F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) After Your Degree Program

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit of F-1 student status that allows you to work off-campus in your field of study to gain practical experience. OPT after you graduate is referred to as post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT extends your F-1 status even though you are no longer an enrolled student. It also extends the F-2 status of any dependents who are with you.

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Application Alert


Beginning 9AM Friday, March 10 through 11 AM Monday, March 13, you will not to be able to submit or upload any ISSO applications (including this one) as we conduct our Compass database migration. Do not worry, you will be able to submit applications again starting 12:00 PM Monday, March 13. We are sorry for any inconvenience.

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Before You Apply

We've created a few resources to help you understand the OPT application process:

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Workshop Icon

Attend one of our in-person Employment-Related Workshops (below).

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Upcoming Post-OPT Workshops

ISSO advisors will be on-campus to discuss the eligibility requirements and application procedures for Post-OPT:

View our events page to see the full list of workshops and locations.

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Eligibility

Types of Employment Allowed

Employment on Post-completion OPT is paid or unpaid work in your field of study for at least 20 hours per week.

  • Paid Employment. Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
  • Multiple employers, but all employment must be related to your degree program
  • Short-term multiple employers.  (“gigs” for performing artists). Musicians and other performing artists should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm.
  • 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 with 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. NB: STEM OPT extension requires paid employment.

Job Offer

You do not need a job offer to apply but you are limited to 90 days without employment during your post-completion OPT period.

You have a maximum amount of OPT time

You get 12 months of OPT for each higher degree level you complete (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD Degree).

If you’re a student in in certain STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), you may be eligible for an extension of OPT for an additional 24 months.

Any OPT that was used during your program (Pre-Completion OPT) is deducted from the 12 months you are allowed after you graduate.   

Timeline Overview

Your OPT approval can take up to three months to be processed by USCIS, so you need to plan ahead.

Your OPT application has 2 steps (all included in the "How to Apply" section below).
1) You need to apply to us for a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation and
2) you will send your OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services). 

When to Apply

You may apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before your program end date. We encourage you apply as early as possible. Spring graduates can apply starting February 16th. We recommend you apply by April 7th to avoid potential problems.

You get to choose the start date you want, in the 60-day period following your completion date. It is not an easy decision if you don’t have a job offer at the time of application.

You may want to delay the start date to the 60th day after your program ends to maximize the time you spend in for job-hunting, but you would not be able to start work until the approval date. Once you choose dates and submit your application to us for your OPT I-20, you cannot change them.

Post-Completion OPT Application Timeline

Reporting Requirements

Once you are on OPT, report employment and any other changes (as listed below) within 10 days through this form. 

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How to Apply

Step 1.

Submit your forms to the ISSO

Submit the forms below as a single PDF file to ISSO-opt@columbia.edu for processing:

Step 2.

Pay the OPT Administrative Fee 

Pay the $140 Trainee Administrative Fee. You remain in F-1 status and under Columbia's F-1 oversight during post-completion OPT. 

Step 3.

Pick-up your OPT I-20

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.

Step 4.

Mail your OPT application to USCIS via FedEx or UPS

Before Mailing to USCIS

OPT Application Checklist

This is what is you will send to USCIS:

Mailing Instructions

To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facilities.

If you list a mailing address on the I-765 in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania must send the application to:

USCIS, Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121, Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

If you live 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

 

If you live 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

Step 5.

Receive your OPT approval and EAD Card

The OPT start date on your EAD card will be the date you requested or the date the EAD is processed, whichever is later. Contact us if you receive any other notice, such as a Request for Evidence (RFE), from USCIS. Track your case online using your receipt number.

Review the timeline below for more detail.

OPT Timeline
Step 6.

Start

You can start working once you have your EAD card in hand and the start date has arrived.

Apply for a Social Security Number if you do not have one already, on or after the start date on the EAD.

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OPT Reporting Requirements

Report OPT employment and any other changes listed below within 10 days.​​​​​​​

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How to Report during OPT

Submit this report

During the period of post-completion OPT, use this form to report any employment, interruption in employment, or other changes described under Reporting Requirements.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

This reminds you that the EAD card by itself is not sufficient for reentry. Always include it with your other travel documents (as listed in the charts above).

Re-entering the U.S. in a status other than F-1 (such as a tourist) will invalidate F-1 status and OPT authorization.

Once you have your EAD card in hand and the start date has arrived. Apply for a Social Security Number if you do not have one already, on or after the start date on the EAD.

Government guidance recommends that you maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the your supervisor or manager, and a description of the work.

It is best to obtain a signed letter from your hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how your degree is related to the work performed.

OPT authorization begins on the employment start date shown on your EAD.

Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that you are not working counts as a day of unemployment.

If you travel abroad after OPT has started--and the travel is not for your job, the time spent outside the United States will count as unemployment against the 90-day limit.

While on OPT you may not take classes toward a degree.

If you decide to begin a new full-time program, you will need to transfer your SEVIS record and obtain an I-20 for the degree program. As soon as you transfer to the new program the rest of your OPT is forfeited and you must stop working.

Yes, under two circumstances:

  1. Pending or approved H-1B petition.  If your employer files a change of status H-1B petition while you are on authorized OPT and it is chosen for processing, your OPT may be automatically extended for “Cap Gap”.
     
  2. STEM OPT extension for students who graduated from a degree program in a government-designated STEM field may be eligible for an extension for an additional 24 months of OPT.

You have a 60 day grace period to prepare for departure, transfer to another school or change your visa status. You cannot work during the grace period.

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Traveling on OPT

Traveling on OPT? Visit our Travel page for more information.