International students in the U.S. have many opportunities to learn and gain professional experience, both inside and outside the classroom. There is a range of student visas available to international citizens wishing to study in the U.S., and most of these visas fall under the “F” category to attend academic institutions.
Students with an F-1 visa must take a full-time course load during their academic enrollment in order to meet the F-1 visa requirements. Due to their visa, they also have limited work opportunities to gain hands-on experience in their chosen career field. That’s where programs like Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) come in to help! These training opportunities are similar in many ways, with a few key differences. Regardless, CPT and OPT both help students get the real-world training they need to succeed after graduation.
Before we get into what to do after your CPT expires, let’s quickly go over the key differences between CPT and OPT. Both CPT and OPT must relate directly to a student’s major area of study and both can offer either part-time or full-time employment. However, that’s where most of the similarities end.
Curricular Practical Training is real-world training related to your field of study woven into the school’s curriculum as an integral part of your education. To be eligible for CPT, a student must have completed at least one academic year. (English as a Second Language, ESL programs do not count towards eligibility). Examples of CPT opportunities include internships and externships, practicum opportunities, cooperative education programs, and alternative work-study arrangements. It’s important to note that students who complete one year of full-time CPT are not eligible to do OPT. Learn more about Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at CSI here.
OPT, on the other hand, is a little bit more flexible due to its optional nature. A student can participate in OPT before or after their program end date, depending on their eligibility. Certain types of extensions are available for post-completion of your student program, but again, these extensions depend on your eligibility. OPT’s periods cannot overlap, and OPT can only be full-time after program completion. Learn about Optional Practical Training (OPT) at CSI here.
Is your CPT nearing expiration? Depending on your situation, there are a few different options to continue your studies or gain additional experience. Here are a few options:
Continue Your Education (possibility of other CPT opportunities)
Whether you have yet to secure post-completion employment or whether you simply want to learn more in your field of study, continuing your education is a great option for students after their CPT, and student programs finish. You can retain your F-1 visa status if you enroll at a qualifying institution in a higher-level degree program from the one you just completed. Not only will you have more opportunities to grow professionally, but you will also have more opportunities to make lasting professional connections in the U.S. to help you build your career.
The institution you continue your education with might have opportunities for CPT as an integral part of the program and you could find employment that relates to your field of study.
If you were only part-time or did full-time CPT for less than a full year, then you may be eligible to apply for an OPT opportunity with another employer. F-1 visa renewal on OPT is a great way to continue gaining real-world experience in your field of study.
Students with ample time before their program completion date can apply for pre-completion OPT, while students nearing program completion can apply for post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT allows students to retain their F-1 visa status and work in the U.S. for an additional 12 months post-program completion. The Cap-Gap OPT Extension and 24-month STEM OPT Extension are also available for eligible students, which you can learn about here from USCIS.
If you did full-time CPT for an entire year, then you are not eligible to apply for OPT.
Want to stay in the U.S. for a while longer and put everything you’ve learned in your program to good use? You may be eligible to apply for an H-1B Visa, also known as a temporary worker visa. You will need an employer to sponsor your application for an H-1B visa, and the application process should begin before your program completion or OPT expiration.
With an H-1B visa, individuals can stay in the U.S. for up to six years as long as they remain employed by the sponsoring employer. In the case of quitting or termination, you will have to either return to your home country or get a new employer to sponsor your H-1B visa. Be sure to visit the USCIS website to review the H-1B visa requirements or the H-1B application.
Suppose you’ve gained enough experience through your CPT and student program. In that case, you may be eligible to apply for a number of different employment-based immigration visas, which are for permanent worker status. An employment based green card can fall under five different categories, and each applies to different levels of professional skill, education, and other factors. Students who completed a program through CSI are most likely to fall into the EB-3 visa category. An EB-3 visa is designed for skilled workers whose jobs require a minimum of 2 years of training or experience. You can learn more about the EB-3 visa requirements from the USCIS here.
Finally, your best option may be to return home. However, you don’t have to return home forever.
Some students may wish to go back home to be with family again, to pursue additional education, or to bring the knowledge and experience they gained in the U.S. back to the workforce of their home country.
You can also contact our admissions team through the admissions page or by calling 847-967-5030.