Student Immigration Definitions

Obtaining F-1 Student Status at Columbia

Important Information for Students Fully Funded
by Columbia University

Transfer of F-1 Supervision

Change of Status to F-1

Message for Canadian Students

Potential Delays in Visa Issuance


Student Tax Information

Maintaining F-1 Status

Academic Certification for Travel

F-1 Travel Information

Govt Q & A for F-1 Travel

DHS Information on Arrival Problems

F-1 Extension of Stay (Current Program)

F-1 Extension of Stay to Begin New Program

F-1 Reinstatement

F-1 Work Opportunities

F-1 Practical Training (PT) Overview

F-1 Curricular Practical Training

F-1 Optional PT Before Degree Completion

F-1 Optional PT After Degree Completion

NEW STEM 24-month extension

F-1 Internship with an International Organization

F-1 Leave of Absence, Suspension or Withdrawal

Student Departure Information

F-1 Reduced Course Load Request

Inviting Relatives/Friends to Visit You

Address Change Form

Applying for a Social Security Number

How to Obtain F-1 Student Status

The information to follow is provided to help you get to Columbia in appropriate immigration status in compliance with the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations.

U.S. government regulations require you to attend the school that issues the visa certificate you use to make an initial entrance to the United States in F-1 status. Since you plan to enroll at Columbia, please use our Form I-20. It may be very difficult to transfer to Columbia if you enter the country using documents issued by another school unless you have attended the other school full time for at least one academic session.

How to Apply for an Initial F-1 Entry Visa if You are Outside the U.S.

Canadian Citizens - Canadian citizens do not require an entry visa to enter the U.S. from Canada, but do require an I-20, passport, financial documentation and proof of SEVIS fee payment and must follow certain procedures. See Important Information for Canadian Students on how to enter the U.S. in F-1 status.

Step 1: Make an appointment at a U.S. Consulate to apply for an F-1 Student entry visa. You will require the I-20 form from Columbia University at the time of your appointment. DO NOT MAKE AN APPOINTMENT UNTIL you have received the I-20 or are sure that you will have the I-20 in time for the appointment. While the U.S. Consulate will not issue the student entry visa until 120 days before the reporting date on the I-20 or the start date of your DS-2019 program period, you should apply for your visa as soon as possible. Check the following websites for more information on visa appointments.

For information about current wait times for the appointment and for visa issuance. Note that the processing wait times DO NOT include any extra time that may be required for security clearances.

Potential Delays in Visa Issuance and at Ports of Entry for more information regarding security clearances.

Find the U.S. Consulate at which you will apply at usembassy.state.gov and carefully read its instructions for applying for a visa (including links to required forms). Application procedures and requirements vary so be sure to pay attention the the specifics for the Consulate at which you apply. Make a list of documentation required for the interview and make all fee payments as instructed on the Consulate's web site.

Step 2: Check your form I-20 for completeness and correctness! Your I-20 indicates that we have created a record for you in SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), a national database for international students and scholars. Your unique assigned SEVIS ID number is in the upper right corner of page 1. Check to see that all information is correct and that your expected completion date is in the future.

If you have informed us that your dependents (husband, wife, or children under the age of 21) will come with you to the U.S., each of them will receive their own "dependent" I-20 needed for applying for their F-2 visas and entering the U.S. in F-2 status. If your family name is different from your dependents, be prepared to show documents that prove your relationship.

Step 3: Make sure your passport is valid. When you apply for a visa or enter the U.S., your passport must be valid for at least 6 months into the future. Some countries are exempt from this requirement and have their passports automatically extended for 6 months which means that you can use your passport up until the written expiration date. This rule applies to subsequent entries to the U.S. while traveling as a student. Click here for a list of countries exempt from this rule.

Step 4: Pay the SEVIS fee and print the receipt. Go to the I-901 payment site at www.fmjfee.com and follow the instructions. You will need the I-20 available because the SEVIS ID number is required. Print copies of the receipt -you will need one with you for the visa interview and you should keep one for your own records. You can only access the receipt at the time of payment so be sure your printer is working before paying the fee. You will not be able to get a receipt later.

If you have been a student in the U.S. and are transferring schools or beginning a program at a new level of study, it is possible you may not have to pay the SEVIS fee. Refer to information posted at SEVIS website.

Step 5: Complete the required Department of State application form DS-160. Everyone applying for a non-immigrant visa must complete this form. Be sure to print and keep the DS-160 barcode page.

Step 6: Refer to step one and follow instructions for paying any visa fees required in advance of your appointment. Procedures may vary from country to country, and even post to post within the same country. Note that application and issuance fees are based on reciprocity and generally reflect your country's policies in granting visa privileges to visiting U.S. students.

