International Student Work Authorization
F-1 students can obtain permission from ISSO to undertake a paid internship in the U.S. if the paid internship is considered Curricular Practical Training (CPT); J-1 students can obtain permission from ISSO if the paid U.S. internship is considered Academic Training (AT). CPT and AT, in the context of the MIA and MPA degree programs, is authorization for paid employment that fulfills a degree requirement. The internship must satisfy the internship requirement expected of ALL students in your program and necessary for completion of your degree.
Unpaid internships do not have to be approved by ISSO, therefore, you do not have to fill out the CPT application form.
F-1 and J-1 Status Requirements
An international student on an F-1 or J-1 visa cannot receive pay for off-campus work in the U.S. unless and until the ISSO has processed the appropriate application and granted permission, either on a new I-20 for students in F-1 status or in a letter for students in J-1 status. It is your responsibility to understand the rules of your status and have your student status documents in order by properly consulting with the ISSO. For more information, please visit the ISSO website, office, or contact them at email@example.com or 212-854-3587.
F-1 students must be enrolled at full-time for two consecutive semesters and be in F-1 status at the time of application for CPT before they can accept paid internships in the U.S. Exceptions: A student in a formal dual degree program with SIPA and a school overseas (e.g., Sciences Po, London School of Economics, etc.) is eligible for CPT only if he/she has spent the first year overseas and will complete the final year of the program at SIPA.
In addition to meeting the status requirements for CPT eligibility, students must be enrolled full-time at SIPA at the time of application. Dual degree students that have been admitted to SIPA but have not yet enrolled are not eligible for CPT approval through SIPA.
The process for obtaining CPT approval is outlined in the CPT Policies and Procedures for F-1 Students section.
J-1 Students must be enrolled full-time for at least one semester and be in J-1 status at the time of AT application before they can accept paid internships in the U.S. The application for Academic Training for students in J-1 status differs from CPT for students in F-1 status. Students in J-1 status under Columbia’s DS2019 sponsorship should refer to the following link for authorization information: https://isso.columbia.edu/content/j-1-academic-training.
F-1 student eligibility for CPT
Please review all details of F-1 CPT at the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) website here (also summarized, below): https://isso.columbia.edu/content/f-1-cpt-curricular-practical-training
To be eligible for CPT, you must be:
CPT can be used only during the academic program
* You can be full-time during the summer vacation period only if you will be continuing in the fall.
CPT and internship start and end dates
Fall semester: September 1 – December 31
Spring semester: January 1 – May 31
Summer semester: End of final exams period – August 31
Fall semester: September 1 – Official last day of semester (refer to Academic Calendar)
Spring semester: January 1 – Official last day of semester (refer to Academic Calendar)
You CANNOT begin work until your CPT form has been approved by both OCS and ISSO. Therefore, the start date listed on your CPT form must be post-dated. You should allow at least 10 business days for ISSO processing. CPT approval cannot be granted retroactively.
CPT application process
* The application process does not apply to students in the PEPM program. The PEPM department will approve CPT forms for students in this program.
STEP 1: If you are applying for CPT for the first time, determine whether you will register for internship credit.
Students may earn a maximum of 3 credits during their degree program, which includes any credits associated with CPT. When registering for credit that is tied to CPT, you must have completed the first 1.5 credit internship and received a grade BEFORE you will be allowed to register for a second 1.5 credit CPT.
First Semester of CPT: You are not required to register for credit for your first CPT since the internship will fulfill a degree requirement. Students may register internship credits in the semester of completion of their first CPT or in a future semester. Registration exception: For summer internships, if you are registering your first CPT for credit, you must pre-register in the prior spring semester or upcoming fall semester, as there is no summer registration.
Second or Third Semester of CPT: If a second or third CPT is secured, you MUST register for credit, as these will count as electives since the degree requirement has already been fulfilled. If registering for credit, you must register during the semester in which the internship will be completed. Registration exception: For summer internships, you must pre-register in the prior spring semester.
To register for internship credit, students should register during the standard registration period in SSOL or by visiting the Office of Student Affairs.
STEP 2: You must complete Part 1 and Part 2 of the CPT Request Form and bring it to SIPA OCS with a letter offering internship employment from your employer printed on employer's letterhead including:
- beginning and ending dates of employment
- how many hours you will work weekly
- a description of duties in sufficient detail to clearly show them as appropriate to meeting the requirements for your degree
- location of the company or organization where employment will take place
OCS will not sign the CPT form without all of the above information stated clearly in the offer letter. If OCS can approve your CPT application, we will complete Part 3 of the CPT Request Form and return it to you so that you can submit your application in its entirety to ISSO for authorization (see Step 3 of application process, below.)
STEP 3: Submit the below documents in-person to ISSO during ISSO walk-in hours or email to ISSO as a single PDF file at ISSOfirstname.lastname@example.org for processing as early as 90 days but no less than 10 days before you wish to begin employment.
- CPT Request Form completed by you and signed by SIPA OCS
- Your complete offer letter with all required information
- Your passport and most recent I-94 card
The International Students and Scholars Office staff will then:
- Review your application for eligibility.
- If you are eligible, update your SEVIS record to authorize your CPT, print a new SEVIS I-20 form indicating the approved employment and give it to you. Your employer will need to see this authorization along with your passport and I-94 form to put you on the payroll.
You may engage in CPT only after your SEVIS record has been updated by an ISSO adviser to reflect CPT authorization and a SEVIS I-20 has been printed, indicating the approved CPT. The endorsement will indicate the precise details of the authorized training, including the name and location of the employer, the specific dates of the training period, and whether it is full-time or part-time.
We encourage you to contact an adviser at the ISSO at https://isso.columbia.edu/content/contact if you still have questions.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) in F-1 status is employment related to your field of study immediately after completion of your studies, authorized by USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) through the issuance of an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document).
Obtaining the employment authorization is a 3-step process:
- Obtain an OPT recommendation from the ISSO on a new I-20
- Mail your application (I-765) and all supporting documentation for an EAD to the USCIS
- Receive the EAD in the mail. You may begin to work ONLY after you receive the EAD and no earlier than the start date on the EAD.
- 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 applied for OPT.
- 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
- Have completed all requirements for the award of your University-recognized degree or certificate at the time OPT begins
- Not have used twelve months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT)
- Have received a grade for any course-related CPT done in a prior semester (if applicable)
- Have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same level of study
NOTE: You do not need to have secured a job in the U.S. to process OPT.
OPT is permitted for a period of up to a maximum of twelve months per educational level (Bachelors, Masters, etc.).
Please see the ISSO OPT webpage for information on:
- Application Period and Deadline
- How to Apply
- How to Mail your EAD Card to USCIS
- Receiving your EAD Card
You can also review the ISSO OPT presentation linked as a PDF under the "Before You Apply" section of the ISSO OPT webpage: https://isso.columbia.edu/content/f-1-opt-optional-practical-training-after-your-degree-program.