Employment CPT/OPT

Employment CPT/OPT

F-1 Curricular Practical Training

What is CPT?

CPT is a form of work authorization available for eligible F-1 students before their program end date. CPT is offered through the Work Integrated Learning Course (WIL).

  • CPT authorization must be obtained for each internship before any work or training is permitted to start.

  • CPT can be either full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours or less per week).

  • CPT can be either paid or unpaid.

  • CPT is employer, location, full/part-time, and date specific. The employer’s name, address and the precise start and end dates must be authorized by your DSO in advance.

CPT eligibility requirements:

Students may participate in an internship course once they have completed one academic year (9 months) of full time study in the United States on an active SEVIS record. The internship courses are meant to give students practical experience which is related to the academic degree program to which they have been admitted. International students must apply for work authorization before they are legally allowed to start work (paid or unpaid).

If an interested student would like to participate in CPT, they must meet the requirements stated below:

  • Must have enrolled and successfully completed one year of full time academic study in the United States on an active SEVIS record
  • Must be in good academic standing
  • Must have met the eligibility requirements as listed on the CPT application form and guidelines
  • Must register and pay for one of the approved internship courses and two additional on-ground courses
  • Must have academic approval for their CPT Application
  • Must submit completed packet to DSO for processing (allow 5- 10 business days)

How does CPT affect optional practical training (OPT) eligibility?

If an F-1 student exceeds 364 days of full-time CPT (more than 20 hours per week at a degree level—master’s or doctorate), they will lose their eligibility for OPT at that degree level.

  • Part-time CPT (20 hours per week or less) does not accrue towards the 364-day limit.

  • When counting CPT days, every day between the start and end date of CPT counts (including the start and end dates). The days that you are counting are the days that you had authorization, not the days you actually worked. This means even if it was a weekend, holiday, vacation etc., it still counts if you had CPT authorization.

  • It is the responsibility of the student to track how much CPT time has been used per degree level.

  • Students completing more than 364 days of full-time CPT at a degree level is not a violation of their F-1 status but does trigger the loss of OPT eligibility for that degree level.

  • Sofia University does not keep track and communicate whether or not students will be exceeding the 364-day mark when students are requesting CPT authorization. Students must keep this in mind when selecting dates if approaching 364 days.

Application process:

  • Obtain offer letter from prospective employer stating terms of employment, including:


    • Employment start and end dates
    • Full-time or part-time employment (part-time is a maximum of 20 hours per week)
    • Location of employment
    • Employer must acknowledge in the offer letter they are hiring the candidate to earn practical experience that relates to their program of study


  • Obtain and complete our Curricular Practical Training (CPT) Application Form and Cooperative Agreement (Fill Student Information Section and carefully review CPT regulations and Sofia institutional policies). Your employer will need to sign the Cooperative Agreement.

  • Submit employer offer letter, job description, and CPT Application and Cooperative Agreement, to the DSO at least 2 weeks before the anticipated start date

  • An academic advisor will review and approve the job description as being related to the program of study.

  • If approved, the DSO will issue a new I-20 with CPT authorization.

F-1 Optional Practical Training

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than three months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for one year on a student visa towards getting practical training to complement their education.

Types of employment on OPT:

The OPT application process involves 2 major parts: first you must apply for an OPT recommendation on your I-20. Then you must submit an OPT application packet, including a signed copy of your OPT I-20, to USCIS.

What are the job requirements?

  • You must work at least 20 hours per week
  • You must work in a field/position related to your degree
  • You must perform suitable work for your degree level

When should I apply for OPT?

The OPT application process involves 2 major parts: first you must apply for an OPT recommendation on your I-20. Then you must submit an OPT application packet, including a signed copy of your OPT I-20, to USCIS.

  • You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after your expected program completion date.

  • USCIS must receive your full and complete OPT application no more than 60 days after your expected program completion date.

  • In addition, USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of when your DSO recommends your I-20 for OPT.

  • You must be physically present in the U.S. at the time that USCIS receives your OPT application.

Steps for applying for OPT at Sofia:


  • Read the application packet including the “Frequently Asked Questions”.

  • Complete the OPT Request Form. Get the signature of the DSO.

  • Complete Form I-765. We strongly recommend you create an online account with USCIS and file the form online.


  • Submit the completed OPT Request Form and other required documents to the DSO.

  • The Designated School Official (DSO) will email a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation on page 2. This will require five days to complete.


  • OPTIONAL: Make an appointment with the DSO to review all your documentation before submitting the I-765 Application to USCIS.

  • Submit your I-765 Application to USCIS online. You MUST send your application within 30 days of getting the new I-20 from the DSO.

  • Be sure to keep copies of everything you submit!

Choosing your OPT start date:

As part of the OPT I-20 request process, you must request a particular OPT start date. This is the day on which you would like to start your OPT work authorization. Some things to consider when choosing your requested OPT start date:

  • The requested start date must be within 60 days of your program completion date. It can be as early as the day after your completion date and up to 60 days after that.

  • It is not guaranteed that you will be approved for the start date you request. Your approved start date will appear on your EAD card and may be later than your requested start date, depending on when you apply for OPT and how long it takes USCIS to approve it. Please note that you may not begin working until your approved EAD start date, regardless of the requested date on your I-20.

  • Do you have travel plans? If you plan to travel, especially internationally, you may not want to select a start date during this time.

  • If you have a job offer, discuss with your employer an appropriate start date based on when you have applied for your OPT (consider the 90+ day processing time).

  • If you don’t have a job offer, you should consider where you are in your job search and when jobs typically start in your field and make your best estimate of when you’d like to begin working.

  • Days of unemployment only begin after the approved start date listed on your EAD.

