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What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for F-1 international students

interstride logo by Interstride
February 9, 2024

Gaining real-life work experience in the US as an international student is a great opportunity to put your studies into practice. Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that 50-60% of interns are hired as full-time employees after graduation. As an international student, internships can provide you the opportunity for something bigger in the future. In this blog, we’ll break down everything you need to know about CPT and how to qualify and apply for this student work authorization program.

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a temporary work authorization for international students on F-1 visas. It allows international students to work off-campus during their academic program after one year of full-time study. Prior approval is required, and the work experience must be related to the student’s academic program. CPT is a great option for international students to take an internship during the academic year or the summer. Many international students can also earn college credit for their CPT internship, depending on what their school offers. 

CPT rules for F-1 visa holders

CPT is exclusively for F-1 student visa holders. The CPT program qualifications are as follows:

  • Students must have completed at least one full academic year of school
  • Students must have a valid job or internship offer
  • Job must be related to the student’s field of study
  • Job must satisfy an integral component of the student’s academic program
  • Job must start and end before the end of the student’s academic program

The duration of your CPT internship will be determined with your employer and academic program. There is no limit to CPT, and it is possible to have multiple part-time CPT jobs at once. Part-time CPT is up to 20 hours per week, and full-time CPT is up to 40 hours per week. Students who engage in full-time CPT must still be full-time students during the academic year. 

However, you must be careful because 12 months of full-time CPT makes you ineligible for OPT. It’s rare for this to happen but still something to keep in mind if you want to do multiple semesters of CPT. For example, if you do a full-time summer internship each summer, that only adds up to nine months of CPT. But if you did another year of study and did four full-time summer internships, then you’d hit the 12-month limit.

Part-time CPT employment (up to 20 hours a week) has no effect on eligibility for OPT. It’s also important to understand that the US government considers any work done in the US to be employment even if that work is unpaid. Unpaid internships for college students, especially undergraduate students, are common in the US and may still require CPT or OPT depending on your academic program. 

CPT vs OPT

CPT is tied to a specific employer and job with a set duration, but Optional Practical Training (OPT) can be used to find any job as long as it’s related to your field of study. OPT is also limited to only 12 months of work. While OPT can be used before or after graduation, CPT can only be used before graduation. You cannot delay graduation to use CPT so make sure to plan ahead at the beginning of your academic program.

International students who have already used their pre-completion OPT may be asking, can I apply to CPT after OPT? The answer is yes, as long as your CPT ends before the end date of your program. However, if you used 12 months of pre-completion OPT, you are no longer eligible for post-completion OPT after graduation. 

Using CPT to gain work experience during your degree program allows you to save OPT for after graduation and extend the amount of time you can remain in the US on your F-1 visa. If you already did 12 months of full-time CPT or pre-completion OPT, and you don’t have an employer willing to sponsor you for a work visa, you would have to leave the US within 60 days of graduating. 

How do you apply for CPT work authorization?

  1. Check with an advisor for your academic program to see if CPT is available.
  2. Acquire a qualifying job or internship.
  3. Submit your application to your university’s ISSS office with your official job offer letter. The application must include the internship’s start and end dates, the organization’s name and physical address, and the student’s job title and description.
  4. Enroll in any required CPT or internship credit courses through your school
  5. Once your CPT is approved, print and sign your Form I-20. The university will email it to you. Keep a copy for your records. 

The processing and approval time for CPT usually takes between 5-10 business days and requires very little work from the employer. All they have to do is provide an official offer letter that includes the job/internship’s start and end dates, the hiring organization’s name and physical address, and the student’s job title and description. You can only begin working once your CPT is approved. 

Conclusion

For international students holding F-1 visas, CPT is an excellent work authorization option to gain professional experience in the US and add real-world value to your degree. Take advantage of this opportunity and make the most out of your education and experience in the US.

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