Student Immigration Definitions
F-1 Student Status at Columbia
Important Information for Students Fully Funded
by Columbia University
of F-1 Supervision
of Status to F-1
for Canadian Students
Delays in Visa Issuance
Academic Certification for Travel
Govt Q &
A for F-1 Travel
DHS Information on Arrival Problems
Extension of Stay (Current Program)
Extension of Stay to Begin New Program
Practical Training (PT) Overview
Curricular Practical Training
Optional PT Before Degree Completion
Optional PT After Degree Completion
STEM 17-month OPT extension
Internship with an International Organization
Leave of Absence, Suspension or Withdrawal
Student Departure Information
Last Term Authorization
Inviting Relatives/Friends to Visit You
for a Social Security Number
Optional Practical Training (OPT) After Completion of Degree Requirements
This document covers the following information:
- OPT Definition, Eligibility Requirements and Application Period and Deadline
- How to Apply: Request new I-20 with OPT recommendation from the ISSO; Mail complete application to USCIS; Special Considerations
- Documentation required to return from a trip abroad during the first 12 months of OPT
- No more than 90 days of unemployment allowed during OPT in order to maintain status
- Reporting Obligations to the ISSO while on OPT
- "Cap-gap" extension for individuals with a pending H-1B during authorized OPT
Employment related to your field of study immediately after completion
of your studies, authorized by USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services) through the issuance of an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document). OPT is permitted for a period of up to a maximum of twelve
months per educational level (Bachelors, Masters, etc.) unless you are
a graduate from a government-designated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering,
Mathematics) degree which qualifies you for a possible extension of an
additional 17 months. The STEM extension is discussed separately.
The following information is for the initial application for post-completion
OPT for all students in F-1 status finishing a program of study.
Obtaining the employment authorization is a 3-step process:
- Obtain an OPT recommendation from the ISSO on a new I-20
- Mail your application (I-765) and all supporting documentation for an EAD to the USCIS
- Receive the EAD in the mail. You may begin to work ONLY after you
receive the EAD and no earlier than the start date on the EAD.
You must meet all of the following conditions:
- Must be physically present in the U.S. in F-1 status at the time of application. Do not leave the U.S. during the 60 day grace period following the completion date of your program if you have not yet applied for OPT.
- Have been enrolled in a University-recognized degree or certificate program in lawful student status on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year
- Have completed all requirements for the award of your University-recognized degree or certificate at the time OPT begins
- Not have used twelve months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT)
- Have received a grade for any course-related CPT done in a prior semester (if applicable)
- Have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same level of study
Application Period and Deadline:
The OPT application must be received by USCIS before the end of the
60-day grace period following the completion date of the current program
of enrollment. The completion date is generally the official last date
of the term in which all degree requirements have been fulfilled and not
the date on which the degree is conferred. USCIS will deny any application
received after the end of your 60-day grace period.
Fu Fdn School of Engineering and Applied Sciences 1.5 Credit Courses and Impact on Application Deadline:
M.S. students enrolling in one or more 1.5 credit mini-courses during the final term must enroll in the first mini-course period of the fall term. In other words, you may not skip the first mini-course period of September through mid-October as this is a violation of F-1 status and will cause you to be ineligible to apply for post-completion Optional Practical Training.
If you will complete all degree requirements during the first mini-course period, your I-20 is shortened to the last day of the first mini-course period and you must apply for post-completion OPT no later than 60 days after the last day of the first mini-course period.
When to Apply:
You have a 5 month period in which to apply for OPT--from 90 days before
the completion of your program until 60 days after but you must still
be in the U.S. at the time of application. You may request a start date
within the 60-day grace period following completion of your program.
The employment authorization start date on your EAD will be the date you
requested or the date the EAD is processed, whichever is later. Regardless
of when your OPT begins, it cannot end later than a year from the end
of your grace period.
