Demystifying CPT, OPT, and Sponsorship for International Students

It is well-known that companies around the globe value the talent of foreign labor and seize the opportunity to engage with it. However, the complex process of sponsorship, combined with the availability of local workforce and administrative burden, often deters companies from considering international professionals. This practice inadvertently disregards the valuable insights, experience, and human potential that these professionals bring. As an international graduate student at Columbia University in New York City, I have personally faced this obstacle in my professional development. Therefore, I aim to demystify the realities of OPT, CPT, and sponsorship in the United States, providing clarity and simplifying the requirements. By sharing this information, I hope to create new opportunities for fellow students and professionals who seek to challenge themselves outside their comfort zones. I aim to enlighten and summarize the realities of OPT and CPT, enabling international professionals to showcase their talents and generate innovative ideas while at the same time allowing organizations in the US to benefit from their professionalism.

For international students and professionals, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) are the only employment authorization programs available to legally work in the United States (US). These programs provide opportunities to gain crucial practical work experience, supplement learning, and support oneself financially during studies in the US.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT):

CPT is named as such because the employment opportunity must be an integral part of the student’s academic program’s established curriculum. It is not available to all F-1 visa holders but depends on the academic requirements of the student’s program. CPT does not require the submission of an application to the US Government, but only to the student’s school and the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO).

Optional Practical Training (OPT):

OPT is an optional benefit and extension of the F-1 visa for international students that allows them to work in the US for a specific period. One notable feature of the OPT is that it can be utilized during or after the academic program. Pre-Completion OPT (PreOPT) is used during the academic program, while Post-Completion OPT (PostOPT) is used after the completion of the academic program. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a government agency under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Comparison of CPT and OPT:

To provide further clarity, here is a comparison of the main differences and specifications between CPT and OPT:






Work authorization that allows F-1 visa holders to engage in off-campus employment during the applicant’s academic program. The opportunity must be an integral part of the curriculum. Work authorization that allows F-1 visa holders to engage in off-campus employment prior to or after completion of the academic program.




Requires a job or internship offer, enrollment in a full-time degree program for at least one academic year, and F-1 visa status. Must receive academic credit for the work experience. No job or internship offer. For PreOPT, enrollment in a full-time degree program for at least one academic year F-1 visa status. For PostOPT, completion of all course requirements except the dissertation, thesis, or final project.



Can be granted for part-time or full-time employment, with a maximum duration of 12 months. PreOPT: up to 12 months. Post-OPT: certain degree holders may be eligible for an additional 24-month extension, totaling 36 months.



Used during the academic program, and after completing at least one academic year. Can be used during or after completion, after completing at least one academic year, or all course requirements.
Application Process Students require authorization from their Designated School Official (DSO) and the ISSO. The applicant applies for OPT I-20 form from the ISSO. After receiving the form, the applicant needs to mail the complete application to the USCIS, to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Additional information Prospective employers don’t need to file immigration paperwork or incur expenses. They only need to provide a job or internship offer. Prospective employers don’t need to file immigration paperwork or incur expenses. The applicant has a 90-day period of unemployment. The applicant chooses the OPT starting date. The applicant has a 60-day grace period to stay in the US after OPT expiration. The earliest application date is 90 days before completing all degree requirements for the program.

Benefits for Employers and Conclusion:

With these authorizations, potential employers do not need to bear any expenses or file any immigration paperwork or sponsorship for incorporating the talent of international students into their lines. Through CPT, employers can benefit from fresh perspectives, up-to-date knowledge, and skills of international professionals for up to 12 months. With OPT, employers can leverage the skills and talents of international professionals for an extended period of up to 36 months (in certain cases). After these periods and benefiting from the expertise of these professionals, employers may consider sponsoring them, backed with the more-than-proven set of skills of their recent hire.

Furthermore, employers in the US can benefit from a cost-effective staffing strategy by hiring professionals under CPT or OPT. Students are typically willing to work at competitive entry-level wages, providing organizations an opportunity to save on labor costs. Additionally, international students enhance diversity and cultural awareness within organizations, leading to better service for multicultural clientele.

In conclusion, making decisions with comprehensive information is always preferable. Hopefully, after this punctual analysis, and by demystifying CPT and OPT these authorizations became more accessible, clear, and straightforward. CPT and OPT serve as excellent resources for students seeking a meaningful path toward progress. Simultaneously, they offer win-win scenarios for bold employers who have nothing to lose and much to gain. International students have something valuable to offer and organizations in the US can benefit from providing them with opportunities because sometimes, all it takes to reconfigure the destiny of oneself and those around us is an opening, a juncture of circumstances piloting purpose.

To learn more about OPT and CPT, refer to the following resources:



By Gonzalo Miranda Madrigal
Gonzalo Miranda Madrigal Industry Relations Specialist