Let's suppose you're an international student. You're eager to travel to the United States and embark on the four-year-long journey to earning a college degree. But you're also eager to try your hand at a job that allows you to (temporarily) experience what it's like to join the working world.
Before you can even think about entering the workforce, you have to show U.S.-based employers paperwork with an authorization from the American government that, in essence, grants you permission to seek employment. But in order for you to be able to show them said paperwork, you need to apply for a visa.
In cases like these, you can choose from one of two visas: the Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OPT AND CPT?
OPT allows full-time international students (who must be enrolled for a full academic year) to get twelve months' work experience in a position related to their field of study either during (Pre-completion OPT) or after (Post-completion OPT) graduation. Students who are participating in STEM-related fields of study have the chance to qualify for a 24-month extension on the condition that they have already earned their degree.
CPT, on the other hand, allows international students to engage in on-the-job training directly related to their field of study (through employment, internship or co-op education) as part of the curriculum required to graduate.
There is no correct option for students to choose. But depending on which visa you decide to apply for, there are several steps that one must take in order to get either an OPT or CPT.
STEPS TO APPLYING FOR AN OPTIONAL PRACTICE TRAINING VISA
1. FILE I-765 AND EAD
Fill out and submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After doing you so, you will be able to request an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card that will prove you have been allowed to work.
2. GET A RECOMMENDATION FORM
Find the appropriate on-campus office that has an OTP recommendation form, which basically lists the start and end date of your temporary employment and lists the specific terms of said employment.
3. PAY THE MANDATORY FILING FEES
Simply prepare a check or money order containing the necessary amount and make it payable to the Department of Homeland Security.
4. PROVIDE TWO PASSPORT-STYLE PHOTOS
For this, you will need two identical color photographs that, according to the Form I-765 instructions, "have a white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched". There are other required specifications, all of which can be found in the instructions for filing an I-765.
5. PROVIDE ANY OTHER NEEDED DOCUMENTS
Make sure you also include most recent copies of the following: your Form I-94 documentation, your EAD Card, your I-20 and your current passport ID.
STEPS TO APPLYING FOR A CURRICULAR PRACTICE TRAINING VISA
1. APPLY FOR (AND THEN GET) A JOB
2. TALK TO YOUR ACADEMIC ADVISOR
After scheduling a time to speak with your advisor, bring both the offer letter from your future employers and the two-page CPT Request Form, the latter of which is provided by your school's Office of International Services. You will fill out the first page (name, contact info, field of study, employment information, etc.) while your advisor will fill out the second.
3. SUBMIT THE FORM AND WAIT FOR APPROVAL OR DENIAL