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Frequently Asked Questions

The following is a list of frequently asked questions from across the offices supporting Columbia College and Columbia Engineering collected here in one place for your convenience. You can browse by topic/department or search by keyword.

International Student Programs and Services, International Student Visas

What do my visa and status mean?
An entry VISA is a travel document issued by a U.S. Consulate and attached to a page in your passport that is evidence of your eligibility to be admitted to the United States in a particular status with supporting documents. After admission to a program of study, International students who require an F-1 student visa to study in the U.S. apply for a certificate of eligibility called an I-20 from the International Students and Scholars office (ISSO). The I-20 is needed to apply for the entry visa to present upon arrival. Canadian students are exempt from the visa requirement in their passports but must present an I-20 at the port of entry to be admitted in F-1 status. A visa is relevant ONLY to admission to the U.S. and has nothing to do with how long a student may stay in the U.S. after arrival. Students obtain F-1 STATUS at the time of admission (entry to the U.S.), and must maintain lawful F-1 status throughout the length of their academic program. This includes being enrolled full-time every term and NOT working without authorization.
How do I stay in status?

The two most important requirements are to remain registered full-time every term, making normal progress toward your degree, and not to accept any employment, either on- or off-campus, without written permission from the ISSO, and, if necessary, authorization from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Be familiar with the information in Maintaining F-1 status. Under certain conditions status may be reinstated if lost for reasons beyond your control. You may also regain status by leaving the U.S. and re-entering with a new I-20 for a new SEVIS record.

My visa is expired/about to expire. What should I do?
An entry visa in your passport is relevant ONLY to your eligibility to be admitted to the U.S., not for remaining in the U.S. What matters while you are in the United States is maintaining your F-1 status for the duration of your academic program as reflected on your I-20. If your entry visa expires while you are in the U.S. you will have to obtain a valid one before re-entering the U.S. from a trip abroad. You cannot renew a visa in the U.S. but will have to apply for a new one at a U.S. consulate abroad, most likely in your home country.
What do I need to do if I want to travel in F-1 status?

If you are leaving the U.S. during your program of study, you need an unexpired passport, unexpired F-1 entry visa, and an I-20 which has a travel signature obtained from the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) on page 3 that is less than 12 months old at the time that you return. Please read Travel and Re-entry in F-1 Status for more information. If you are traveling within the U.S., although only your passport is needed as identification, it is recommended to carry the aforementioned documents with you in case enter a situation that requires proof of status.

What should I do if I forget my I-20 while traveling?

Remember to have your I-20 on your person and not packed away in checked luggage since you go through inspection before claiming bags. That said, if you forget your I-20, you should ask the immigration official for an I-515 upon entry, which will allow your admission in F-1 status for 30 days. With an F-1 visa you are normally admitted to the U.S. For 'duration of status' (D/S,) but if you are missing the I-20 it is most likely you will be admitted for 30 days with an I-515. Within that 30 days you will need to come to the ISSO for another I-20 and will need to send the new I-20 and the I-94 admission proof (departure card completed on the plane or print out from new automated system) to a government office to change your stay to “duration of status.” In a pinch you can log into SSOL to print out your registration record to demonstrate full-time enrollment.

Who can help me if I need a visa to travel to another country?
The Office of Global Programs provides basic visa advice for study abroad candidates. Whether you need a visa to visit a third country almost always depends on your nationality, not your status as a student in the U.S. You will have to look at the website of the embassy of the country you wish to visit to see their requirements for visitors. Columbia is conveniently located in New York City where you can easily visit the consulates from around the world if you do need to apply for a visitor visa.
What do I need to do if I want to work in F-1 status?

Paid Work

You may work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) on-campus for Columbia from your first semester. Paid on-campus work is an allowed incident to your F-1 status and does not require additional Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. To be eligible for paid off-campus work, you must have completed an academic year in valid student status before being eligible. Any paid off-campus work (wages, or other compensation like a stipend or housing) requires authorization through OPT. OPT is approved in your field of study and requires an application to the immigration agency. The ISSO will assist with this. Refer to this summary of employment possibilities.

Unpaid work

For unpaid work on or off-campus such as volunteering or an unpaid internship, you may start right away and do not need OPT. You must be sure the position is unpaid for anyone (i.e. not just you because you want to take the job as a volunteer).

International Student Visas

What do I need to do if I want to work in F-1 status?
Paid Work You may work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) on-campus for Columbia from your first semester. Paid on-campus work is an allowed incident to your F-1 status and does not require additional Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. To be eligible for paid off-campus work, you must have completed an academic year in valid student status before being eligible. Any paid off-campus work (wages, or other compensation like a stipend or housing) requires authorization through OPT. OPT is approved in your field of study and requires an application to the immigration agency. The ISSO will assist with this. Refer to this summary of employment possibilities. Unpaid work For unpaid work on or off-campus such as volunteering or an unpaid internship

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