Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 student status that allows students to gain experience in their field of study by applying for off-campus work authorization. Students in F-1 status are eligible for 12 months of OPT per educational degree level. OPT may be granted and used before graduation (pre-completion OPT ) for part-time work during the school year or full time work during vacation periods. Remaining OPT may be granted to complete after graduation (post-completion OPT). Certain STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) may be approved for an additional 17 months of OPT. You must apply for OPT to be granted work authorization for paid work off-campus. If the internship is unpaid (no compensation of any kind), you do not need to apply for OPT. Please make sure to attend a session by ISSO on OPT and/or click through the above information before stopping by the office with questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following is a list of frequently asked questions from across the offices supporting Columbia College and Columbia Engineering collected here in one place for your convenience. You can browse by topic/department or search by keyword.
International Student Programs and Services, Career Considerations for International Students
Full time F-1 and J-1 students are eligible for “casual” employment on campus, defined at Columbia as an employee on the Columbia University payroll who is performing non-exempt work (i.e., hours worked are tracked) for a limited period of time. This does NOT include work-study positions (work-study is a government subsidized financial aid program for U.S. citizens and permanent residents). On-campus work is limited by immigration regulations to part-time (maximum of 20 hours /week), except during official school vacation periods. See the Center for Career Education (CCE)’s Tip Sheet, which includes campus offices and contacts for casual jobs for help with your search.
Once you secure an on-campus job, the hiring manager will provide you with required paperwork to complete and have processed by Columbia University’s Human Resources Department to be added to the University’s payroll. If you do not yet have a Social Security number (SSN), you will have to apply for one. Information is on the ISSO website about the forms you will be given to get on the university’s payroll and to apply for a SSN.
All international students in F-1 (and J-1) status are required to file at least one tax form if present in the US at any time in the previous calendar year—even if they had no US income. This process happens between January and April each year for the previous year. For example, 2013 taxes will be filed by mid-April of 2014. Students with U.S. income do pay taxes (taken out of their paycheck) and need to file taxes by April 15. Students without income (no tax has been paid) need to file by 15. ISSO offers free access to a web-based tax preparation service for nonresident aliens called GLACIER Tax Prep. Please review Tackling Your 2012 Tax Return for Students for important information. Nonresidents do not need to file for income earned outside of the United States. Should you wish to read more generally about taxes, you may wish to consult this Federal Income Tax Brochure by NAFSA.
Start in your first year by visiting Columbia’s Center for Career Education (CCE) website and the International Students section. Then visit CCE to speak with a career counselor to learn more about the resources to support your internship/ job search as an international student. You may also want to connect with the Office of Fellowship Programs and the Office of Preprofessional Advising.
Note that CCE works with international undergraduate and graduate students and alumni to help them define career goals and gain meaningful work experiences through*:
- LionSHARE internship/jobs database - Set up a job agent to be notified in a daily digest of internship and/or jobs
- Domestic and international internship programs
- Career Fairs - Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Career Fair/Networking Reception, Start-up Career Fair, Fall & Spring Career Fairs
- Alumni Connections and Networking Events, including Media Networking Night, Columbia Career Connections on LinkedIn, Engineering Student-Alumni Speed Networking, Employer Site Visits, and Professionals in Residence
- Individual career counseling, workshops, and online resources to help with internship/job applications, interviewing, networking, negotiations, and the decision to pursue graduate school
- Industry specific resources covering career paths, employers, professional associations, internship/job sites, and research opportunities
*Some services for Visiting and Exchange students may be limited
As an international student, it is essential that you fully understand your eligibility to work in the location of the internship or job and the process to gain work authorization. Eligibility to work considerations include:
- Location of the internship or job, i.e., is it in the U.S. or another country?
- Your visa/work authorization for the location of the internship or job
- How long you have been in full-time student status in the U.S. for positions in the U.S.
