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An Overview of CPT, OPT and STEM OPT Extension

To study as a full-time student in the United States, a foreigner will need to apply for a student visa, most commonly, the F-1 visa. The F-1 visa allows students to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited academic institution, however, F-1 students might not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions.

If students on F-1 would like to work they could do so after their first academic year, and they may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT);
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)(pre-completion or post-completion); or
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT).

What is F-1 CPT, OPT, and STEM OPT Extension?

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT):
    • CPT authorization allows students on F-1 visa that are pursuing a degree in the United States and is provided by their F visa sponsor.
    • CPT work authorization is only allowed for employment or training opportunities that are directly related to the F-1 student’s course of study.
    • F-1 students on CPT employment cannot work less than 20 hours per week, otherwise they would be violating their CPT employment authorization.
    • Before employment begins the international office at the student’s school will issued an updated I-20 to reflect CPT work authorization, and such authorization will be only valid and allowed during the dates indicated on the I-20.
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT):
    • OPT authorization allows students on F-1 visa either during or upon completing their studies, and it must be approved by USCIS.
    • Eligible students can receive up to 12 months of OPT.
      • If a student works full time for 12 months while in school, then there will not be any period of post-completion OPT available after the completion of the degree.
    • It order to engage is OPT, the following requirements must be met:
      • The employment must be directly related to the student’s major area of study;
      • Must work more than 20 hours per week; and
      • The employment can be paid, unpaid, or volunteering.
    • F-1 Students on OPT will receive an Employment Authorization Document Card or EAD card, and will be allowed to work upon the receipt of such card.
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT):
    • STEMP OPT Extension is only available to students that earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
    • F-1 students can apply for an additional 24 month period of temporary employment/training if they meet the following requirements:
      • Received a STEM degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List  (PDF);
      • The potential employer is enrolled and using E-Verify; and
      • The initial grant of post-completion OPT employments authorization was based on the STEM degree.

If you are interested in the CPT, OPT, or STEM OPT process, get started by consulting with an experienced business immigration attorney.

By: Felipe Jimenez

Felipe Jimenez is an Associate Attorney at Reddy Neumann Brown PC. He works in the H-1B Department where he assists clients through all phases of the non-immigrant visa process.

Reddy & Neumann has been serving the business community for over 20 years and is Houston’s largest immigration law firm focused solely on US. Employment-based immigration. We work with both employers and their employees, helping them navigate the immigration process quickly and cost-effectively.