What is the difference between Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)? CPT is employment that is an integral part of your curriculum and allows you to participate in an internship, practicum or cooperative education program. CPT must be required or, if not required, you must receive course credit. CPT is employer specific and must be done before you graduate. OPT is optional for any student who meets the eligibility requirements and you do not need to earn credit. OPT is not employer specific and may be done before or after you graduate.
Does CPT usage affect OPT eligibility? You may use as much CPT as is required for your degree program. However, if you use a total of 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you are not eligible for OPT. Part-time CPT does not affect OPT in any way.
Do I need to have a job to apply for CPT? You must have an offer of employment to apply for CPT since the authorization is for a specific employer.
Can I change the number of hours I work? You can change within the limits of part-time or full-time. For example, you may change from 10 hours per week to 15 hours per week without a new authorization. However, if you change from part-time to full-time (or vice versa) you must request a new authorization.
Can I change employers? Since CPT is employer specific you must apply for a new CPT authorization before you work for the new employer.
Can I extend my CPT? You are authorized for specific dates of employment on your I-20. You may not begin before the start date or continue after the end date. You must apply for an extension in sufficient time to allow the DSO or PDSO to issue a new CPT authorization before you can continue beyond the end date of your current CPT.
Do I need to enroll in a course associated with CPT? Yes! You must receive academic credit for your CPT experience; as a result, you need to be enrolled in the relevant course during your CPT. For example, if your CPT is during the summer, you must be enrolled in a summer course.
Can I only do CPT during the summer? No. You can do CPT at any point during the year. If you have CPT during the fall or spring, however, you must be enrolled full-time in your academic courses.
Do I need a Social Security number? Yes, you will need a Social Security number in order to receive payment from your employer.
Will I be required to pay Social Security and other taxes? In general, as an F-1 student you will be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the U.S. as long as you continue to declare nonresident status for tax purposes. Unless you qualify under a tax treaty between the U.S. and your home government, your earnings as an F-1 student will be subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes, and employers are required to withhold those taxes from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, consult the Internal Revenue Service.
Will I receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)? No. The CPT authorization on page two of your I-20 is your proof of employment eligibility and together with your I-94 card may be used to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 required by your employer.
What is the difference between Post Completion and Pre Completion Practical Training? Pre Completion OPT is applicable to students who intend to do a paid practical training while they are pursuing degree. Post Completion OPT is applicable to students who intend to do practical training after graduation. Students receive a total of 12 months of OPT for each level of education. This can be divided between pre and post completion, or it can be entirely pre completion or entirely post completion. The majority of students do 12 months of Post Completion OPT.
Who may qualify for Post Completion Practical Training? A student who has been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year, is on the graduation list, and is currently in F-1 status. Students in English Language Programs do not qualify for OPT.
Where and when do I submit my application? You must submit your OPT packet to the Office of Global Citizenship for review. Upon review, you will receive a new I-20, and you must submit this, along with all other documents, to the USCIS Service Center, which will issue an EAD card if approved. The application may be submitted up to 90 days before your program end date or 60 days after.
Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT? No, you do not.
Do I have to be in the U.S. when I apply for OPT? Yes. You must be physically present in the United States when you apply for OPT and when USCIS receives your application.
What address do I need to put on my OPT application? You need to use an address where you will be present for the next four months. If a student plans to move, he/she should use the PDSO or DSO university address on the application. If a student does move and does not provide USCIS with the new address, the EAD will be returned to USCIS.
How much is the application fee? It is currently $410 and must be paid by check or money order, payable to Department of Homeland Security. The fee changes consistently, so please verify the fee at the USCIS Web Site.
What is the phone number of the USCIS Service Center? 1-800-375-5283
How long is the EAD card authorized? An EAD card may be authorized for an F-1 student for 12 months of practical training.
How many times can I do OPT? An F-1 student is eligible for 12 months of practical training at each educational level (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral). Students in STEM fields can apply for a 24-month extension, past the initial 12 months of OPT. More information on the STEM extension may be found at STEM OPT Extension.
When may I start working? You may only begin working after you receive the EAD card and only from the start date established on the card. You may not work past the end date listed on the EAD.
When must I complete my OPT? You must complete all practical training within 14 months after graduation.
Can I leave the country while my OPT application is pending? Yes, you can, but it is not recommended to travel with a pending OPT application after graduation. More information can be found at Traveling While on OPT.
Can I change employers while on OPT? Yes you can. You must report any and all changes in employment to the International Student Advisor at Sewanee. Please review Reporting Requirements While on OPT.
Now that I’ve turned in my OPT application, can I travel outside the U.S. while I wait for the EAD Card to come? If you have an Optional Practical Training application pending with USCIS and you have not yet graduated, you can travel as you usually would as an F-1 student. You must be returning as a student to complete academic requirements before the official graduation date. For example, if you applied for OPT in March and have a graduation date in May, you may still travel as a student until the official graduation date. Please note that re-entry immediately before the official graduation date carries an increased risk of denial of entry. For information about the documents to bring with you to re-enter the U.S., please review our page on Travel Documents.
