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Eileen Barroso/Columbia University

Seeking Employment as an International Student

International students are encouraged to seek advice from Columbia University’s Center for Career Education (CCE) and the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) as they plan their career strategies to understand the special circumstances surrounding their job search as international students as well as the work authorization options available to them.  For more general job and career search information and resources, please see our careers page as well as the Columbia University Center for Career Education websiteBe sure to regularly check the CCE events calendar and register to attend workshops and other events.

Throughout the year, the ISSO offers workshops to F-1 students seeking on and off-campus employment.  In addition, it holds events where immigration attorneys discuss employment-based visa options for students after graduation. The CCE offers several workshops specifically for international students in addition to their regular job workshops.   Be sure to read the ISSOnews email broadcasts that are sent to all enrolled international students for information about workshops and other relevant information. 


East Campus Building/Lower Level 
116th St (between Amsterdam Ave & Morningside Dr)
Phone: 212-854-5609 to make career counseling appointments
E-mail:careereducation@columbia.edu Visit the CCE website for their calendar of events and other information.
Directions:  Walk East on 116th St past Amsterdam Ave Walk past the law school through a set of large, black, metal gates. Walk past Wien dormitory (building on the right), then turn right. The Center for Career Education is directly ahead on the left hand side. There is a large Center for Career Education banner outside. 

Monday -Friday 9am-5pm
Wednesdays open until 8pm during the academic year


International House North
524 Riverside Drive, 1st Floor,
(Between 122nd Street and Tiemann Place)
New York, NY 10027
Phone: 212-854-3587
Directions: Head west on 120th St. Turn right onto Riverside Drive. The 2nd building after Sakura Park is International House North. The ISSO is on the 1st floor.   There is a blue ISSO banner in front of the building.
Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday 9am-4pm
Wednesday 10:30am-4:00pm
Phone Inquiries: 10:30 – 5:00 pm
CLOSED on Wednesday from mid-May to mid-August



Table of Contents

  • Student Employment:   Resources for international students seeking on and off- campus work while studying at Columbia
  • Employment After Graduation: Information on optional practical training, H-1B visas, and tips from external resources on the post-completion job search process for international students
  • Documentation: Documents associated with immigration and work authorization status
  • Taxes: Resources for navigating tax reporting for international students


Student Employment

Students who will be working either on or off-campus will be required to have or apply for a social security number (SSN) and complete I-9 Employment Verification Authorization after they have been hired but prior to beginning work. The I-9 is a federal form that verifies eligibility to work under US immigration law for everyone hired in the U.S., including citizens.  All I-9 forms must be completed electronically at one of the I-9 processing centers by the first day of work.  When you go to an I-9 Processing Center to complete an I-9 form, you must present your passport, I-94 card, and I-20 (or DS-2019).  Your hiring unit will direct you to the appropriate I-9 processing center.   

If applying for an SSN for on-campus work, students must bring the Social Security Verification Form printed on their hiring department’s letterhead and with original signatures from the hiring department and the ISSO to the Social Security Card Center. They must also bring their passport, I-94, and I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1). If applying for a SSN for OPT, students must also submit their EAD. More information on applying for a Social Security Number is available at the ISSO.  

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On-Campus Work

Students with F-1 and J-1 visas are eligible to work as casual employees at Columbia, but are limited to working part-time (maximum of 20 hours per week) except during official school vacation periods when the hours are unrestricted. International students are not eligible for work-study positions. 
QMSS students have the opportunity to serve as paid research assistants through the QMSS Research Assistantship Program.  QMSS will fund the salary of its students to work with Columbia University faculty on research projects where the student’s work is related to their degree.  For more information see the QMSS website.  Occasionally, students are able to find employment as teaching assistants for undergraduate courses or at one of Columbia’s professional schools.  
The Center for Career Education has resources for finding casual employment on campus. The Columbia Tutoring and Translating Agency, the Columbia University Bartending Agency, the Columbia University Libraries, and University Event Management are great places to start.  In addition, unpaid internships are a great way to gain experience. 

