F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) After Your Degree Program
Upcoming OPT Workshop
The remaining workshop is open to all students who are graduating at the end of the spring or summer terms.
- Wednesday, February 27th: SEAS & all other students
OPT Video Playlist
This playlist has it all -- from how to apply to after you receive the EAD Card. Watch it now!
What is OPT?
OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit and extension of F-1 student status that permits you to remain in the U.S. after you complete your academic program with permission to work in your field of study.
Post-completion OPT extends your F-1 status even though you are no longer an enrolled student, and also extends the F-2 status of any dependents who are with you.
- You must be in F-1 status at the time of application
- You are enrolled in a full-time degree or qualifying certificate program for at least one academic year (two consecutive semesters) in a valid, lawful status
- You have not used all 12 months of OPT at the same degree level
- You have not used OPT at a higher degree level
- Exception for Graduate Students: You have finished all course requirements for your graduate degree except a dissertation, thesis or final project necessary for your degree (also known as ABD)
Employment Under OPT
A job offer is not required in advance of submitting an application which allows you time to job hunt. However, you need to begin appropriate employment within 90 days.
The "clock" counting days begins on the start date of OPT on your EAD card.
- Employment must begin within 90 days from start date on EAD.
- The 90 days of unemployment is an aggregate of all days without work added together (including weekends and between jobs)
- USCIS keeps track of your unemployment days, based on the information you submit in your OPT Reporting.
Be careful! If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment, or if you forget to report and update your OPT to the ISSO, your F-1 SEVIS record will automatically terminate. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the United States.
Your maximum amount of Post-Completion OPT is 12 months. If you had OPT previously authorized at the same degree level it will be deducted from the 12 month total. This includes:
- Any OPT authorized during your current program (Pre-Completion OPT)
- Any OPT authorized for another program at the same degree level
Use your previously-issued EAD cards to calculate the number of days to be deducted.
Employment on Post-completion OPT is paid or unpaid work in your field of study for at least 20 hours per week.
Learn about types of employment allowed:
- Paid Employment
- You must work at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT.
- Multiple employers
- You may work for more than one employer, concurrently or one at a time. All employment must be related to your degree program.
- Short-term multiple employers
- Musicians and other performing artists should maintain a list of all "gigs", the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, you must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm
- Also known as employment, temp, or staffing agencies. You are required to average at least 20 hours/week at the location where you are placed.
- Self-employed business owner
- You must be able to prove that you have the proper business license and that the business is related to your degree program. You may need to consult an attorney.
- Independent contractor/ free-lance
- If requested by DHS, be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Unpaid employment
- Unpaid work must be at least 20 hours per week and the work cannot violate any labor laws. Be prepared to provide evidence from the employer that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. Learn more on our unpaid employment webpage.
Please note: STEM OPT extension requires paid employment.
We recommend that you maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, the job title, contact information for the your supervisor or manager, a description of the work, and proof of the duration.
If possible, obtain a signed letter from your hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how your degree is related to the work performed.
These records and letters are not part of your applications. It is useful to have them available in your personal files in case questions ever arise during OPT or in a future employment-based application.
How to Apply
Your OPT approval may take three months (or maybe more) to be processed by USCIS, so you need to plan ahead.
The earliest you can apply is 90 days before your program end date on your I-20. We encourage you apply as early as possible.
As a doctoral student, you have some flexibility in determining your program end date for OPT purposes. You may use the defense date or the end of the term in which you complete requirements.
Note that after your program end date, you are no longer eligible to engage in on-campus employment as a student or receive funding from your department. OPT employment can begin only after you have received your EAD card, and are within the dates printed on your EAD card.
Consult with your academic adviser or an ISSO adviser before finalizing your custom end date.
Step1. Use our interactive OPT Calculator to determine:
- When to apply
- How much OPT time you have left if you have used OPT at this educational level.
- You will need to have your EAD Card(s) available to add together all the days to be deducted from the 365-day total.
OPT start and end dates
Step 2. Choose Your OPT Start Date
You get to choose the date you would like OPT authorization to begin, within the 60-day period following your program end date. This is not an easy decision if you don’t have a job offer at the time of application.
You may want to maximize the time you'll have for job-hunting by choosing the latest possible date. The downside, however, is that you cannot begin employment until the start date on your EAD.
Once you choose your OPT start date and submit your application to us, you cannot change it.
Step 3. Begin the application process
Application Process Overview
Obtaining OPT employment authorization is a three-part application. It may take three months (or maybe more) to be processed, so you need to plan ahead.
Part 1. Submit an online application to the ISSO to obtain a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on it. Here's a short video.
Part 2. Pick up your OPT I-20. It is an essential piece of your application to USCIS.
Part 3. Send your complete OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services).
Pay the OPT Administration Fee
Pay the $180 Administration Fee. You remain in F-1 status under Columbia’s sponsorship with an active SEVIS record during your authorized period of Post-Completion OPT.
Gather your documents and information
These are the documents you will upload when you login to Compass to submit your application for the Post-Completion OPT I-20.
- Use our sample form as a guide to complete your I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. When you’re finished, print and sign it with dark blue or black ink.
- OPT Academic Adviser Form to be completed by you and your Department
- Copy of your most recent I-94 arrival record (not your travel history), which is evidence of F-1 status. Make sure the record indicates you were admitted until "D/S."
- Copies of EAD cards from previous OPT applications, if any
- Your requested OPT start and end dates. Review Choosing your OPT Start Date before entering them on your OPT application in Compass. Your requested dates for an OPT I-20 cannot be changed.