What if I have to travel out of the country after graduation while my OPT application is pending? The Office of Global Citizenship does not recommend international travel after graduation while your OPT application is pending. Traveling during this period can jeopardize the approval of your application.
If I travel outside of the U.S. after my OPT is approved, what documents do I need to re-enter the U.S.? - Original I-20 with OPT recommendation. The travel signature/endorsement is valid for 6 months from the date of signature while you are on OPT. This is different from when you were a student and the signature was only required within a year of re-entry. - Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from USCIS - Valid passport - Valid F-1 visa. Do not use other types of US visas (i.e. tourist visa or visa waiver) if you plan to use OPT upon your return to the U.S. - I-94 Offer of Employment letter from your employer that includes the dates of your employment, a description of your duties, your salary, location where you will be working, and number of hours of work per week. - You should also be prepared to discuss how this job experience relates to your major field of study. If your employer is sponsoring you for a work visa, this information should not be included in your letter for travel while on OPT. Mention of plans to change visa status could be interpreted as a misrepresentation of your intentions in the U.S. by a Port of Entry Officer. A volunteer position letter is acceptable.
The F-1 Visa stamp in my passport has expired, but I need to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT. Do I need to get a new visa stamp at an embassy? If you are going to Canada or Mexico or other contiguous territories (except for Cuba), and staying for less than 30 days, you can re-enter the U.S. on your expired F-1 visa stamp, with a valid passport, your EAD card and an I-20 that has been recently signed by the PDSO/DSO. This process is called Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR). Tell the immigration official at the port of exit (border) that you intend to stay outside the U.S. for less than 30 days and that your U.S. visa is expired. Make sure to have all your documents before you travel and present those documents to reenter the U.S. If you are traveling elsewhere and your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a new F-1 visa. Please review U.S. consulate information for the country where you will be applying so you know which documents you need. In addition to the documents listed on the Visa Information page, you will also need to bring your EAD card and employment letter with you to the visa appointment.
In what ways is my application to the embassy for a new visa stamp affected by being on post-completion OPT? Many students successfully travel and renew their F-1 visas while on OPT. However, it is important to note that the risk of denial for an F-1 visa renewal when you are on OPT is slightly higher than while you are in your student program. The fact that the focus of your stay in the U.S. while on OPT is working rather than going to school could be seen as an avenue for adjustment of status to permanent residency. As the F-1 student visa requires that the applicant must intend to return to the home country at the end of the program, the visa application could be denied if the embassy official is not convinced of your intention to return home. During your visa appointment it is important to demonstrate that your intent still matches the purpose of the non-immigrant F-1 student visa category. Be prepared to answer if asked how your stay in the United States is temporary and be prepared to demonstrate that you do not intend to immigrate to the United States. You can do this by showing strong ties to your home country, such as family, property, or employment waiting for your return. Evidence can often be subjective, so use your best judgment to decide what documents you want to take with you to your visa appointment.
Can I travel while on OPT if I have applied for an H1B visa? Please consult an immigration attorney for guidance regarding international travel if you plan to pursue the H-1B process, have an H-1B petition pending with USCIS, or have an I-797 H-1B approval notice.
How do I get a travel signature while on OPT? For international travel, the travel signature on page two of your I-20 should be less than 6 months old by the date of your return. Please contact the Office of Global Citizenship to request a new signature if needed. In order to sign your I-20 for travel, we will need to have an employment report on file. See Reporting Requirements While on OPT.
Students must be currently working in a period of post-completion OPT
Students must have a bachelor's degree or higher degree in an eligible STEM field. You may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned in the U.S. for this requirement; to use a prior STEM degree, you must: Have received your most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the U.S. Have received your prior, qualifying STEM degree in the U.S. within 10 years of applying for the STEM OPT extension. The qualifying STEM degree must be on the Department of Homeland Security's STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time you submit your STEM OPT extension application (rather than at the time you received the degree).
Students must have a job offer that meets the following requirements: The job is with an employer enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program The job offers at least 20 hours of work per week The job is paid The job will provide formal training and learning objectives directly related to your qualifying STEM degree
2. When must I apply for the STEM extension? All documents must be submitted BEFORE your current OPT employment authorization expires and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record. You may submit your application for STEM Extension up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires.
4. Where can I find my CIP code? I-20s from June 2015 or earlier: the CIP code is printed at the top of page three of your I-20. The code is 6 digits long (xx.xxxx). Once you find your code, you can consult the entire list of individual eligible CIP codes for the STEM extension available on the SEVP website. I-20s from July 2015 to present: the CIP code is printed next to your major on page one of your I-20.
