Employment on an F-1


This page contains information on:

On-campus Employment
Off-campus Employment
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Obtaining a Social Security Number
International Students’ Tax Obligations

On-campus Employment

Students are allowed to work on campus (within the Morningside Heights campuses of Barnard College or Columbia University) from the time they register. Employment on campus must be limited to 20 hours per week when classes are in session, but can be full-time during vacations. For on-campus employment, you will not need approval from any external government agency. Barnard Babysitting and Barnard Bartending (except the manager positions) are not considered to be on-campus employment. If you have any doubts about what is considered on-campus employment, consult the international student adviser.

Off-campus Employment

To be eligible to work off-campus, an F-1 student must have been enrolled at Barnard for an academic year. Off-campus employment must be authorized by USCIS and recommended by the international student adviser. Types of off-campus employment are summarized here, with more detailed information below:

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT):  Employment that is directly related to your field of study and is limited to a maximum of 12 months of full-time employment. Application is made to the USCIS. Students in STEM-Designated Majors , are eligible to apply for an OPT extension of 24 months.
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT):  Employment pursuant to "a curricular practical training program that is an integral part of an established curriculum. Curricular practical training is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring  employers through cooperative agreements with the school" [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)]. 
  • Severe Economic Hardship:  Employment due to unforeseen and severe economic difficulties that arise after initial enrollment at Barnard. Circumstances may include substantial changes in the value of the home country’s currency, unexpected financial difficulties of your sponsor, or unexpected medical bills. Application is made to the USCIS.
  • Employment with an International Organization:  Employment with a recognized international organization, such as the United Nations or the World Bank.  These international organizations are authorized to hire their own nationals to work in their offices in the United States.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is employment authorization for the purpose of “practical training” in your major area of study, either during or following completion of your studies. “Practical training” includes both paid and unpaid work for at least 20 hours per week.

In order to be eligible, you must have a valid F-1 visa. For Post-Completion OPT, you must have completed all of the course requirements for the award of your degree. For Pre-Completion OPT, you must have completed one academic year of study and be currently enrolled as a full-time student at Barnard. Note: You may not apply for OPT (pre or post) if you are currently withdrawn from the College for any reason. Once you have been readmitted, you must complete one full academic year before you can qualify for OPT.

You are eligible for a maximum of 12 months of full-time OPT employment while in F-1 status, for each degree level (i.e., 12 months for a Bachelor’s degree, 12 months for a Master's degree, 12 months for a Ph.D.) Think of it as a bank account of 12 months of work eligibility; any time spent on Pre-Completion OPT will be deducted from your 12 months of eligibility and will shorten your time available for Post-Completion OPT.

OPT STEM Extension

Certain government-designated STEM degree-holders (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT. To verify whether your degree program qualifies for a STEM extension, please check the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) STEM extension list

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

According to the F-1 Student regulations set by the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), CPT is employment pursuant to "a curricular practical training program that is an integral part of an established curriculum.  Curricular practical training is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring  employers through cooperative agreements with the school." [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)] 

The Barnard College curriculum does not require that all degree candidates complete an internship, and Barnard College does not award credit for internships. However, international students at Barnard may apply for CPT by taking a 1-credit independent study class. For more information, please contact the International & Intercultural Student Programs Office.

If you are interested in pursuing an internship off campus, you may also consider using Pre-Completion OPT. More information on Pre-Completion OPT can be found here. If you have additional questions, please make an appointment with an adviser in the  International & Intercultural Student Programs Office. 

Obtaining a Social Security Number

A Social Security Number (SSN) is only assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States. Social Security Numbers are used to report your wages to the government. If you want to obtain a job on or off campus, you will need to apply for a SSN.

To apply for a SSN, you can visit the nearest Social Security Office at 123 William St., 3rd floor, New York, NY 10038 (open Monday through Friday, 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM). The application form, called an SS-5, is available at the Social Security Office, or it can be downloaded from the government's website at www.ssa.gov. For detailed information on how to apply and what to bring to your appointment, please read this helpful document on International Students & Social Security Numbers.  

You should receive your Social Security card within about two to three weeks. When you receive your SSN, you must inform the Registrar in 107 Milbank Hall. The SSN will replace the nine-digit “temporary SSN” that was given to you when you first registered at Barnard.

International Students' Tax Obligation

The information printed in this section is intended as general guidance on your obligations as an F-1 student to file certain tax forms each year you are in the U.S. It should not be interpreted as tax advice. Specific instructions are available at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website (www.irs.gov). All tax forms must be filed by April 15 of each year. The forms are available on the IRS website, under “Forms and Publications.”

Every international student must file a tax form. If you are an F-1 or J-1 student who has been in the U.S. for five years or less and had no earned income or scholarships the previous year, then you need to file Form 8843 by April 15. Interest from a bank account is not earned income.

If you had any U.S. source of earned income or scholarship, you will need to file:

  • Form 8843
  • IRS Form 1040NR-EZ or Form 1040NR
  • NY  State  Forms  IT-203  and  IT-203-ATT (if  your  income  was  greater  than $7,500)

Each employer for whom you worked during the past calendar year is required to issue you a W-2 before the end of January.  If you are filing Forms 1040 or IT-203, you need to attach copies of the W-2 when you file these tax forms.

If your employer withheld Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes from your salary, as a non-U.S. citizen, you are entitled to a refund of these taxes. You may request the refund from your employer. If the employer is unable to refund these taxes, you may file IRS Form 843 and Form 8316 for a refund from the IRS.

If you have any questions or need federal non-resident tax forms, call 215-516-2000 (Monday to Friday, 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM) or send an email via the website, http://www.irs.gov/. For N.Y. State non-resident forms, call 800-225-5829 (free call) or 518-485-6800 (outside the U.S. and Canada) (Monday to Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM) or visit the website http://www.tax.ny.gov/.

To download tax forms and publications, go to Columbia’s ISSO website (www.columbia.edu/cu/isso/tax/) or IRS website (www.irs.gov/formspubs/index.html).  In addition, CINTAX is a web-based non-resident tax preparation software program designed primarily for students, scholars, trainees, and researchers to aid in preparing their U.S. federal income tax return. It prompts you to respond to a series of simple questions. From your answers, it will determine whether you qualify as a non-resident for tax purposes and, if so, will complete the federal tax form 1040NR-EZ of 1040NR and the 8843, a form required of all those in F or J status, regardless of any income. The completed relevant forms can be printed, reviewed, signed, and sent.

There can be immigration consequences for failing to file tax forms. For example, applicants for a change from F-1 to H-1B (the professional worker visa) can be asked by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to submit copies of previous years’ income tax forms as part of the H-1B application. Applicants for permanent residency (“green cards”) can be asked to show copies of tax forms filed for previous years. A person who appears at a U.S. consulate abroad for consular processing of a permanent residency visa application may be asked to produce U.S. income tax forms from their previous years in the U.S.