F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) During 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. You will send your OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services). It can take up to three months to be processed, so you need to plan ahead.

Applying for OPT Graphics
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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


Job Offer

You do not need a job offer to apply but if you don’t work you lose the time authorized for employment.

When You Can Use OPT

You may use OPT during and/or after your degree program if it is longer than one academic year (2 semesters). OPT during your program is referred to as Pre-Completion OPT in regulations.  

Time Limits (Part-time and full-time)

You may work only for a certain number of hours.

  • Part-time is 20 hours or less per week.
  • Full-time is more than 20 hours per week.

OPT during the academic year is limited to part-time.
OPT during a summer vacation period may be part-time or full-time.

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.

Calculating Deductions

Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month total at graduation. 

For example:

Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month total at graduation

Part-time OPT is deducted at half the rate. 

For example:

Part-time OPT is deducted at half the rate

When to Apply

You may apply for pre-completion OPT as early as 90 days before your requested start date. We encourage you apply as early as possible.

Pre-Completion OPT Application Timeline
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How to Apply

OPT During Program Timeline
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.

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 3.

Mail your OPT application to USCIS via FedEx or UPS

Before mailing to USCIS, please do the following:

OPT Application Checklist (Send these 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:

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.
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.

Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Step 4.

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.

Review the timeline below for more detail.

OPT Timeline
Step 5.


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.

Keep a paper or electronic copy of all documentation pertaining to your immigration status, including current and expired passports. You may need them in the future to document your employment history and compliance with U.S. immigration regulations, or for future immigration or visa applications.

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Pre-Completion OPT Travel Question

Yes, since you are currently enrolled and will return to the U.S. as a continuing student before the end of your program, your OPT application has no impact on your travel. It makes no difference whether the OPT application is pending or has already been approved--the OPT application is irrelevant.