Application for a Certificate of Eligibility ( I-20 or DS-2019)

Welcome


Congratulations on your admission to Columbia University! Now that you have been admitted to a fulltime program of study, we will help you get the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) you need to get a visa to study in the U.S. as an international student. Read the following questions and topics below to learn more about the process before proceeding (click the blue words to learn more).

Before You Begin

What is a COE?

A COE is an official document processed by educational institutions that certifies your eligibility for F-1 or J-1 student status to visa officers at U.S. consulates and immigration officers when arriving to the U.S. A COE is processed through SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), a government database.

  • F-1: Most students will need an I-20, the COE for F-1 status
  • J-1: J-1 status is less common. Form DS-2019 is the COE for J-1 Exchange Visitor student status
  • Not sure which status to choose? Please review the Comparison Between F and J status chart

How do you qualify for a COE?

  • You must be admitted to a fulltime program of study (and maintain fulltime enrollment every term)
  • You must document the financial resources to cover the expenses (tuition and fees and living expenses) of the first academic year and have a plan to finance any additional time. The Financial Certification Form will help you find the exact amount you need (this is listed under Step 2 of the next page).

Why do you need a COE?

  • For a visa application to a U.S. embassy or consulate (Canadians are exempt from this requirement)
  • To enter the U.S. for the first time in F-1 or J-1 status (Also applies to Canadians)
  • To return to the U.S. from all trips abroad during your program
  • To transfer your SEVIS record to Columbia if you are a student at another U.S. school. This requires your current school to release your SEVIS record to Columbia. You will keep the same SEVIS number.

       * Exception: If you are currently a student at another U.S. school and will study at Columbia during your summer vacation and will return to your school in the fall, you DO NOT NEED a Columbia I-20
  • To apply for a change of status to the government from another non-immigrant status while remaining in the U.S.

       *This application to the immigration agency takes a very long time and is problematic. We always recommend you obtain your student status through travel to the U.S.
  • To show as evidence of your F-1 or J-1 status after arrival in the U.S.

Topics to Review

Application Timeline

Expect to wait four (4) weeks from the time a complete COE application is received. We have a very high volume of applications, and they are processed in the order received. If your program begins in May, June or July, your application will have priority over fall admission.

Please don’t contact us until 4 weeks have passed!

When will I get my SEVIS number?

Your unique SEVIS number is generated when the I-20 or DS-2019 is processed. It will be emailed to you when your COE is ready to be shipped.

You will need the SEVIS number to:

Admission to the U.S. in F or J Status

The earliest you may arrive is thirty (30) days before the program start date on your I-20 or DS-2019. The program start date will be the first day of classes of the term for which you are admitted.

Transferring from another school in the U.S.

“Transfer” in this context simply means moving your F-1 or J-1 SEVIS record from one U.S. school to another

  • Are you a Transfer Student Currently in F-1 / J-1 Status?
    • F-1

      If you are in F-1 status through another school —including OPT—and have not yet reached the end of your 60-day grace period—your current school must “transfer out” your SEVIS record to Columbia before we can issue a “transfer-in” Columbia I-20
    • J-1

      Transferring your J-1 record from one school to another is more restrictive. If you are in J-1 student status at another school and would like to continue at Columbia in J-1 status, please consult the ISSO with an email describing your current J-1 program to see if it is possible. Include information under items 3 and 4 on your DS-2019 and the program of study you plan to attend at Columbia. Note that the transfer of your record must be initiated BEFORE the end date on your DS-2019

Dependents (spouse and children)

  • Are you married?

    Your spouse— and children under 21 years of age—will need a dependent COE to apply for F-2 or J-2 visa. You will need to provide proof of additional funding beyond your personal expenses. Your dependents’ information will be part of your application and their COEs will be processed at the same time.
  • Are you engaged to be married?

    If you are single at the time of your application but getting married before you come, you may include your future spouse in the application. However, you must be legally married at the time your spouse applies for an F-2 or J-2 visa.

  • Not legally married but in a relationship?

    Your partner is not eligible to be a visa dependent, but may apply for a B2 visitor visa to accompany you under a provision for Cohabitating Partners described in the Foreign Affairs Manual for visa officers. Look for 9 FAM 402.2-4(B)(5).

English Language Study

  • Does your letter of admission say you need to study English before beginning your program?

    If you are studying in the American Language Program (ALP):

    1. Apply for your ALP I-20.
    2. Apply for your F-1 visa and enter the U.S. with your ALP I-20
    3. After your ALP program is complete, follow the instructions on “How to Apply” on the next page. Under Step 2 exclude items 7 - 9 for transfer students.

    If you are studying English at another language school:

    1. Get your I-20 from your English as a Second Language (ESL) school
    2. Apply for your F-1 visa and enter the U.S. with your ESL school’s I-20
    3. After your ESL program is complete, follow the F-1 transfer instructions to transfer your SEVIS record to the ISSO

  • Do you want to come early to have time to get settled and voluntarily take an English course before your academic program begins?

    If you are studying in the American Language Program (ALP):

    1. Apply for your ALP I-20. You do not need to apply for your academic program’s I-20 at this time.
    2. Apply for your F-1 visa and enter the U.S. with your ALP I-20
    3. After your ALP program is complete, follow the steps (on the next page) to apply for your academic program’s I-20

    If you are studying in an English at another language school:

    1. Get your I-20 from your English as a Second Language (ESL) school
    2. Apply for your F-1 visa and enter the U.S. with your ESL school’s I-20
    3. After your ESL program is complete, follow the F-1 transfer instructions to transfer your SEVIS record to the ISSO
  • Can I use an I-20 from Columbia to apply for my visa and come early and study English?

    No, this is not allowed by F-1 regulations. The ISSO is not authorized to issue I-20s for English Language study. The start date of your ISSO I-20 will be the first day of the term, and you are not allowed to enter the U.S. more than 30 days in advance of the start date.
  • Can I get two I-20s at the same time, from the language program and from the ISSO?

    No, because they will have different SEVIS numbers and start dates on them. You need to start with the ESL I-20 and then transfer the ESL SEVIS record to the ISSO for your academic program I-20.
  • Can I come early as a tourist and then become an F-1 when I enroll?

    No. If you visit the U.S. with a visitor visa (B1/B2 or ESTA) before enrolling in a program, you will need to leave the U.S. and return with a valid F-1 visa and I-20. Regulations do not allow you to enroll in a program of study while a change of status application is pending with the government. A change of status can take more than a year.

F-1 and J-1 Status Eligibility

Most students at Columbia University are in F-1 status. J-1 status is less common and not all students are eligible for it.

Please review our Comparison Between F and J status chart if you are unsure of which status applies to you.