- Requirements specified by the employer for the internship or job
- Whether the position is paid or unpaid (Note: for off-campus positions in the US, any wages or other compensation like a stipend or housing requires authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is approved in your field of study and requires an application to the immigration agency. The ISSO will assist with this. Refer to this summary of employment possibilities)
There is no list available of internships or jobs that are open to international students. Each employer determines eligibility requirements and states them in their job/internship descriptions so you must read internship and job descriptions closely. With respect to employers recruiting at Columbia, the Center for Career Education (CCE) provides a list of participating employers at career fairs willing to sponsor international students to work in the US. CCE also provides access to a list of employers who have sponsored international students in the prior year through its subscription to Going Global, which you can access using your UNI and password used for SSOL.
Authorization to work in the U.S. is given by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the recommendation of the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). Review the ISSO website to learn about your unique status before starting any search, and review the Working in Student Status PowerPoint under the “Administrative Information.”
Before working in any paid position off campus, you must get work authorization. Undergraduate CC and SEAS students are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which is a benefit and extension of F-1 status. Generally, F1 students are eligible only after two semesters of being registered full time in student immigration status, and J1 students are eligible after one semester. Students in F-1 status are also eligible to apply for permission to work for international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Students completing a program of study are eligible for up to 12 months of employment authorization to work in their field of study. In some majors in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) it may be possible to apply for an additional 17-month extension of OPT. Beyond OPT, you have to be sponsored for an H1B or other type of Visa. Information for Canadian and Mexican citizens can be found on the U.S. Department of State website. Other useful links:
- Apply through ISSO for a pre-OPT recommendation for a paid internship
- Klasko, Rulon, Stock & Seltzer, LLP: law firm that offers a free, initial consultation with Columbia students
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Visa Jobs: information on top sponsors by year and visa options
- Employers who have sponsored students for H1B visas in the past, from the U.S. Department of Labor
- Information on when and how to talk to an employer about your Visa. Always be prepared to explain exactly what steps are involved
Interning and volunteering offer opportunities to gain experience, build your skills, and strengthen your resume. For unpaid work on or off campus such as volunteering or an unpaid internship, you may start right away and do not need OPT. You must be sure the position is unpaid for anyone (i.e. not just you because you want to take the job as a volunteer). Start by using these tools:
Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Columbia School of General Studies, do not provide credit for internships. There is no doubt that internships are valuable experiences for students seeking an introduction to a range of careers and professional cultures. However, we expect companies to appropriately compensate students for work performed during internships. This policy is one adopted by many of our peer institutions and also is in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and NY State’s Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders. CCE has posted some helpful information regarding unpaid internships at:
We will continue to support student participation in internships and will be happy to provide letters acknowledging this support if such letters are requested by employers. To receive a letter of support, please see your advising dean.
In order to volunteer at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, your Advising Dean must fill out this form. For full internship listings from a variety of employers, consult LionShare and the Center for Career Education.
Networking is the process of making connections and building relationships that provide you with information, advice, and further contacts, all of which will enhance your ability to make informed career decisions and tap into unadvertised internship/job vacancies. Networking can take place in a group or one-on-one setting. The Center for Career Education (CCE) offers networking tutorials, receptions, alumni panels, career fairs, employer information sessions, site visits, online tip sheets, and networking preparation workshops throughout the year. Other ways to build or expand your network include joining a student club or professional association, volunteering, and talking to professors, family members and friends about who they might know in your fields of interest. See the Network section (section 3) of CCE’s core career skills page for more information and resources.
Yes. Fellowships fund a variety of experiences for study, research, and work in the U.S. and overseas. All fellowship programs have a target audience that all students searching for fellowships have to bear in mind. International students are no different. While many fellowships are targeted at U.S. citizens only, many are not. In fact, most fellowships offered by Columbia invite applicants from any nationality. To explore the broad range of options, please visit the Office of Global Programs in person in 606 Kent or on the Fellowships Website.
Find information about volunteer, full-time, part-time, and internship opportunities on the Center for Career Education’s International Opportunities Resources page.
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