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Off-Campus Work 

International students are generally not eligible to work off-campus during their year of school.  The Center for Career Education offers several ways to find and fund internships.  
After two semesters registered as a full-time student, there are certain circumstances under which an F-1 student may be eligible for off-campus employment.  Eligibility requirements and procedures can be found on the ISSO’s website.
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT):  All students are eligible for employment authorization in his/her field of study for a maximum of 12 months per educational level that may be used before and/or after the completion of an academic program.  Some students choose to use a portion of their OPT to work before graduation. QMSS is a government-designated STEM degree program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), so its students are eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT after the original 12 months have been used. OPT requires an application to the immigration agency after initial processing by the ISSO. OPT and CPT (Curricular Practical Training) are different programs.  QMSS is not a CPT eligible program.   More information on OPT can be found in the section on employment after graduation.
  • Work at International Organizations: F-1 students are eligible to work at paid internships with recognized international organizations at the recommendation of the ISSO and with the permission of USCIS. Students may work full-time during vacation periods, but are limited to part-time work (max 20hrs/wk) during the academic year.  
  • Unforeseen Economic Hardship: Students with F-1 status that are experiencing extreme financial difficulties may petition the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work off-campus. Students must demonstrate that the hardship was unforeseen at the time of enrollment and are not eligible to apply until they have completed a full academic year.  
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Employment After Graduation

In addition to their international student job search workshops, The  Center for Career Education has a number of resources and services for international students to aid them in navigating the job search and employment process on their website. These include LionShare (an online recruiting database), career fairs, networking events, mock interview sessions,  30 minute career counseling sessions, and quick questions (10 minute walk-in sessions Monday-Friday during the term from 1-4). The CCE has published a Career Passport for International Graduate Students which outlines timelines and job search resources available to international graduate students. 

Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available to F-1 students to obtain work authorization for full-time employment related to the student’s area of study after two semesters of full-time study. OPT is a two-step application. The first step is for the ISSO to process the OPT request through SEVIS and print and endorse a new I-20 with the recommendation. The ISSO will then provide detailed information on mailing the complete OPT application to the USCIS. USCIS will process and mail the applicant an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document). Students with OPT may work for multiple employers as long as the employer and employment meet specific criteria. 
Students must apply for OPT no earlier than 90 days before the end of their academic program and no later than 60 days after graduation. OPT authorizes graduates to work for one year and those who wish to remain in the United States may seek H-1B sponsorship from their employer.  Details on post- completion OPT eligibility and procedures for obtaining employment authorization through OPT are available on the Columbia ISSO website.  
  • 17 Month OPT STEM Extension:  QMSS is a government designated STEM degree program and QMSS graduates are eligible for the 17 month OPT STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) extension.  This extends the 12 month OPT eligibility to a total of 29 months.  
  • F1/H-1B Cap Gap: H-1B work authorizations become available each year at the beginning of the federal government’s fiscal year on October 1st.  Students should be aware of a period of time between the end of their OPT and the start of H-1B status, referred to as the “cap-gap”. If the employer of an individual on F-1 OPT files a petition to change to H-1B status before the OPT ends, F-1 status and employment authorization are automatically extended to September 30 without application to USCIS - a new EAD card will not be issued. If necessary, the ISSO may issue a new I-20 reflecting the extension of the period of OPT.  If an employer files the H-1B petition while the individual is in F-1 status but not on OPT (there is a 60-day grace period after OPT expires), the F-1 status will be extended until September 30 but without employment authorization.  The extension of duration of status and work authorization will automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the individual's behalf. USCIS also provides more information and regulations on OPT and cap-gap here.
H-1B work authorizations are generally processed by employers, but it is important for students to be aware of the regulations governing their work authorization status.  The ISSO may advise on issues regarding OPT, but does not advise on issues relating to the processing of H-1B visa applications.

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H-1B Visa

Foreign workers with specialized expertise may work in the United States with an H-1B visa. Unlike OPT, this status is employer-sponsored and employer-specific; so individuals with an H-1B visa may only work for the employer that sponsors their visa. Employers that provide H-1B sponsorship will submit a petition for H-1B status on the employee’s behalf.  
Legal status in the US is dependent on continued employment.   Legal status is terminated on the end date indicated on the I-94 card or the date that employment is terminated, either voluntarily or otherwise.  At this point, the non-resident must leave the United States.  There is no grace period.
The only exceptions that allow you to remain in the United States with an expired I-94 card are when a timely petition for a change of status or to extend your H-1 status has been filed and the petition is pending with USCIS.  A change of status must be filed before the current status expires.  All extensions will require new financial documentation.  Financial documents must not be more than three months old.
Each year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has a “cap” on the number of H-1Bs that are approved each fiscal year, from October 1- September 30. The quota is 65,000 H-1Bs plus an additional 20,000 for applicants with an advanced degree from a U.S. university. The earliest the employer can file an H-1B petition is six months in advance of the October 1st start date, which is April 1st. In some years, there are more H-1B petitions than can be approved; the quota can be reached even in the first week through a lottery selection. At other times, USCIS continues to accept petitions until it can account for all 85,000.

