM students.

What is CPT?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a temporary status given to current students who wish to find practical training during their course of study. Depending on each university/college’s requirements, CPT may be part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week). Students are eligible for up to 12 months of CPT during their study—however, once a student reaches 12 months of CPT, they lose their eligibility for OPT once they graduate. Therefore, students should work CPT for less than 12 months during their education, and then pursue in additional 12 – 36 months of OPT after graduation.

Why Should I Pursue OPT or CPT?

Multiple studies show that international students who gain experience working for U.S. companies have a better chance of obtaining H1B visas and remaining long-term in the U.S. Students with work experience in America also fare better in their home country’s job market if they decide to return home. Having experience working for an American company is invaluable to your career!


What Kind of Work Qualifies for OPT and CPT?

Employment (part-time, temp, full-time), internship experience (paid or unpaid), cooperative (co-op) education experience, practicum participation, and independent contracting with a U.S. organization are all ways to qualify for OPT and CPT. Your school must also sign off on your employment.

Be Cautious of Companies that “Sell” You OPT/CPT!!!

There are online companies that claim they will secure your OPT and CPT for a fee. These companies often forge documents and illegally state that you are their employee. Be careful! These companies are operating illegally, and they put you at risk of losing your legitimate student visa or eventual work visa status. The small fee is not worth the risk that you carry. To legally qualify for CPT or OPT, you must have an internship or other work arrangement with a legal U.S. organization.

International students should also be cautious of non-American companies that offer you “U.S.-based” internship or employment. Not only are many of these companies scams, but you may find yourself working with an all-foreign workforce. If you truly desire “American work experience,” your best bet is to work for a real American company.

How Do I Get OPT or CPT?

While every university and college has different requirements, the first step is to identify an employment opportunity and then get approval from your school’s International Student office.

Don’t Know Where to Start?

Let ZP Careers help! Our Career Consultants will work with you to identify your school’s specific OPT/CPT requirements and ensure you are doing everything within compliance. We will also help you formulate your personal career strategy, improve your resume and interviewing techniques, and can even assist in landing you an internship or employment with a real U.S. company! We have deep connections in business, technology, healthcare and all STEM fields. Our recruiters are skilled at finding internships, part-time, temp and full-time jobs with top U.S. companies!

Contact us today for more details and to start your journey! www.zpcareers.com