How do I get work authorization to take a paid internship or job off-campus?
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