CPT and OPT for Ph.D. Students on F1 visa in USA – What You Need to Know?

OPT For PhD Students | CPT, OPT Employment in USA

While it’s a dream for all of us to study in the USA, very fewer people get the opportunity. The United States has been home to many great universities being a dream to almost all to get in. With so many top universities, the challenge is actually to get an admission.

With so many applicants, few make it possible for themselves to study at the world’s top universities like Yale, Stanford, Harvard, and many more. But for international students, just getting an admission doesn’t end all the challenges. The struggle is to survive in the USA with so many rules and restrictions.

The USA is one of the most popular and preferred countries by the student to do their Ph.D. because it increases their knowledge of Global understanding as well as creating a good network for future goals. In total, the length of the course is usually four to six years (full-time), but it may even take eight to ten years who do not have a master’s degree. Still, students with a master’s degree can complete it within four to five months, where a student spends the first four years on course stage program and two to four years working on their thesis.

OPT allows direct employment to F1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply for OPT either during their studies or after completion of their graduation. A pre-completion OPT visa allows the student to work during their studies but only for 20 hours a week, and post-completion OPT enables a student to work for 40 hours a week in the area of their expertise. But as the Ph.D. is a six-year-long course, it becomes difficult for an international student to do research and gain experience with limited time allotted to work.

Employment – CPT and OPT for Ph.D. Students in USA

A Ph.D. student can enter the United States on either an F1 or J-1 Visa, but it generally depends on your funding source, and at times on the university’s preference or certification. If you are completely self-funded, you can be on an F-1 visa.

As surviving in the USA without a job can get difficult, Ph.D. students are always in confusion if they should use up there pre-completion OPT to work or save it to work after the completion of their Ph.D.

Ph.D. students have an exceptional situation in which OPT regulations understand that students may use their work employment for their Ph.D. research, or that students can often balance working with research. For this F1 Students with PhDs, who have completed their required coursework but have not defended their thesis and graduated can decide on to end their I-20 and then apply for an OPT visa or can start working as an intern with CPT (Curricular Practical Training).

The following options will help Ph.D. students decide what options you have to work while still pursuing your Ph.D.:

  1. Work on OPT after Ph.D. Completion or Use CPT, while still pursuing a Ph.D.:

While you are still working on your research during your Ph.D., you are eligible for CPT, which will advise you to gain CPT practical employment training and have a paid or unpaid internship during your CPT before deciding to apply OPT for Ph.D. students.

Students can have an internship full-time as well as part-time to gain practical knowledge as well as earn US dollars while you still study. Part-time CPT is unlimited, while you can use full-time CPT for 12 months. After the completion of full-time CPT, you will not be eligible to apply for OPT during your Ph.D. This standard approach allows students to build concentration on their research work and finish it before deviating the focus on working full-time employment.

  1. End I-20 during Ph.D. Research; while completing degree begin OPT:

In case you have used your CPT completely, or if your CPT isn’t appropriate for a job you want to have, then as a Ph.D. student, you can end your I-20 any time after their required course work is complete, and then you can start with OPT for Ph.D. students. This option should be used carefully if you are planning to apply for STEM extensions as you will need to complete your degree and have it awarded before the first year of OPT ends, to be eligible to apply for the OPT extension. Because of the degree is not completed after completion of OPT and you cannot choose to use your STEM extension, you will have to leave the US and complete your Ph.D. in your home country as the US doesn’t permit you to return as a regular student.


Difference Between OPT and CPT

Can I have multiple OPT Jobs or OPT Employers?

Either to work as an OPT visa holder, you will have to complete at least one year as a full-time student to be eligible for OPT. The average time to get an OPT from United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is probably 1 to 2 months. Make sure if you are planning to have for post-completion OPT, you will need to apply it before 90 days of completion of your degree.

If you have used up your OPT visa and still wish to work in the USA to gain more professional experience, you can apply for a visa change after completing your Ph.D. You can change the F1 visa from OPT to H1B visa. For that, you need to ask your employer to sponsor your visa, and then you can continue working in the USA. H1B will make you a professional employer instead of just training while you work as an OPT visa holder.

International students doing a Ph.D. in the USA do not have easy excess to full-time employment. They always need to prove their worth to get a good full-time job. So use your time well to plan and increase your network while you still study to get a good full-time job.

Also, make sure to use your visa options wisely while you apply for OPT and full-time jobs. Do your homework well in terms of which visa are more beneficial for you to get a full-time job.