International Student Work Authorization
F-1 and J-1 students must obtain authorization from the Columbia International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) to undertake an off-campus U.S.-based internship that is a degree requirement. For F-1 students, this authorization is Curricular Practical Training (CPT); for J-1 students this authorization is Academic Training (AT). In addition, SIPA's Career Advancement Center (CAC) strongly recommends that F-1 and J-1 international students and exchange visitors receive the proper authorization from the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) for any internship done off-campus during their program of study, regardless if it is unpaid/uncompensated or paid/compensated, because of changes in immigration agencies' interpretation of unauthorized work and its impact on your future immigration plans.
Curricular Practical Training is authorization for off-campus employment that is an integral part of the established curriculum of a degree program. CPT is not available to all F-1 students because it is dependent on the academic requirements of a particular degree program.Students in the MIA/MPA programs with an internship degree requirement may be eligible for required CPT. Students in degree programs with the option for elective internship credit may be eligible for elective CPT.
An international student in F-1 or J-1 status cannot receive pay or compensation for off-campus work in the U.S. unless and until the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) has processed the appropriate application and granted authorization, either on a new I-20 for F-1 students or in a new DS-2019 for J-1 students. It is your responsibility to understand the rules of your F-1 or J-1 status and have your international student documents in order by properly consulting with the ISSO. For more information, please visit the ISSO website, contact them at [email protected], or book a virtual appointment with an ISSO advisor.
SIPA's Career Advancement Center (CAC) strongly recommends that F-1 and J-1 international students and exchange visitors receive the proper authorization from the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) for any internship done off-campus during their program of study, regardless if it is unpaid/uncompensated or paid/compensated, because of changes in immigration agencies' interpretation of unauthorized work and its impact on your future immigration plans.
ISSO makes all final determinations regarding a student’s eligibility for CPT. While students can review the information below as a starting point, they are strongly encouraged to consult with an ISSO advisor regarding their individual eligibility for required and elective CPT.
F-1 students must be enrolled full-time for two (2) consecutive semesters and be in F-1 status at the time of application for CPT before they can receive authorization for off-campus internships in the U.S. In addition to meeting the status requirements for CPT eligibility, students must be enrolled full-time at SIPA at the time of application.
What about dual degree students?
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 they have spent the first year overseas and will complete the final year of the program at SIPA. Dual-degree students that have been admitted to SIPA but have not yet enrolled are not eligible for CPT approval through SIPA.
In summary, to be eligible for CPT, a student must:
- Be in lawful F-1 status for one academic year (two consecutive full-time terms), not counting time in English language preparation
- Be A degree candidate
- Have an appropriate internship offer as part of the application
Students should review all the details of F-1 CPT available on the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) website.
Please note that the CAC cannot override determinations made by ISSO.
CPT can be used only during the academic program
Students may conduct a part-time internship (20 hours or less per week) or a full-time internship (more than 20 hours per week), but only when they are continuing at SIPA in the fall.
FALL & SPRING SEMESTERS
Students may conduct a part-time internship (20 hours or less per week) only.
CPT INTERNSHIP START & END DATES
CPT is authorized per semester and cannot be authorized for a period of work that is outside of the semester parameters, below. Each new semester of CPT requires a new complete CPT application with new supporting documents. Students must begin their internship by the Monday of the seventh week of the fall or spring semesters or by the last day of July for summer internships.
Fall semester: September 1 – December 31
Spring semester: January 1 – May 31
Summer: July 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)
Students CANNOT begin work until their CPT Request Form has been approved by both CAC and ISSO. Therefore, the start date listed on the CPT form must be post-dated. Students should allow at least 10 business days for ISSO processing.
CPT approval cannot be granted retroactively.
SIPA students must begin their internship by the Monday of the seventh week of the fall or spring semesters or by the last day of July for the summer internships. The internship authorized under CPT or AT must satisfy the SIPA internship requirement expected of all students. Students who have received work authorization to fulfill the internship requirement and have completed their internship may apply for elective CPT for academic credit. Refer to ISSO's guidance on required and elective CPT.
CPT and Internship Course (SIPA U9013) Registration
Students may register for the 0, 1.5, or 3 credit SIPA U9013 courses. The internship degree requirement can be met at 0 credits, so international students will often start with the 0 credit course during their first semester of internship coursework as doing so may allow them to utilize CPT for additional elective internship courses in the future (1.5 or 3 credit courses). Students applying for a second or third semester of internship coursework may apply for elective CPT as long as they are registered in an appropriate SIPA U9013 course (1.5 or 3 credits).
SIPA students may earn a maximum of 3 internship credits during their degree program, which includes any credits associated with CPT.
- An eligible international student wishing to complete two internships might use the following schedule:
- First semester of internship coursework at 0 credits
- Second semester of internship coursework at 1.5 or 3 credits
An eligible international student wishing to complete three internships might use the following schedule:
- First semester of internship coursework at 0 credits
- Second semester of internship coursework at 1.5 credits
- Third semester of internship coursework at 1.5 credits
Please note that CPT eligibility will be determined by ISSO. Students should consult with an ISSO advisor to determine their eligibility for CPT.
How to apply for CPT
Applying for CPT is a multiple step process that requires specific information outlined by ISSO. Students should note that the below description of the application process does not apply to students in the MPA-EPM, MPA-DP, or MPA-ESP programs. These departments will approve CPT forms for their students.
To start, students must register for an appropriate section of the SIPA U9013 course. Students should note that summer internships require a preceding spring semester course registration.
Once registered for an appropriate section of the SIPA U9013 course, students must obtain an ISSO compliant offer letter (see sample provided by ISSO).
ISSO compliant offer letters:
- Are written on official company letterhead
- have a specific start date and a specific end date within the appropriate semester timelines
- include the complete street address of the employer's location
- include the number of hours per week a student will work ('full-time' or 'part-time' is not accepted)
- include a detailed description or list of position duties
- are signed and dated by the employer
Once students have obtained an ISSO compliant offer letter, they should complete Parts 1 and 2 of the CPT Request Form.
After students have completed the CPT Request Form, they should email their offer letter and CPT Request Form to [email protected] so that the CAC may review their documentation and complete Part 3 of the CPT Request Form. Please note that only the CAC can complete Part 3 of the CPT Request Form. OSA will not sign off on CPT Request Forms.
Once the CAC has reviewed a student’s documentation and signed the CPT Request Form, the student should submit the following documents as a single PDF for ISSO review via Compass:
- CPT Request Form completed by the student and signed by SIPA CAC
- Offer letter with all required information
- The student’s passport and most recent I-94 card
Students may apply for CPT as early as 90 days but no less than 10 business days before they wish to begin employment.
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 ISSO at [email protected] if you still have questions.
How to apply for Academic Training (AT)
J-1 students must be enrolled full-time for at least one semester and be in J-1 status at the time of Academic Training (AT) application before they can accept paid internships in the U.S. The application for AT for J-1 students differs from CPT for F-1 students. Students in J-1 status under Columbia’s DS-2019 sponsorship should review the J-1 Academic Training section of the ISSO website for more information.
F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) - After Degree Completion
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). However, your OPT application is first submitted to ISSO for review and to receive an OPT recommendation on a new I-20.