International students in F-1 status who successfully defend dissertations in the fall and who will not be registered for the spring term are considered to have completed their program at the end of the fall term, even if they have not yet deposited their dissertations. These students are eligible to apply for "Post-Completion Optional Practical Training" (OPT), which is a benefit and extension of F-1 status, and allows up to 12 months of employment authorization in their field of study. Students do not need a job offer to apply; however, they are allowed only an aggregate of 90 days unemployed during the authorized period of time.
By approximately mid-November, interested students should submit an application to the University's International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), who will conduct a review and then issue an I-20 with OPT recommendation. Students must then mail the completed application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS must receive the application within 30 days of ISSO issuing the I-20 with OPT recommendation, and absolutely no later than 60 days following the end of the fall term.
It may take up to three months for USCIS to process an OPT application. OPT authorization is granted for a maximum of 12 months, depending on the recipient's educational level and whether any Pre-Completion OPT was authorized during the doctoral program.
ISSO is the University contact for OPT information; visit their website for a thorough overview. For additional questions, contact ISSO at (212) 854-3587 or isso [at] columbia.edu.
International students in J-1 status are eligible for up to 36 months of "Academic Training" after completing a doctorate, but not more than 18 months at a time. Students in J-1 status must have an offer of employment in order to receive this benefit and have their J-1 status extended, although the offer of employment can be temporary and subsequently extended with another offer (or offers). The ISSO, not USCIS, authorizes Academic Training.