The most popular US student visas – the F-1 and M-1 – are flexible enough and give their owners some opportunities to work.
In addition to the office and other vacancies on the campus, students can work on the OPT and/or CPT internship programs. Moreover, in some cases, their passage is necessary to complete the education and obtain an academic degree.
CPT (Curricular Practical Training)
CPT is a paid internship, directly related to the subject (specialty) being studied. It is available for students, not for graduates, and very often is an indispensable part of the curriculum. That is, the curriculum may provide for the acquisition of practical experience within the studied subject, and without it, the student will not gain enough points (credits).
A student residing in the US for more than nine months in a row can pass CPT.
The CPT is designed for 12 months, during which the student can work both with a full (40 hours a week) and with partial (no more than 20 hours per week) employment, without interrupting the training at the university. It is also possible to work during the holidays.
It is important to remember that if a student is working full-time in a CPT, then he can not apply for OPT. If the internship provides for part-time work, then later, after its passage, the student can count on the approval of OPT for a full term.
OPT (Optional Practical Training)
Much greater scope for maneuvers gives OPT. This is also a professional paid training, but unlike CPT, it is not mandatory and is available at all stages of the internship. OPT’s internship has several advantages and features, which allows the student to choose the most convenient option for himself.
- OPT is designed for a maximum of 12 months. Students (or graduates) in the specialties on the STEM list (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) can extend this period by another 17. These specialties include, for example, biology, statistics, IT, military technology and many others.
- OPT enables the student to work outside the university officially, but in the field of the discipline (course) or the profession (specialty) received.
- You can work both during the study (Pre-completion OPT) and after its completion (Post-completion OPT).
- OPT is provided for each level of education, that is for each degree is given for 12 months of training. For example, after graduating from a bachelor’s degree, a graduate can take a break from studies and within a year undergo full-time OPT internship, and after that return to the university and continue his studies at the magistracy. After a magistracy, a graduate can also apply for annual employment in OPT, and at the end of this period decide whether to return to his native country or enter the postgraduate study.
Conditions for obtaining and passing OPT
Any full-time student can apply for the Pre-completion of OPT, he has studied in the college for more than one year and has completed 1-2 courses directly related to the specialty received.
Pre-completion OPT allows only partial employment – no more than 20 hours per week during the school year and up to 40 hours during the holidays. At the same time, the student is obliged to attend classes in the usual mode and fulfill all the requirements of the curriculum.
If the student passed the Pre-completion OPT, then the Post-completion OPT term is reduced by the number of “used” months (there are 12 of them). This applies to the current degree of the student (for example, a bachelor), but does not extend to the next. For example, if a bachelor student works for OPT during nine months of study, then after completing the bachelor’s program, OPT lasts only 3. If the student has worked all 12 months during the training period, then after obtaining the diploma, he will not be able to work on OPT. At the same time, all 12 months of the training will again be available to the same student in the magistracy, which he can also use at his discretion or not at all. And so on.
A graduate with a diploma of one of the academic degrees can apply for this type of training.
One of the advantages of the Post-completion OPT is that during such employment, the alien remains entirely legal despite the validity of the student visa.
Post-completion OPT can not be passed twice within the same degree. For example, a graduate of a master’s degree worked for OPT a year and then decided to get a second master’s degree in another specialty. In this case, he will not be able to pass OPT as a graduate of the magistracy for the second time.
How to get an OPT internship?
The process of OPT registration takes a long time and consists of several stages.
In the International Student Office of the University, the student is given an Academic Advisor Recommendation Form. As the name suggests, this form is filled out by the scientific adviser. Also, the International Student Office is issued a questionnaire I-20, which the student must complete. This form is almost identical to the one that is filled in at the entrance to the university, except the last page, where the data about the employer are entered. Next, you need to fill out the I-765 form, which you can take on the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) website. And then prepare a package of documents: a copy of the passport and migration card I-94, copies of previously issued I-20 questionnaires, completed and signed I-765 and Academic Advisor Recommendation Form, as well as two photographs. With these documents, it is necessary to apply to the Designated School Official (DSO) in the department for work with international students of the university.
The DSO must approve and hand over certified I-20 and I-765 forms to the student’s hands. The student, in turn, sends these documents to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service. Also, you will need to pay a commission for consideration of the application by the immigration service.
The process of reviewing and approving documents takes up to 12 weeks. As soon as the applicant’s request is resolved in his favor, USCIS will issue an approved I-765 form, now called the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Only after receiving this document can you start OPT.
Important nuances. Firstly, when you are going to work on OPT, you need to keep in mind that you will have to look for work yourself, and the employer company must be accredited to the USCIS as having the right to hire international students without a work permit.
Secondly, with Post-completion OPT, only two months (the so-called grace period) are allocated for job search after graduation. Otherwise, the student may lose his visa status and the opportunity to use the entire term of OPT.