Handbook for Departmental Managers

Services for International Faculty, Researchers, Scholars, and Scientists


This manual provides departments with an overview of the ISSO's scholar-related activities, describes general services provided by the ISSO to international scholars and the departments, and details information concerning the relevant immigration categories and application procedures. Our goal is to work together with departments and schools to ensure that international faculty and scholars receive the high quality service the University already is known to provide its international students.

The International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO)

The ISSO assists schools and departments of the University wishing to bring nonimmigrant personnel to Columbia in positions of academic teaching and research. These individuals are collectively referred to as "international scholars". An international scholar holds a temporary, nonimmigrant visa, engages in scholarly activities including teaching or research at the University, and is not enrolled in a formal degree program. Unless an international scholar intends to remain in the U.S. for only a few months and with no funding from a U.S. source, the University should provide sponsorship to enable the individual to enter the U.S. and remain here for the time required to fulfill the intended purpose of the visit.

Columbia University Sponsorship

A nonimmigrant may be eligible to be sponsored by the University for U.S. nonimmigrant status in one of two ways: a University appointment or a visiting scholar/scientist designation given by the Provost's Office. Eligibility for Columbia University nonimmigrant sponsorship by appointment requires one of the following appointments: 1) postdoctoral research scientist/scholar, 2) postdoctoral research fellow, 3) senior staff associate or staff associate, 4) senior research scientist, research scientist, or associate research scientist, or 5) member of the faculty.

Eligibility for Columbia University nonimmigrant sponsorship through a Provost's designation of visiting scholar/scientist is reserved for those people who wish to do their own research at Columbia University. A Visiting Scientist is not allowed to do collaborative research in a laboratory with a Columbia officer of instruction or officer of research. Those who plan to do collaborative research, whether or not they are funded by the University, should obtain a University appointment. Visiting scholars are normally allowed to stay a maximum of one year. Those in visiting scholar/scientist designation receive no funding from the University and have the category of J-1 Exchange Visitor researcher as their only immigration option. Those with a University appointment may have additional options.

A school or department wishing to bring a scholar to Columbia University undertakes several obligations. The sponsoring department must make appropriate arrangements with the Provost's office for an academic appointment or, alternatively, the ISSO for visiting scholar or visiting scientist designation. If the scholar is not receiving funding from the University, the department must confirm that sufficient funding is available for the scholar and any accompanying family members. The sponsoring faculty member or department also must advise the international scholar–before he or she arrives–of the facilities that will be available to him or her at Columbia. It is important that scholars coming to Columbia have clear and realistic expectations regarding housing, health coverage, office space, secretarial help, and the time and attention they may expect of departmental colleagues. Clarifying these issues prior to arrival on campus prevents unnecessary subsequent misunderstandings.

General Services Available to Scholars at Columbia University

ISSO Services

Immigration and Document Services Columbia University administers its international scholars' nonimmigrant status for teaching and advanced research at Columbia. The ISSO is available to help scholars obtain and maintain their immigration status so that immigration issues remain routine and secondary, and they are able to devote their full energies to their academic endeavors. The ISSO keeps track of regulations affecting relevant scholar immigration classifications, including related matters for spouses. Detailed information on immigration procedures and benefits is available at the ISSO.

International Scholar Orientation Scholar orientation is a requirement of the Exchange Visitor Program and is specifically for those in J-1 status.

Special Programs The ISSO offers an annual workshops on international taxation, presented by certified public accountants, and advanced immigration matters, presented by leading national attorneys.

Offices Serving Other Needs for Scholars at Columbia University

Scholars may have needs that are not addressed by the ISSO but would be addressed by the sponsoring department at the University or addressed by another office at the University. The following is a brief listing of concerns common to international scholars and the responsible University office.

Obtaining ID cards ID cards are obtained from the ID Office in 204 Kent Hall after paying a fee. For those not on payroll and without social security numbers, the ID Office will assign a Columbia ID number. Those with Visiting Scholar or Visiting Scientist designation should bring the Provost's designation letter.

Obtaining Social Security Numbers The Payroll Office requires proof (by showing a receipt) of application for a Social Security number, before allowing scholars to be placed on payroll. The scholar's department should supply a letter of employment to be taken to the Social Security Administration.

Libraries Those employed fulltime on University payroll have full privileges in the Columbia libraries. Visiting scholars are allowed to use the library facilities but are charged a monthly fee for borrowing privileges. In order to activate borrowing privileges, the visiting scholar must obtain a card at the University Libraries Information Office (201 Butler Library, tel. 854-2271).

Housing University housing is not available to visiting scholars but is available to those with a University appointment in certain categories. The Office of Institutional Real Estate (400 West 119th Street, tel. 854-9300) can provide guidelines.

Health Insurance Those on University payroll full-time are eligible for health insurance coverage through the University. The employee must pay a part of the expense of the health insurance. Any scholar in J status is required to have health insurance as required by the Exchange Visitor Program. For more information concerning health insurance, contact the Benefits Office if the scholar is on the University payroll. Those not on University payroll should review the information provided in Health Insurance in the United States, which includes a link to a list of insurance companies in the United States offering insurance to nonimmigrants.

Physical Fitness Center A scholar may use the Dodge Physical Fitness Center after presenting a valid Columbia University Identification Card, purchasing a base membership, and paying the semesterly fee. Contact the Ticket Manager at the Physical Fitness Center (tel. 854-2546) for complete instructions.

Email All employees of the University may activate their Columbia email account by logging into the University computer. Visiting scholars/visiting scientists (those who have received this designation from the Office of the Provost) receive an email account at no charge through the ISSO. Instructions on this account are included with the letter of designation.

