Curricular and Elective Practical Training: Introduction to Employment Opportunities for F-1 Visa Students

International students studying in a degree program in the United States who maintain valid F-1 status can apply their theoretical knowledge and gain invaluable experience in their respective fields of study through periods training during and after the end of their studies. These opportunities can be realized through optional curricular and practical training programs, which allow them to work and/or receive off-campus training in their respective majors for a specified period.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) can be obtained by students who are currently enrolled in their degree program. Their work must be an integral part of the student’s major and be completed before graduation. The CPT allows students to work in a paid or unpaid internship, internship, or co-op program. The program must be required by the student’s major and, if not, the student must receive course credit. This type of training requires a signed cooperative agreement or letter from the employer to be provided to the Designated School Official (DSO), who then approves the student’s Form I-20 with the employer’s name and the period for which the employment is granted. . Students can use as many CPTs as needed for a degree program; however, when authorized for a total of 12 months of full-time CPT, students are no longer eligible to obtain optional practical training (OPT).

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is what it says exactly – it is optional for any student who wants to apply for training/work clearance after completing each level of education. Like the CPT, the OPT program must be linked to the student’s main course of study. A student in F-1 status may apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as early as 90 days before or 60 days after program completion for 12 months of OPT.

Additionally, some students may be eligible for an extension of their OPT. Upon completion of the initial 12-month training, students graduating with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree may qualify for an additional 24-month extension of the OPT. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) originally designated four primary STEM fields for expansion, which included engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, math and statistics, and physical sciences, or a related field that involves generally research, innovation or the development of new technologies. using engineering computing or the natural sciences. On January 2, 2022, however, DHS expanded the STEM list by adding 22 additional fields of study that include forestry, social sciences, bioenergy, and various other fields. A complete list of newly added fields to be included in the STEM OPT program is provided in the Federal Register.

A student may qualify for the 24-month OPT STEM if the following conditions are met: a) the individual is currently participating in a regular period (12 months) of OPT; b) they have received a qualifying STEM degree from a college or university accredited by the Student and Visitor Exchange Program; and c) the prospective employer is using the E-Verify program and has completed and signed Form I-983, “Education Plan for STEM OPT Students.” A student may continue to work on an expired OPT authorization for up to 180 days if the 24-month STEM extension is timely filed with USCIS before the regular 12-month OPT expires.

The CPT and OPT are valuable ways an international student can gain essential knowledge and experience in their respective fields through actual employment with a U.S. employer. This employment can then lead to a pathway to obtaining lawful permanent residence through a permanent job offer. By hiring new graduates, employers also gain the benefit of having workers with the most up-to-date knowledge and skills, making their products and services more competitive in the marketplace. Employers who have questions about these programs should consult a qualified employment lawyer.

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