How to Apply
Step 1: Obtaining the ISSO Recommendation
You may apply without a job offer. The ISSO recommendation may require
5 working days and you should make every effort to apply in a timely manner.
- Complete the fillable I-765
Form in PDF format online and print it. Be sure to enter your name EXACTLY as it is on your I-20. Use a laser printer only.
Sign the print out, making sure not to write outside the allotted area.
We do not advise it but if you choose not to type, please make sure you use BLUE ink only.
USCIS has some helpful form completion and filing tips on their website at http://www.uscis.gov/lockboxtips.
We strongly recommend that your I-765 be submitted in paper form. Submitting the I-765 as an online web-based form requires submission of biometrics after your application has been received by USCIS.
On the top of the I-765, before question 1, you must check the correct box for "I am applying for:"
If you do not check the appropriate box, USCIS will return your
application to you for correction before beginning to process it.
- Question 3, Address. The address you put on the I-765 has to
be one at which you can reliably receive mail up to 4 months from
the time you mail the application. An "undeliverable" address is
a major source of problems with OPT applications.
- Question 10 asks for your Alien Registration number or I-94 number.
This is the number printed at the top of your I-94 card.
Question 16 asks for eligibility categories. The code for post-completion
OPT is (c)(3)(B).
- Question 17--Complete ONLY if you are applying for a STEM extension of your approved OPT. The code for STEM extension is (c)(3)(C).
Download both pages of the Post-OPT Recommendation Request. You must complete page 1
and your academic adviser, department chair or program coordinator must
complete page 2. Bring both completed forms to the ISSO with your completed
I-765. Please come prepared to the ISSO with your desired employment
start and end dates.
A note about your completion date: This is not necessarily the day on
which the degree will be conferred—-it is the day on which all degree
requirements have been completed.
For doctoral students the completion date can vary. Speak with an ISSO adviser about your particular situation.
Note: You may not be able to return to the United States in F-1 status
after the deposit of your dissertation without having practical training
authorization since you are no longer considered a full-time student
after the dissertation deposit. Please consult an ISSO adviser before
making your travel plans.
- Trainee Administrative Fee of $100. Regulations under SEVIS
require the University to maintain the record of the student for the
duration of the time that is authorized. You are responsible for notifying
the ISSO of any changes in your name or residence address, the name
of any new employer and the employer's address, and any interruption,
change, or termination in employment, and the ISSO must update your
SEVIS record. The $100 fee is paid online at Trainee Administration Fee web page and must be paid before the I-20 with ISSO's recommendation is released to you. All credit card payments must be made online but the ISSO will continue to accept payment in cash.
- Bring to the ISSO:
a) Your current I-20 and all previously issued I-20s
c) I-94 card (white card usually stapled in passport)
d) I-765 Form
e) OPT Recommendation Request Form
- The International Students and Scholars Office staff will:
- Review your application for eligibility
- If you are eligible, process a new I- 20 which includes the
OPT recommendation and the requested dates of employment
- Notify you by email when your new I-20 is ready to be picked up
Step 2: Mailing
your OPT Application to USCIS:
- It is ESSENTIAL that the USCIS Service Center receives your application within 30 days of the date that the OPT I-20 is issued. If it is not received within 30 days of the issuance date, your application will be denied by USCIS, your $380 fee will not be returned or refunded to you, and you may not have enough time before the end of your 60-day grace period to request a new I-20 so that you can submit another application.
Sign and date the new I-20! (section 11) This sounds obvious but many OPT applicants have their applications returned for an unsigned I-20 and/or an unsigned check and/or an unsigned I-765 form.
- Photocopy the entire application before you send it so that you have a complete copy for your records.
- Send your application to the USCIS by certified mail, return
receipt requested or by a courier service such as FedEx to provide
you with proof that your application was timely in the event that
the application is lost.
- All applications must either be filed at the USCIS Dallas or USCIS Phoenix Lockbox facilities. Students who list a mailing address on the I-765 in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania, must send the application to:
If you use a mailing address in another state, please refer to page 10 of the I-765 instructions to find out where to file your application.