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External Resources

The following resources may also be useful in finding companies that sponsor H-1B visas. 
  • The Foreign Labor Certification Data Center provides lists of American companies that have sponsored H-1B work visas in the past.
  • immihelp allows you to search companies that have supported H-1B visas by position title or company on their website.
  • H1B Visa Support  allows you to search H-1B sponsoring job postings by job title, skills and company on their website.
The following resources may be useful resources for students familiarizing themselves with the job search process for international students.
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SEVIS: The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an Internet-based government system that keeps track of international students, scholars, and their dependents. SEVIS communicates with schools and universities, U.S. Embassies and Consulates, airports and other ports of entry into the U.S., the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
F-1 Visa: The U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad issues student entry visas; visas are never issued or extended by schools or universities. After arrival in the U.S., it does not matter if the visa expires; permission for a student to be in the U.S. will remain current for the whole time written on the student’s I-20 provided s/he attend classes on a full-time basis, and is registered in SEVIS each term. If the student’s visa has not expired and that student leaves the country, s/he may use it to return. If the visa expires while the student is in the US and s/he leaves the country, s/he will need to apply again at the US Embassy or Consulate for a new visa in order to return. An F-1 student who has completed a course of study and any authorized practical training following completion of studies will be allowed an additional 60 day period to prepare for departure from the United States. An F-1 student authorized by the academic department/school and then a DSO at the ISSO to withdraw from classes will be allowed a 15-day period for departure from the United States.  F-1 students who fail to maintain a full course of study without the approval of the DSO or otherwise fail to maintain status are not eligible for additional period for departure.
I-20: The I-20 (also called the Certificate of Visa Eligibility, Visa Certificate, and Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant) is a document processed by the ISSO through the SEVIS database that provides supporting information on an F-1 student’s visa status, and when applicable, his/her work authorization.  A student’s I-20 and electronic updates in SEVIS are a permanent record of his/her activities as a student in the U.S.
I-94: The I-94 admission/departure card is used by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as well as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to record arrivals and departures of non-residents.  The I-94 card is given out on planes on the way to the U.S. and at ports of entry for travelers to complete. It is then processed by a DHS Official at the time of entry into the United States. It is a small white card often stapled into the passport by the officer and is an extremely important document as it is a record of the date and place of admission to the U.S., the status into which the individual was admitted and the period of time that s/he may remain in the U.S. Together with a valid I-20, it proves that a student is in this country legally. The notation “D/S,” which you will see on your I-94, means “duration of status” and refers to the period during which you may remain in the U.S. on your current I-20. 
Social Security Card:  A Social Security Number is assigned to all citizens, permanent residents, and nonimmigrants that have authorized employment in the United States. It is used for tax reporting purposes. F-1 students hired to work on Columbia campus may apply for a Social Security Card up to 30 days before the beginning of their employment. Students who qualify for OPT may apply for a Social Security Number on or after the date of authorization indicated on their EAD card. For on-campus employment, the student must bring the Social Security Verification Form printed on their hiring department’s letterhead with an original signature from the hiring department to the ISSO for a DSO endorsement before going in person to apply for an SSN at the Social Security Card Center. A Social Security Number is issued by the United States Social Security Administration only for employment and tax-filing purposes and cannot be issued unless you are employed. Once a social security number is obtained it is yours permanently.

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Information on international student and scholar tax obligations is available on the ISSO website.   Information on how to comply with tax filing obligations will be sent to all international students and scholars through the ISSOnews e-mail broadcasts from February-April, and the information on their tax website is updated for the current tax year. In the U.S. a tax return is filed in the spring for the previous tax year January 1- December 31.  
All F-1 or J-1 students must file tax form 8843 with the Internal Revenue Service, even if they have not received any US-based income. If an international student has earned income in the U.S. either by employment or fellowship stipends, they must file a tax return, which may result in a statement of taxes owed or a refund of taxes overpaid. ISSO provides a user-friendly web-based Nonresident Tax Preparation System (GLACIER Tax Prep) that may be accessed without a fee by Columbia students and scholars to assist in completing required non-resident tax forms.  
The ISSO also provides workshops by tax professionals to assist students with the NY State Tax return. For students who receive income, please note that GLACIER tax prep will not prepare state and local tax returns. Refer to the dates for the tax workshops here.
Due to the complexities of US tax law and legal restrictions, the staff of the ISSO--and all University offices--are neither qualified nor permitted to provide individual tax advice to students and their dependents.

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