5. If I have a dual major, can I qualify for the 24-month extension based on one of the degree programs? Yes, if one of the degrees is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and any job worked while on the extension is related to your STEM degree
6. Can I qualify for the 24-month extension based on my minor or certificate program? No.
7. When does my 24-month extension of OPT start? If you have properly filed for a 24-month STEM extension, the period of extension starts the day after the expiration of your original OPT period.
8. Can I work with an expired EAD while my 24-month extension is pending? Yes. Your work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the 24-month STEM extension application is pending. There is no interim documentation of the extended authorization. If your employer needs information about what documents to collect as proof of extended work authorization, please refer to them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I-9 Central.
9. Can I travel outside of the U.S. if my original EAD expires and my 24-month extension is still pending? No. You must wait to receive your new EAD prior to traveling. You may travel if your current EAD card is still valid.
10. What address do I use on the I-765? Use your personal address; however, be sure to provide an accurate and valid address for at least 4 months into the future so you can receive your EAD card. The post office will NOT forward OPT mail. If you might change your address while your OPT application is pending, consider renting a post office P.O. Box or using a friend's address or the Office of Global Citizenship address.
11. Can I change employers while the 24-month extension is pending? Changing employers while your 24 month STEM OPT Extension is pending can be risky because the regulations do not contemplate such situations. If you must change employers, submit a new I-983 and provide the E-verify number to firstname.lastname@example.org. Then complete a new OPT Reporting Form. Regulations state that employment changes must be reported within 10 days. Note: The new employer information will not match the employer information in the STEM OPT Extension application you submitted to the USCIS. There is currently no immigration guidance about how to resolve this conflict. Some students have mailed an additional updated application with a letter explaining their situation. However, errors may occur with additional updated applications to USCIS. USCIS has rejected a few of such applications because they simply think it’s a new application missing a filing fee. Another option is to provide the updated I-983 Training Plan, E-Verify number, and OPT employment reporting to ISS, but not mail any additional documents to USCIS unless they send you a "Request for Evidence" (RFE). We hope to receive new guidance soon from USCIS about how to proceed in these situations.
What is an H-1B Visa? An H-1B visa is an employer-sponsored non-immigrant visa that allows a foreign national to work in a “specialty occupation” in the United States for up to six years (with some exceptions). “Employer-sponsored” means that the application for an H-1B must be made by an employer on behalf of the prospective employee. “Specialty occupation” means that the job normally requires at least a bachelor’s degree in the job field. It is also a requirement for an H-1B visa for the employer to pay the employee at least the “prevailing wage” for the job; that is, at least the amount paid to workers in similar positions in the same geographical area in which the H-1B holder will work.
How do I get an H-1B Visa? Your employer (or prospective employer) must petition for your H-1B visa; you cannot apply for your own. The requirements and procedures for filing for an H-1B are complex, so your employer (or prospective employer) should hire an attorney to complete the process.
Do I have to leave the country to get an H-1B Visa? No. If you are in the US in another visa status (such as F-1 OPT), your employer can file to change your status to H-1B. If you change status to H-1B and then depart the US, in order to re-enter in H-1B status, you will need to apply at a US Consulate for the H-1B visa stamp in your passport.
What is the H-1B "cap?" The H-1B cap is the number of H-1B visas available in each US government fiscal year, which runs from October 1st to September 30th of each year. Currently, the cap is 65,000 H-1B visas. Visas are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis.
When is the best time to apply for an H-1B visa? The earliest an H-1B visa application can be submitted to USCIS is six months before the selected H-1B start date. For cap-subject employers, because the cap may be reached very early, it is best to submit an H-1B application on April 1st for the release of H-1B visas on October 1st.
What if more applications are submitted on April 1 than there are visas available under the cap? If more applications are submitted on April 1st than there are visas available, USCIS holds a lottery of those applications.
Are all employers subject to the H-1B cap? No. Universities and their affiliated or related nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations are not subject to the cap.
If I get an H-1B visa that begins October 1st, but my OPT ends in the summer, what do I do? US regulations allow for a “cap-gap extension” of F-1 OPT status for students who have timely requested change of status to H-1B on October 1. The extension is automatic for eligible students, who need only an updated Form I-20 showing an extension of OPT. Click here for more information.
Can I work for multiple employers while on an H-1B visa? An H-1B visa is employer-specific. That means that you can only work for the employer that has sponsored your H-1B visa. If you want to work for more than one employer, each employer would have to sponsor an H-1B visa for you.
Can I extend an H-1B visa past six years? If an employer begins the process of applying for your permanent residence (by filing a labor certification or Form I-140 petition) before the end of your 5th year in H-1B status, it is possible to extend your H-1B status in one-year increments until either that certification or petition is denied, or if it is approved, until your green card application is approved (or denied).
For general immigration information and concerns, you can contact Abby Colbert, Assistant Counsel for Global Affairs. Email email@example.com to set up an appointment.
This document was written to inform generally, not to advise in specific cases. Areas of law are rapidly changing. US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the US Department of State regularly amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures. For legal advice seek the assistance of an immigration lawyer.