An Overview of Nonimmigrant Categories Sponsored by Columbia University

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognizes numerous categories of nonimmigrant status. These range from A to S and include a category for almost every intervening letter in the alphabet. At Columbia, we may "sponsor" scholars in only three of these categories—J, H, and O. Each category carries different qualifications and associated privileges. It is the ISSO's charge to find the best category to fit the needs of the University while taking into consideration to the fullest extent possible the needs of the employee or visitor.

The process of either applying for or renewing (extending) an employee's or scholar's status at Columbia should begin at least three months before the date the immigration status is needed. Please be aware that Columbia only requests that a status be given; only the Department of Homeland Security is authorized to grant the status. Therefore, it is wise not to promise that a visitor or employee will be given a certain status. It is correct to state that the University will apply for the requested status.

Other Immigration Categories Commonly Encountered at Columbia University

Several immigration statuses and conditions commonly at Columbia allow a person to enter the United States without Columbia's sponsorship. Some of these categories allow for work authorization while others do not. The most commonly encountered immigration statuses or conditions are F-1 practical training, J-1 academic training, and B-1/B-2.

Practical or Academic Training After Completion of a Degree at a U.S. College or University

Departments planning to offer an academic appointment to someone who is currently in the U.S. in nonimmigrant student status should be sure to consult an advisor in the ISSO. International students usually hold either an F-1 or a J-1 student status. Under certain circumstances, federal law allows an international student in either F-1 or J-1 status to request an extension of stay for periods that vary by regulation, from 8 to 36 months beyond the graduation date, in order to gain practical work experience related to his or her field of study in the U.S. This work experience opportunity is called practical training (F-1 status) or academic training (J-1 status).

Columbia appointments for individuals eligible for practical or academic training should be handled carefully. It may not be possible for those in J-1 status who are subject to a two-year home residency requirement to continue their appointment beyond the expiration date of the training. Individuals who come to Columbia to work in administrative or support staff positions generally are ineligible for Columbia sponsored status at the end of their training period and will therefore be limited to working only until the end of their authorized practical or academic training. If you have any questions about an appointment for someone completing a degree at a U.S. institution, please be sure to consult an advisor in the ISSO.

Visitors for Business/Pleasure (B-1/B-2)

The B-1/B-2 status is used for short-term visits for business (B-1) or pleasure (B-2). The B-1 Visitor for Business visa classification may be used by scholars planning to pay short visits to one or several campuses in the United States. It is not intended for use by a scholar accepting any type of formal academic appointment. Those in B-1/B-2 status cannot receive salary at Columbia University. An honorarium can be given to a scholar in B-1/B-2 status if the person is engaged in an academic activity lasting no more than 9 days at Columbia and the person has not received payments from more than 5 other institutions in a 6 month period. The recipient must have a US Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to be eligible and forms must be completed with the Controller's Office while the visitor is in the United States. Reimbursement is possible only for some expenses and is subject to Income Tax withholding.

A person requesting a B-1 visa must present to the U.S. Consul a letter of invitation from Columbia. The letter must state the purpose of the visit and also state that no salary will be made by Columbia. That same letter must be presented to an immigration official at the point of entry into the U.S. and a specific request made for entrance in B-1 classification. The immigration official will note "B-1" on the scholar's entry permit (Form I-94). It is at the American Consul's discretion to grant any visa. Consuls in some countries, India for example, rarely use this classification.

The notation on the I-94 form is of the greatest importance. Often a person will have a B-1/B-2 visa for an indefinite period of time in his or her passport. But it is the presentation of the letter of invitation from Columbia that authorizes the immigration official to grant the B-1 classification at the time of entry into the U.S.

It is difficult to change from B-1 status to one more appropriate to an international scholar after entering the U.S. If such a change is allowed, the immigration official may take several months to grant a decision, during which time paid employment is not allowed.

B-2 Visitors for Pleasure cannot receive any kind of professional affiliation while in the U.S. The B-2 is strictly a visitor visa for holiday or pleasure. Please contact the International Students and Scholars Office if you need further information on this matter.

Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of certain countries to enter the U.S. for a brief visit without obtaining a B-1/B-2 visa stamp at a consulate or embassy abroad. Visitors to the U.S. may use the Visa Waiver Program only when they are staying for less than 90 days and when they hold a return air ticket. Individuals who enter the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program are not eligible to extend their stay in the U.S. or to change to a different nonimmigrant status without leaving the U.S., obtaining a visa stamp for the new category, and re-entering the U.S. A list of currently participating countries is on the State Department website at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html.

Labor Certification Applications and Permanent Residence

Only designated staff in the ISSO are permitted to act for the University as employer in immigration matters. This applies to the signing of both the Form ETA-9089 (Application for Alien Employment Certification) and Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker).

The University will sponsor those on academic appointments that are either permanent teaching positions or permanent research appointments requiring a PhD. However, the employee must hire the lawyer to submit the application for permanent residence. The ISSO has a list of lawyers recommended for this purpose.

The University will not file permanent residency applications in any of the categories requiring a labor certification except the special handling category for university teachers that must be filed within the first 18 months of the date of the job offer letter written by Columbia University. This special handling category also requires the University to have recruited applicants by submitting a print advertisement for the position in an appropriate academic journal before hiring the employee. If these two steps have not been followed and the employee is in a category that the University will sponsor for permanent residency, the applicant must apply for permanent residency under a category that does not require a labor certification.

Columbia University International Students and Scholars Office
Last reviewed: 25 March 2015 Last modified: 25 March 2015