Student Immigration Definitions

Obtaining J-1 Exchange Visitor
Student Category Status at Columbia

Transfer of J-1 Supervision

Change of Status to F-1

Potential Delays in Visa Issuance


Student Tax Information

Message for Canadian Students

Maintaining J-1 Status

DS-2019 Recertification

Health Insurance Overview for J-1 Students

J-1 Travel Information

DHS Information on Arrival Problems

J-1 Extension of Stay (Current Program)

J-1 Extension of Stay to Begin New Program


J-1 Work Opportunities

J-1 On-Campus Work Request

J-1 Academic Training

Employment Authorization for J-2

J-1 Leave of Absence, Suspension or Withdrawal

Student Departure Information

Home Country Residency Requirement

Reduced Course Load Request

Address Change Form

How to Obtain J-1 Exchange Visitor Status for Students

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.

Please note that there are two major offices that handle the immigration documents for students at Columbia University. All students studying at the Morningside campus are served by the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). Some students at the Columbia University Medical Center are served by the ISSO and some by the International Affairs Office (IAO). You will be informed of which office will manage your paperwork after you have been admitted to the University.

What is J-1 Exchange Visitor Status?
The Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the United States Department of State and has certain requirements that do not apply to other visa statuses. There are many categories of Exchange Visitors (EVs). The student category is one. In order to qualify for J-1 status in the student category, over half of your funding for your academic program must come from sources other than personal or family funds. Common sources of funding for EVs include funding from a government, international organization, or university. The ISSO and the IAO reserve discretion in issuing the DS-2019 required to apply for the J-1 visa.

Most students come to the United States to study in F-1 Student status. Your documents will automatically be processed for F-1 status unless you specifically request J-1 status. Some of the differences between F-1 and J-1 status are discussed in the section on immigration status under Immigration Definitions. Please read this section carefully so you can make an informed decision as to which status you wish to obtain.

Obtain DS-2019 from ISSO or IAO
All students requesting J-1 status will be issued a DS-2019 from the ISSO or the IAO. The DS-2019 is a document that details your course of study and verifies that you have documented eligibility to obtain J-1 status. The DS-2019 is used to apply for the J-1 visa at the U.S. consulate and must be received prior to applying for the visa. You must complete the on-line Application for Visa Certificate (The link will be given to you after you have been admitted to the University) and submit the required supporting documents to receive the DS-2019. When completing the AVC, you must indicate in the remarks section that you wish to obtain J-1 status.

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 DS-2019 and a valid passport and must follow certain procedures.

How to Apply for an Initial J-1 Entry Visa

Carefully read and follow these procedures.

Step 1: Make an appointment at a U.S. Consulate to apply for an J-1 Student entry visa. You will require the DS-2019 form from Columbia University at the time of your appointment. DO NOT MAKE AN APPOINTMENT UNTIL you have received the DS-2019 or are sure that you will have the DS-2019 in time for the appointment. The ISSO issues DS-2019's in the order that complete applications are received, and is unable to rush yours because you made an appointment too early. 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 extra time that may be required for security clearances.

For information regarding security clearances.

To locate the nearest U.S. Consulate and its instructions for applying for a visa (including links to required forms). Make a list of documentation required for the interview. Note procedures for paying the visa application fee and any visa issuance fees, if applicable.

Step 2: Check your form DS-2019 for completeness and correctness!

Your DS-2019 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" DS-2019 needed for applying for their J-2 visas and entering the U.S. in J-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 the list of countries exempt from this rule.

Step 4: Pay the SEVIS fee and print the receipt.

Go to the website and follow the instructions. You will need the DS-2019 available because the SEVIS 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.

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. Click here for more information.

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 J-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:

See You in the USA: An eJournal published by DOS. Note article "On the Other Side of the Visa Window", by U.S. visa officer in Cairo

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. Although published in 1997, 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 DS-2019

____ School admission letter

____ Completed visa applications (DS-156, DS-158, and, if applicable, DS-157) Remember to complete the DS-156 electronically and take a printed copy with you. Consulates have advised that the electronic version will speed up the process.

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

____ A receipt for the visa application fee

____ A receipt for the SEVIS fee. If you have not received an official receipt in the mail showing payment and you paid the fee electronically, the consulate will accept the temporary receipt you printed from your computer. If you do not have a receipt, the consulate may be able to see your payment electronically if your fee payment was processed at least 3 business days before your interview.

____ 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 a J-1 visa, and that any dependents obtained a J-2 visa. Also, be certain that the DS-2019 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.

Canadian Citizens: Canadian citizens do not currently require an entry visa to enter the U.S. but DO require a DS-2019, a valid passport and proof of payment of the SEVIS fee to enter the U.S. in J-1 student status. To pay the SEVIS fee, click here and follow the instructions. Be sure to make a copy of the receipt for your own records.

At the port of entry, Canadian students must present the Form DS-2019 and supporting financial documentation to the immigration inspector to be admitted into the U.S. in J-1 status. You will be given an I-94 Admission/Departure card to complete. Be sure to look at your I-94 card before you leave the inspection area to ensure that it has the notation "J-1, D/S" written on it. Canadian students must have an I-94 card to confirm current J-1 status. If not, you are considered to be in Visitor (B-2) status, a status which does not permit study in the U.S.

Some Canadians have mistakenly assumed that regulations that apply to international students do not apply to them. Students from Canada are subject to the same regulations regarding employment in the United States, requirement for full-time study and all other provisions for maintaining status. It is especially important for Canadian students to be vigilant about entering the United States in proper student status, as immigration inspectors are accustomed to admitting Canadian citizens as visitors.

Students Inside the U.S.

Currently in J-1 Status at Another Institution

An EV in the Student category may transfer from one program sponsor to another only if the EV will continue the same educational objective for which he or she first entered the U.S. The Responsible Officer (RO) of the program from which you are transferring must determine the following:

  • the transfer is consistent with the goals of your current EV program
  • you are currently maintaining valid J-1 status

For details on how to transfer your J-1 status to Columbia, see Transfer of J-1 Supervision.

Currently in a status other than J-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 J-1 are required to change status by application to DHS. Applying for a change of status may not be possible or recommended. Please consult an ISSO or IAO advisor for more information.

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 J-1 has been approved, and there is no way of knowing how long this will take.

Requesting J-2 Status for Dependents

If your dependents - spouse or unmarried children under 21 years of age - will accompany you to the U.S. or join you after your arrival, you will need to provide the ISSO or the IAO with additional documentation showing sufficient funding to meet your dependents' expenses and copies of their passports. A DS-2019 will then be issued for each of your dependents which they will use to apply for the J-2 visa. You may request a DS-2019 for your dependents at any time during your stay at Columbia.

Last Reviewed:
22 February 2011 Last modified: 22 February 2011
International Students and Scholars Office
Columbia University