U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
Courier service (FedEx, UPS)
|PO Box 660867
|Dallas, TX 75266
||2501 S. State Hwy. 121, Business
||Lewisville, TX 75067
OPT Application Checklist
- Form G-1145 - This form should be on the
top of your application for USCIS to notify you by email and/or
text message that they have accepted your application.
- Completed Form I-765 - Original-NO PHOTOCOPIES. We strongly recommend completing the fillable pdf online at http://uscis.gov/files/form/i-765.pdf and printing it with a laser printer only. We advise against it but if you complete the I-765 by hand, use blue ink.
- Required $380 fee payable to the Department of Homeland Security
- personal check, write "USCIS I-765" in the memo line of the check
See How to Write a Check or the step-by-step online demonstration at The Beehive
- a bank check
- money order; please note, a money order is more difficult to track than a check
- Photocopies of pages 1 and 3 of all I-20s issued to
you since you first entered in F-1 status, including the I-20 issued
with the OPT recommendations. Do Not Send Originals of any I-20. Be sure you have SIGNED AND DATED all your I-20s on page 1. Note:
The USCIS wants to see all your I-20s starting from the one marked "initial
attendance". If you do not have all your I-20s and are unable to
obtain copies from the appropriate school, you should attach a brief
explanation of your F-1 status history.
- Photocopy of your passport ID page
- Photocopy of both sides of the I-94 card (the white card in
- Photocopy of both sides of any previous issued EAD cards
- Two U.S. passport style photos. The
USCIS requires that the photos meet the specifications for the full
frontal/passport type of photos and not be more than 30 days old when
the applications is filed. Visit the Department of State website for more information on photo standards.
Write your name lightly on the back of each picture in pencil. Passport photos can be taken at the following location:
- The UPS Store, 603 West 115th Street (just west of Broadway, same building at Morton Williams supermarket)
Step 3: Receiving your EAD Card in the mail:
- Address: The address you put on the I-765 has to be one at which you
can reliably receive mail up to four months from the time you mail the
application. An “undeliverable” address is the major source of problems
with OPT applications.
- USCIS will send all mail related to the EAD to the address indicated
on the I-765 form, even if you later update your address with the ISSO
and in SEVIS. There is a way to change your address with USCIS online
using the USCIS Change of Address site but we cannot guarantee its efficacy.
U.S. government mail will not be forwarded to another address, even
if you change it with the postal service.
- The address must be within the jurisdiction of the USCIS Regional
Service Center to which the application is being submitted or the application
will not be processed.
- If you are using an address of a friend, your name should be indicated
somewhere on the mail box. If the mail carrier does not recognize your
name, the envelope with the EAD card will be returned to USCIS. Use
"C/O" (care of) the name of your friend in the address to help avoid
confusion. You may follow this example:
Mary Smith (your name)
c/o Linda James (your friend's name)
5 Apple Street, #2D
New York, NY 12345
time: The USCIS can take from 6 to 12 weeks to process
an EAD application. After you receive the "Notice of Action" with
the 13-digit receipt number, you can check the status of your pending
application online on the USCIS webpage.
If your application has been pending for more than 90 days from the
date of receipt on the "Notice of Action" form, contact the ISSO.
- Your application must be received by USCIS before the end of the 60-day grace period following the end date of your program. The completion date of your program will be indicated on the I-20 and cannot be changed.
Please note that once your OPT application has been sent to the
USCIS, there is no provision for changing the dates or canceling
the request. You are not allowed to work until you receive the EAD
- There is some risk involved in leaving the U.S. while your OPT
application is pending at the USCIS in the event USCIS mails you
a request for further information.
Regulations allow you to change employers during the period of
authorized practical training, as long as the new employment continues
to be directly related to your field of study and commensurate with
your educational level.