Log in to Compass with your UNI and password to submit your application
Please click the appropriate link below:
We will email you
Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. We will notify you by email when your new I-20 with OPT recommendation is ready to be picked up or shipped.
Pick up your OPT I-20
Review page 2 to verify your requested OPT dates, then sign and date page 1. Always use your most recent I-20 when you travel.The travel signature on page 2 is valid for six months (not 12) when you’re on OPT. Keep all previously issued I-20s--you may need them for future applications.
Mail your complete OPT application with fee to USCIS via FedEx or UPS
- Original Form G-1145 to allow USCIS to notify you when they accept your application (not a copy)
- Original Form I-765 (from your ISSO OPT I-20 application), signed in dark blue or black ink only (not a copy). Must include all pages of I-765, even if pages are blank. Here is our sample form.
$410 USCIS fee payable by:  Recommended method: Personal check from a U.S. checking account, or certified bank check, or money order, payable to the "Department of Homeland Security". Write "USCIS I-765" in the memo line, or [2 ] Credit card via Form G-1450. Must use U.S. credit card and U.S. billing address, and sign the form. If using as a debit card, make sure account has sufficient funds!
- A copy of your signed and dated OPT I-20. Please be sure to sign and date your I-20. Send a copy, not the original which you can use for Travel During OPT.
- Copies of all previously-issued I-20(s). If you have lost any I-20s, please include a short explanation. You may edit this sample letter.
- Copy of Passport Identification page (valid 6 months into the future)
- Copy of F-1 entry visa (Canadians are exempt). If you changed your status to F-1 in the U.S. and don't have a visa, include your Change of Status approval notice.
- Copy of your most recent I-94 arrival record (click “Get Most Recent I-94” at i94.cbp.dhs.gov)
- Two U.S. passport style photos using standards from the Department of State website and be aware that  photos cannot be more than 30 days old when you send the application and  you should write your name on the back of each photo in pencil.  You can take your photos at UPS Stores (603 West 115th Street & 42 Tiemann Place), among other places.
- Photocopy of both sides of any previously issued EAD card(s).
Send all the required documents!
Use the checklist to make sure you send everything you need as instructed.
Send it on time
USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after the date the Post-Completion OPT I-20 was issued. If USCIS receives it later than that, they will deny your OPT application, without returning or refunding your $410 fee.
Be sure your address on the I-765 will be valid for four months after mailing
Government mail is not forwarded to another address. If you change your address during the processing time, you can use the USCIS Change of Address site but we cannot guarantee its efficacy.
Sign all forms with dark blue or black ink
Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, I-765 form, credit card authorization form or check.
Make a copy of your entire application for your records
You may need a paper or scanned copy in the future.
UEMS Discount Shipping Option
UEMS (also known as eShip Global) offers discounted rates to ship your OPT application to USCIS by FedEx, UPS, or USPS. Follow eShipGlobal instructions to create your shipping label.
To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS to the correct USCIS Lockbox facilities.
Most Common Address
If you list your mailing address on the I-765 as being in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia, send your application to the Dallas lockbox:
USCIS, Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
Less Common Address
If you list your mailing address on the I-765 as being in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands, send your application to the Phoenix lockbox:
USCIS, Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card
Normally you will receive the two documents below from USCIS before the EAD arrives. Contact us if you receive any other notice, such as a Request for Evidence (RFE), from USCIS.
- Receipt notice
- Approval notice
Review the card for accuracy. You can start working only when you have your EAD card in hand, and only from the start date indicated on the card. You cannot work with a receipt notice nor approval notice.
The OPT start date on your EAD card will be the date you requested or the date the EAD was processed, whichever is later.
After You Receive the EAD Card
If you do not already have an SSN, and didn't apply for one when you completed the I-765 OPT application, you are now eligible to apply on or after the start date on your EAD card.
Do not apply again if you have already done so.
In general, post-completion OPT cannot be extended, except in the following two situations:
- STEM OPT Extension: If you graduated from a degree program in a government-designated STEM field, you may be eligible for an extension for an additional 24 months of OPT. Read more about the STEM OPT extension.
- Cap-Gap Extension: If your employer files a change of status H-1B petition while you are on authorized OPT and it is selected by USCIS for processing, your OPT may be automatically extended during the period of time between the expiration of your OPT and the October 1st change of status to H-1B. Read more about the “Cap Gap” extension.
Learn more! Watch our Extending Your OPT video for more information.
While you are on OPT, you remain in F-1 status. If you have plans to travel abroad during this period, you need to know in advance what to have with you to return to the U.S. in F-1 status, so you don't jeopardize your OPT authorization.
Students are allowed to study part-time while under OPT. Full-time study is not permitted.
If you decide to begin a new full-time program at:
- Columbia, you will need to be in contact with the ISSO to obtain a new I-20 for the new program. Follow the instructions at Beginning a New Program.
- at another U.S. school, you will need to be in contact with the ISSO to transfer your SEVIS record to the new school to facilitate obtaining a new I-20 from them. Follow our "Transfer Out" instructions.
As soon as you transfer to the new program, the rest of your OPT is forfeited and you must stop working.
When your EAD expires, you have a 60 day grace period in which:
- to remain in the U.S. to prepare for departure or travel domestically
- transfer to another school, or
- change your visa status.
You cannot work during the grace period, or leave and return to the U.S. in F-1 status. On the 61st day after the EAD expires, SEVIS automatically completes your F-1 SEVIS record.
If you decide to discontinue your OPT before the EAD expires, you do not have a grace period and must report your departure through OPT Reporting. This will complete your F-1 SEVIS record.