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Student and Exchange Visitor Program
07/03/2019

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SEVP reminds US schools that CPT, OPT are not interchangeable

WASHINGTON – The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) oversees two types of practical training program for international students, curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). The two programs, however, have different requirements and purposes. As a result, the two training programs are not interchangeable.

CPT is not supplemental training experience, but rather an integral part of an established curriculum, meaning that it is a required part of the degree or program of study. The regulation defines CPT as an “internship, cooperative education or any other type of required internship or practicum,” like student teaching. OPT, on the other hand, permits students to augment their learning with real world experience, often after completion of a student’s program of study. 

“We know schools are trying to find solutions to recent processing delays in OPT authorization requests, and SEVP has noticed an uptick in schools using CPT as an alternative,” said Rachel Canty, SEVP director. “SEVP cautions schools about this practice since CPT must be an integral part of an existing curriculum and must be implemented in accordance with federal regulations.”

Additional CPT requirements include:

  • Must occur before a student’s program end date on the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”
  • Must relate directly to the student’s major area of study and be an integral part of the school’s established curriculum. Can be full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time. 
  • A student’s designated school official authorizes CPT in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
  • Students must secure the training opportunity before CPT can be authorized.
  • One year or more of full-time CPT eliminates students’ OPT eligibility at the same educational level.
  • Students can have more than one CPT authorization at the same time. However, CPT authorization is needed for each training opportunity.
  • CPT requires a signed cooperative agreement or letter from the employer.

For more information on the rules and regulations applicable to CPT, visit the Practical Training page on ICE.gov. Students may also contact the SEVP Response Center, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, except holidays, by calling 703-603-3400 or 1-800-892-4829.

SEVP monitors more than one million international students pursuing academic or vocational studies (F and M visa holders) in the United States and their dependents. It also certifies schools and programs that enroll these students. The U.S. Department of State monitors exchange visitors (J visa holders) and their dependents and oversees exchange visitor programs.

Both use SEVIS to protect national security by ensuring that students, exchange visitors, designated sponsors and schools comply with U.S. laws. SEVP also collects and shares SEVIS information with government partners, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, so only legitimate international students and exchange visitors enter the United States.

HSI reviews SEVIS records for potential violations and refers cases with possible national security or public safety concerns to its field offices for further investigation. Additionally, SEVP’s Analysis and Operations Center analyzes student and school records for administrative compliance with federal regulations related to studying in the United States.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/03/2019