  • Weigh the pros and cons of an early vs. late start date. If you choose an earlier start date, you may be able to begin your employment earlier, BUT if you don’t find a job you will begin accruing unemployment days sooner. If you choose a later starting date, your unemployment days would begin accruing later, BUT you’d have to wait longer to be able to begin employment.

While you wait for your EAD card:

What to expect:

The first week: After submitting your OPT Application to USCIS, you should be able to download your Receipt Notice from the online account. This should also include your Receipt Number, which you can use to check your status online.

Within 30-45 days: You will receive an I-797c Receipt Notice to your mailing address confirming the date of receipt and your receipt number. Keep this notice safe as it is your official proof that your OPT application was submitted. You may need it for travel or other purposes. If there are any errors in the receipt notice in your name, address, or application type, contact your DSO at Sofia University.

Around 90-120 days: You should receive an I-797 Notice of Approval letter and EAD card to your mailing address. These can come separately or at the same time. Check your EAD card for the correct information. You can start working on your EAD start date! If there are any errors on the EAD, contact your DSO immediately!

2 Weeks after receiving EAD card: You should receive your Social Security Card (if you requested one!).

Checking your OPT application status:

When you receive your USCIS I-797 Notice of Action (receipt notice), go to USCIS Case Status Online (and enter your receipt number). Note that your application will most likely stay in received status for the entirety of the processing time until it is approved. We strongly recommend that you sign for an account with USCIS to track your case status more closely.

Making changes to your OPT application after submission to USCIS:

Generally, you cannot change anything except for your mailing address.

Can I work on or off campus while waiting for my EAD?

Once you complete your degree, you cannot work on-campus or off-campus until you have the EAD in your possession and your selected start date has arrived, even if your USCIS case status indicates that your application is approved.

Can I start working without pay while waiting for my EAD?

No. Work that is normally paid requires employment authorization. You must have the card in hand and the start date must have arrived to begin working.

Can I travel while my OPT is pending?

Travel during the OPT application process is allowed, but not recommended as it poses certain risks. You will need the appropriate documents to re-enter the U.S and keep in mind the following risks:

  • You will need to have someone monitor your mail and let you know if you receive any communications from USCIS.

  • If you receive a Request for Evidence, you will need to respond by a certain deadline.

  • If you are denied for OPT while outside the U.S., you will not be able to re-enter or reapply.

  • If you are approved for OPT while outside the U.S., you will need your EAD card sent to you to re-enter.

  • If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to re-apply for an F-1 visa with your EAD card and proof of employment.

Maintaining F-1 Status on OPT

Report any changes with your DSO:

During OPT, report changes to any or all of the following to the school, within 10 days of the change:

  • Legal name changes

  • Change in residential or mailing address

  • Change in employment (either new employment or changes in employment)

  • Change in immigration status – includes the filing of an H-1B petition on your behalf, an application for adjustment of status, or any other change in immigration status.

  • Early departure from the U.S. – If you decide to not use your OPT, or to depart the U.S. before the end of your OPT with no intention of returning as an F-1 Student.


You do not need to have a job offer at the time you petition your OPT request. Do not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment! On the 91st day of unemployment, your SEVIS record will automatically terminate, and you will need to leave the U.S. immediately.

Travelling on OPT:

When traveling internationally on OPT, you will need to carry the following documents:

  • Valid passport

  • Valid F-1 Visa

  • Valid OPT I-20 (with travel signature no older than six months)

  • EAD Card

  • Job offer letter

If you do not have all 5 of these documents, traveling internationally is risky!

You must always be in F-1 Status to work on OPT. If you travel internationally with an expired F-1 Visa, you will need to apply for another F-1 Visa before returning to the U.S.

After successful completion of OPT, you will have a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S. (beginning after OPT ends).

24-Month STEM Extension

Are you eligible for STEM-OPT?

Eligible F-1 nonimmigrant students with STEM degrees from Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified and accredited U.S. colleges and universities may apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension. Interested F-1 students must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

DHS grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students who are currently in a period of post-completion OPT once per degree level (i.e., bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate). A student may participate twice in the STEM-OPT extension over the course of their academic career. Students may not apply for STEM-OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial (usually 12-month) period of post-completion OPT.

To participate twice in the STEM-OPT extension, a student must earn a second qualifying degree at a higher education level and must be participating in an initial period of OPT at the time they apply to USCIS for their second STEM OPT extension. In some cases, students may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree to qualify for their second STEM-OPT extension.

Which programs qualify for STEM-OPT at Sofia University?

To qualify for the STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student must hold a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree in an eligible STEM field from a SEVP-certified school that is accredited (by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education) at the time the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.

Eligible programs at Sofia University:


In order to receive the STEM-OPT extension, a student must pursue their practical training through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS’ E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

Additionally, STEM-OPT extension applicants must select employers that can guarantee the student will complete a minimum of 20 hours of work per week and provide the student with formal training and learning objectives. The student must work with their potential STEM-OPT extension employer to complete the Form I-983, which must include how the training opportunity has a direct relationship to the student’s qualifying STEM degree. Visit the Students and the Form I-983 page to learn how to properly complete and submit the Form I-983.

F-1 students cannot qualify for STEM-OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983 because F-1 students may not provide the employer attestation (i.e., signatures) on their own behalf. However, they may use a start-up business so long as all regulatory requirements are met. The employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

Please note: A student’s post-completion OPT employer does not need to be the same as the student’s STEM-OPT extension employer.

Additional resources:

Students in 60-Day Grace Period:

Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial (usually 12-month) period of post-completion OPT.

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Employment CPT/OPT