Overview for Scholars

Scholar Immigration Definitions

Scholar Obtaining Your Status (J-1)

Scholar Obtaining Your Visa (H-1B and O-1)

Message for Canadian Scholars

Potential Delays in Visa Issuance

Scholar Tax Information

Health Insurance Overview for J-1 Scholars

Employment for J-1 Scholars

Employment Authorization for J-2

Employment for H-1B or O-1 Scholars

Scholar Maintaining Immigration Status (J-1)

Scholar Maintaining Immigration Status (H-1B and O-1)

J-1 Scholar Travel Information

H-1B Scholar Travel Information

O-1 Scholar Travel Information

Scholar Departure Information

Home Country Residency Requirement

Address Change Form

How to Obtain J-1 Scholar Immigration Status at Columbia University

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 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USCIS) 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.

If You are Outside the United States.

Canadian Citizens Canadian citizens do not require an entry visa to enter the U.S. from Canada, but do require a DS-2019 and must follow certain procedures.

How to Apply for an Initial J-1 Entry Visa.

Step 1: Make an appointment at a U.S. Consulate to apply for an J-1 Exchange Visitor 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 received the DS-2019 in time for the appointment. Check the following websites for more information on visa appointments.

Click here 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. Refer to

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

Locate the nearest U.S. Consulate and follow the 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. The list of countries exempt from this rule can be found here.

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 J scholar in the U.S. and are transferring institutions, it is possible you may not have to pay the SEVIS fee. See the USCIS website for more information.

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

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.

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 a J-1 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 that you need to show that you do not intend to remain in the U.S. permanently after completing your studies. 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:

Obtaining a U.S. Visa:
Published by Department of State

Applying for a Student or Exchange Visitor Visa: Published by Education USA, a division of DOS

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.

Step 9: Checklist of what to take with you to your visa interview: Have both the originals and a set of photocopies. In addition to the items listed here, you may be required to submit additional documents as listed on your local consulate's website.

____ A passport valid for at least six months

____ Form DS-2019

____ School letter confirming your affiliation with Columbia University. For those with a University appointment, it is a letter from the academic department confirming the dates, title and salary of the appointment. For Visting Scholars/Scientists it is a letter of designation from the ISSO.

____ 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 living expenses during the period you intend to stay.

____ Any information that demonstrates your intention to return to your home country after finishing your program 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 were issued a J-2 visa.

Canadian Citizens: Canadians DO require a valid passport, a DS-2019 form and proof of payment of the SEVIS fee to enter the U.S. in J-1 status. To pay the SEVIS fee, go to http://www.fmjfee.com and follow the instructions. Be sure to make a copy of the receipt for your own records.

At the port of entry, Canadians 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 before you leave the inspection area to ensure that it has the notation "J-1, D/S" written on it. Canadians 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 or employment in the U.S.

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

If You are Already in the United States

Changing Status in the United States If you do not plan to leave the United States before beginning your work or research at Columbia and you are currently in an immigration status other than J-1, you will be required to change your status by application to the USCIS. Changing your status in the United States can be problematic, so please consult an ISSO (212-854-3587) or IAO adviser (212-305-5455) for more information.

Continuing If you are in J-1 Researcher or Professor category and continuing your work or research at the University, the United States Department of State (DOS) Exchange Visitor Program must be informed. In order to extend your J-1 employment authorization and legal stay in the United States , your department initiates an application to the ISSO or the IAO. After the ISSO or the IAO receives the letter from your department and prepares a new DS-2019, you must bring your passport, I-94 card (and those of your accompanying dependents), and current DS-2019 to the ISSO or the IAO so that we may complete the procedure. Note that an extension of your program must be completed before the ending date on the current DS-2019 form. J-1 scholars are allowed to stay in this immigration status for five consecutive years.

Transferring Scholars As a J-1 Exchange Visitor in Researcher or Professor category you are allowed to stay in the United States for a maximum of five consecutive years. During this period you may transfer from one program sponsor to another within the same category of Researcher or Professor. The “responsible officer” of the program from which you are transferring needs to assign a transfer date in the SEVIS database before Columbia University is allowed to issue a new DS-2019 for transfer to Columbia.  It is essential that the transfer of visa sponsorship be concluded before your authorized period of stay from your first program sponsor has expired. This is extremely important.

If You Will Be Accompanied by Dependents If your dependents (spouse or unmarried children under twenty-one years of age) will accompany you to the United States or will be joining you shortly after your arrival, you will need to provide the ISSO or the IAO with additional documentation showing your ability to meet your dependents’ expenses. Upon receipt of the required information we will send you the document needed by your dependents to apply for a visa.

Last Reviewed:13 February 2013 Last modified:13 February 2013
International Students and Scholars Office
Columbia University