Student Immigration Definitions

Obtaining F-1 Student Status at Columbia

Important Information for Students Fully Funded
by Columbia University

Transfer of F-1 Supervision

Change of Status to F-1

Message for Canadian Students

Potential Delays in Visa Issuance


Student Tax Information

Maintaining F-1 Status

Academic Certification for Travel

F-1 Travel Information

Govt Q & A for F-1 Travel

DHS Information on Arrival Problems

F-1 Extension of Stay (Current Program)

F-1 Extension of Stay to Begin New Program

F-1 Reinstatement

F-1 Work Opportunities

F-1 Practical Training (PT) Overview

F-1 Curricular Practical Training

F-1 Optional PT Before Degree Completion

F-1 Employment Before Graduation PowerPoint Slides

F-1 Optional PT After Degree Completion

Post-Completion OPT PowerPoint Slides (PDF format)

Post-Completion OPT Webinar

NEW STEM 24-month OPT extension

F-1 Internship with an International Organization

F-1 Leave of Absence, Suspension or Withdrawal

Student Departure Information

F-1 Reduced Course Load Request

Inviting Relatives/Friends to Visit You

Address Change Form

Applying for a Social Security Number

Optional Practical Training (OPT) After Completion of Degree Requirements

Definition: 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 17 months. You cannot apply for a STEM extension until four months before the end date on your initial OPT EAD card. STEM extension application information is http://www.columbia.edu/cu/isso/visa/F-1/STEM_information_and_request.pdf. You may begin to work ONLY after you receive the EAD and no earlier than the start date on the EAD.

To learn more about OPT, including the process to apply and general requirements, please view our Post-Completion OPT Webinar.

The following information is for the initial application for post-completion OPT for all students in F-1 status finishing a program of study. You may apply without a job offer.

Obtaining the employment authorization is a 3-step process:
  1. Complete required application documents and submit to ISSO either in person or via email to isso-opt@columbia.edu
  2. The ISSO will review your application and issue you an I-20 with OPT recommendation.
  3. Mail a complete OPT application to USCIS

Eligibility: You must meet all of the following conditions:

  1. 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 received the paper receipt notice for your OPT application.
  2. 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
  3. Have completed all requirements for the award of your University-recognized degree or certificate at the time OPT begins
  4. Not have used twelve months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT)
  5. Have received a grade for any course-related CPT done in a prior semester (if applicable)
  6. Have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same level of study

Application Period and Deadline:

Students may begin applying for Post-Completion OPT up to 90 days before their program completion date*. The OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date the OPT I-20 is issued by the ISSO, and before the end of the 60-day grace period following the completion date of the current program of enrollment.

Students completing all degree requirements in the Fall 2015 term should submit a complete OPT request to the ISSO by November 13, 2015. Students completing all degree requirements in Spring 2016 should submit a complete OPT request to the ISSO by April 1, 2016.

*Program Completion Date: 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.

How to Apply:

Step 1: Submit the documents listed below to isso-opt@columbia.edu as a single PDF file attachment and pay the $120 Trainee Administrative Fee or optional combined Trainee Administrative Fee with FedEx delivery of your OPT I-20 online at https://lexington.columbia.edu/isso/trainee

Email instructions: Scan your documents into ONE file in PDF format only. Submissions in any other format will not be accepted or reviewed. Do not send individual files (I-765 as one file, OPT request form as another file, etc.). Do not take photos with your phone and send .jpg or .tiff files. You will receive an automated reply from the ISSO confirming that your email was received. DO NOT put your pdf file on GoogleDrive or Dropbox or any other cloud/file sharing site and send a link to your file. We WILL NOT go to the cloud to retrieve your submission.

This email address is only for document submission. We do not reply to any messages included with your documents or to any other messages sent to this email address. Do not send your documents to any other email address; they will not be accepted and reviewed.

Required Application Documents

  1. I-765 Form
  2. OPT Recommendation Request Form (2 pages)
  3. I-94 from the online I-94 site
  4. If you applied for OPT before, send copies of any previously issued EAD cards
  1. Complete the fillable I-765 Form. We recommend typing it. Be sure to enter your name EXACTLY as it is in your passport. Print it and sign it in BLUE ink only, making sure not to write outside the allotted area. Scan and email a copy of the signed form along with the necessary documents to ISSO. 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.
      If you are using the 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 need to hand-write this address as the I-765 does not have enough room to enter it on the online form. Use the format below:
      c/o [your friend's name]
      5 Apple Street, #2D
      New York, NY 12345
    • Question 10: Enter your 11-digit I-94 number retrieved from the electronic I-94 web site. The fillable form does not allow enough space for 11 digits so you need to print the form and write your I-94 number by hand.
      Question 16 asks for eligibility categories. The code for post-completion OPT is (c)(3)(B).
    • Question 17: Leave blank as does not apply to regular OPT applications.