- Contact the ISSO immediately if you receive any correspondence from USCIS about your application (other than the Notice of Action receipt)
Travel Abroad and Post-Completion OPT
The regulation for students on OPT allows for reentry “to resume employment after a temporary absence.” DHS has issued the following guidelines:
Before your EAD is issued, you may reenter the U.S.
to resume searching for employment. You must carry evidence
of a PENDING OPT application. The receipt notice
from USCIS will serve as proof that you have applied.
- After an EAD is issued, you may only reenter the U.S. to resume employment that has already commenced, or to return to begin a job that has already been offered. This means you must carry a letter from the employer, in addition to the EAD. Please note: this letter must be for the duration of your OPT and not for a permanent position.
- Please note: Given both the uncertainty surrounding the length of time needed to obtain approval for an EAD and the variations at the ports of entry in the implementation of the regulations for travel on OPT, if you wish to travel on OPT soon after completion of your studies, our recommendation is to:
- Apply for OPT early so that you will have an EAD before your travel, and
- Have a letter from your employer confirming a job to which you will be returning
If you travel without either of the above documents, there is a risk that you may not be able to return to the U.S. in F-1 status.
In addition, you must also have:
An I-20 that has been recertified on page 3 for travel within the past 6 months, not 12 months as it was when you were enrolled.
- An unexpired passport valid for 6 months into the future (except Canadians, and nationals from countries that have an agreement with the U.S. allowing entry until the passport expiration date.
- A valid, unexpired F-1 entry visa (except Canadians)
If you require a new entry visa while on OPT, be aware
that there is no guarantee that you are eligible for one.
You are required to establish non-immigrant intent every
time you apply for a non-immigrant visa.
- Please note:Your EAD will have the notation
"Not valid for re-entry to the U.S." This simply means
that the card ALONE is not sufficient documentation to
return in F-1 status. You must present your EAD along
with the above-mentioned documentation at the port of
Travel by Dependents during Post-Completion OPT
Entry requirements for dependents are essentially the same as those for holders of F-1 visas. Each dependent must carry his/her original I-20. If traveling separately from the principal, dependents should also carry a photocopy of the F-1's visa, I-94 card, I-20, Employment Authorization Card (EAD) or Receipt Notice and a letter from the employer. Note that if F-2 status was obtained through a change of status application, the F-2 will not be issued an F-2 entry vias unless the student has already obtained an F-1 entry visa.
Maintaining F-1 Status on OPT: Limited Periods of Unemployment Allowed:
H-1B cap-gap AUTOMATIC extension of D/S and work authorization until September 30:
OPT is a benefit and extension of F-1 status. During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment. Students may not be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days, including weekends. Aggregate means that you add up individual days, even if they are spaced apart.
F-1 regulations require you to report employment and interruptions in employment to DHS through notification to the ISSO. You must use the online OPT Report Form.
For complete information on OPT reporting requirements, see Reporting Requirements While on Post-Completion OPT.
The “cap gap” refers to the period of time between the end of authorized OPT and the start of H-1B status on October 1st, the start of the federal government's fiscal year when H-1Bs become available.
If the employer of an individual on F-1 OPT files a petition to change to H-1B status before the OPT ends, F-1 status and employment authorization are automatically extended to September 30 without application to USCIS - a new EAD card will not be issued. If necessary, the ISSO may issue a new I-20 reflecting the extension of the period of OPT.
If an employer files the H-1B petition while the individual is in F-1 status but not on OPT, the F-1 status will be extended until September 30 but without employment authorization.
The extension of duration of status and work authorization will automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the individual's behalf.
The advisers of the ISSO encourage you to contact them if
you have questions about the procedure or if you receive any
correspondence about your application. Students whose immigration
documents were processed by the International Affairs Office
on the Columbia University Medical Center should contact the
IAO for specific procedures.
Last Reviewed: 29 April 2013 Last modified: 29 April 2013
Columbia University International Students and Scholars Office