Step 7: Bring a passport-size photo less than six months old. Check Nonimmigrant Visa Photograph Requirements for details.

Step 8: READ! Prepare for your interview appointment by learning what to expect. You will be applying for an F-1 student visa, a non-immigrant classification. According to U.S. immigration law, "Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a non-immigrant status." This means you need to establish that you have no intention of staying in the U.S. permanently, but are coming here for a temporary purpose, i.e. to pursue your educational objective. While the consular officers are aware that it may be difficult for students to demonstrate strong professional and economic ties to their home countries, you should still bear this in mind as you prepare for your interview.

In advance of your interview, please read the following:

Applying for a Student or Exchange Visitor Visa Published by Education USA, a division of the U.S. Department of State

Ten Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

published by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, in consultation with the U.S. State Department. Last updated in June 2009, these general points provide good guidance and still are relevant today.

Step 9: Checklist of what to take with you to your visa interview:

____ A passport valid for at least six months

____ Form I-20 (sign the form under Item 11)

____ School admission letter

____ Completed DS-160 visa application bar code page

____ A photograph in the prescribed format (see Step 7)

____ A receipt for the visa application fee

____ A receipt for the SEVIS fee payment

____ Financial evidence that shows you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study.

____ Any information that demonstrates your intention to return to your home country after finishing your studies in the U.S. This may include proof of property, family, or other ties to your community.

Step 10: After the visa is processed, make sure you got what you requested! Check your passport to be sure you obtained an F-1 visa, and that any dependents obtained an F-2 visa. Also, be certain that the I-20 was returned to you, as you must have the original with you when you arrive in the United States. Sometimes, the document is returned to you in a sealed envelope, which must be presented to the immigration inspector when you arrive.

If You are Already in the U.S.

Currently in a status other than F-1 - Students who do not plan to leave the U.S. before beginning studies at Columbia, and are currently in an immigration status other than F-1 are required to change status by application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In general, non-immigrants who are maintaining lawful status may apply for a change of status to F-1. You should review the detailed information in Application for Change to F-1 Student Status and consult an ISSO adviser or IAO adviser for more information or if you have questions or concerns or to review your application before submitting it to USCIS.

Note that because your intention at the time of admission to the U.S. is an issue with a change of status application, a change of status from B-1 or B-2 visitor status may be very difficult unless the B-1/B-2 entry visa was issued with the notation "prospective student" on it. Most problematic is that an individual in B-1 or B-2 status is prohibited from enrolling in classes until the change of status to F-1 has been approved, and there is no way of knowing how long this will take. The same prohibition against beginning a course of study until the change of status has been approved by the immigration applies to individuals in F-2 status.

Currently in F-1 Status at Another Institution and transferring to Columbia - Students enrolled in another U.S. school under F-1 immigration status who are planning to enroll at Columbia University must complete a process in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is notified of this change. The transfer procedure begins with your current school "releasing" your SEVIS record to Columbia and qualifying for a Columbia I-20, and is NOT complete until you report to the ISSO or the IAO within 15 days of the program start date on your I-20. The first step is to get Columbia's I-20 in a timely manner. Please refer to our F-1 transfer procedures for exact details.

Continuing Students in F-1 Status at Columbia University - If you are completing one program at Columbia and are planning to pursue another degree or program at the University, DHS must be notified. The ISSO needs to issue you a new I-20 for the new program within 60 days of your completion date on your current I-20 or within 60 days of completion of your program, whichever is earlier. Contact the ISSO about qualifying for and obtaining a new I-20.

If You Will Be Accompanied By Dependents
If your dependents - spouse or unmarried children under 21 years of age - will accompany you to the U.S. or join you shortly after your arrival, you will need to provide the ISSO or the IAO with additional documentation showing your sufficient funding to meet your dependents' expenses and copies of their passport ID pages. An I-20 will then be issued for each of your dependents which they will use to apply for the F-2 visa. You may request am I-20 for your dependents at any time during your stay at Columbia.

Exchange Visitor (J-1) Visa Alternative
Another visa classification for full-time study is the J-1 Exchange Visitor status. J-1 students come to the U.S. under a contract agreement that is formally known as the Exchange Visitor Program. Students who are personally financing their studies are not eligible for J-1 status. Funding for J-1 students usually is from a government or international organization. University funding may also qualify. Please refer to and read carefully the section on Immigration Status under student immigration definitions for a summary of some of the differences between F-1 and J-1 immigration status so that you can make an informed choice.

Last Reviewed: 5 November 2015 Last modified: 5 November 2015
Columbia University International Students and Scholars Office