  2. Complete page 1 of the Post-OPT Recommendation Request. You must fill in your requested employment start and end dates. These dates cannot be changed after the application has been processed.

    Page 2 must be completed by your academic adviser, department chair or program coordinator. The completion date is not necessarily the day on which the degree will be conferred—-it is the day on which all degree requirements have been completed.

    Doctoral students: the completion date can vary; speak with an ISSO adviser about your particular situation. Be aware that you may not be able to return to the United States in F-1 status after the dissertation deposit without having practical training authorization since you are no longer considered a full-time student after the deposit. Please consult an ISSO adviser if making travel plans.

Trainee Administrative Fee of $120. 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 fee or the combined fee plus the optional additional charge for FedEx delivery of your OPT I-20 is paid online only at Trainee Administration Fee web page and must be paid before the I-20 with ISSO's recommendation is released to you.

Step 2: The International Students and Scholars Office staff will review your application and issue you an I-20 with OPT recommendation.

  • The ISSO recommendation takes 10 business days
  • We will notify you by email when your new I-20 is ready. You may pick it up or request FedEx delivery.

Step 3: Mail your OPT Application to USCIS:

  1. 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.
  2. Remember to sign and date the new I-20 in BLUE ink only! (section 11) Your application will be returned for an unsigned I-20, an unsigned check or an unsigned I-765 form.
  3. Photocopy the entire application before you send it so that you have a complete copy for your records.
  4. Send your application to the USCIS 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.
  5. 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:

    U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Priority Mail Express

    Courier service (FedEx, UPS)

    PO Box 660867 Attn: AOS
    Dallas, TX 75266 2501 S. State Hwy. 121, Business
      Suite 400
      Lewisville, TX 75067

    If you use a mailing address in another state, go to the I-765 site at http://www.uscis.gov/i-765 to find out where to file your application.

OPT Application Checklist

  1. 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.
  2. 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 but if you choose not to do so, use blue ink.
  3. Required $380 fee payable to the Department of Homeland Security by:
    • 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

  4. Photocopies of ALL pages 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.
  5. Photocopy of your unexpired passport ID page
  6. Photocopy of your F-1 entry visa
  7. Print your most recent I-94 retrieved from http:www.cbp.gov/I94
  8. Photocopy of both sides of any previously issued EAD cards
  9. 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 as Morton Williams supermarket)

Receiving your EAD Card:

  • Processing time: The USCIS can take up to 90 days or more 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 web site at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard.do. Contact the ISSO if your application has been pending for more than 90 days from the date of receipt on the "Notice of Action receipt" form.
  • USCIS will send all related mail including the receipt notice, the approval notice and the EAD to the address indicated on the I-765 form
  • If you change your address during the processing time, there is a way to update 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.
  • Contact the ISSO if you receive any correspondence such as a Request for Evidence (RFE) (not the receipt or approval notices or the EAD), from USCIS about your application.
  • 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.

    Special Considerations:

    1. USCIS must receive your application before the end of the 60-day grace period following the completion date of your program. The completion date of your program is on the I-20 and cannot be changed.
    2. If you have any dependents, they will also receive updated I-20s. However, you do not need to submit their documents with your OPT application.
    3. If you decide that you do not want OPT, contact the ISSO immediately for guidance on your situation.
    4. 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 (an RFE).
    5. Contact the ISSO immediately if you receive any correspondence from USCIS about your application (other than the Notice of Action receipt or approval notices or the EAD).

    Travel Abroad and Post-Completion OPT:

    OPT Status

    Documents needed for travel

    Completed program but did not apply for OPT You cannot travel and re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status if you have completed your program of study and have not applied for OPT.
    OPT Pending (Mailed OPT application but have not yet been approved)
    • Unexpired F-1 visa (except Canadians)
    • I-20 with current OPT and travel signature on page 2 within the last 6 months
    • Valid Passport
    • OPT application receipt notice (I-797) from USCIS
    OPT is Approved
    • Unexpired F-1 visa (except Canadians)
    • OPT I-20 with travel signature on page 2 within the last 6 months
    • Valid Passport
    • EAD Card
    • Letter from employer if you have one

    Also see http://www.columbia.edu/cu/isso/visa/F-1/F-1_travel.html

    Maintaining F-1 Status on OPT and Periods of Unemployment Allowed:

    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 at https://www1.columbia.edu/sec/cu/isso/OPT_Reporting.html.

    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. For complete information on OPT reporting requirements, see http://www.columbia.edu/cu/isso/visa/F-1/Postcomp_OPT_Reporting_Requirements.pdf.

    We encourage you to contact us 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: 7 March 2016 Last modified: 7 March 2016
    Columbia University International Students and Scholars Office