H-1B and CPT

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Can CPT be a good way to gain experience in addition to or instead of H-1B?

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In my opinion, yes. CPT is a good option. But, the USCIS has been taking the position that after exhausting their OPT, the students should not be allowed any CPT. If they use CPT, USCIS may try to deny them status within the USA, requiring them to leave the USA and return only when an H-1B visa stamp is procured. While that is not any more difficult than an H-1B petition in which no CPT was involved, it is nonetheless a hassle.

I also think that the USCIS interpretation is incorrect.  There is no limit on CPT.  It is an integral part of the students' education.

The F-1 practical training regulations contain the following provision:

"A student may be authorized 12 months of practical training, and becomes eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level. Students in English language training programs are ineligible for practical training. An eligible student may request employment authorization for practical training in a position that is directly related to his or her major area of study."
8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)

USCIS has been interpreting this language to mean that the 12 months of practical training applies to CPT and OPT combined.  For instance, if you obtain 7 months of full-time CPT, you would then have only 5 months of OPT remaining. 

This interpretation is in direct contradiction to over a decade of policy, which has consistently held that the CPT time is deducted from the OPT only if: (i) CPT was issued for full-time training; and (ii) used for a year or more. If both these conditions exist, then and only then would the OPT ineligibility kick in: 

"... Students who have received one year or more of full-time curricular practical training are ineligible for post-completion academic training."
8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)

CPT was always construed as an integral part of your education. It is not based upon an “optional” choice made by students to undertake OPT. There also is no limit on the time CPT can be allowed.  The regulations presume and allow for more than one year of CPT: 

"one year or more of full time curricular practical training" makes a student ineligible for OPT at the same educational level. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)

In fact, as noted by several DSO’s SEVP’s Post-Completion OPT Planning Tool uses the computation directly counter to the USCIS illegal interpretation.

Note that if a change of status is denied on this ground, getting an H-1B visa stamping takes care of that.  Additionally, it is highly likely that the USCIS would lose if there is litigation on this issue.

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