Admitted Students (Pre-Arrival) FAQs

Revised on April 1, 2021

Please find below answers to immigration-related questions. Be aware that this situation is fluid and federal guidance may change. We review this information regularly and update as needed. 

We are hopeful that we will be able to return to normal university life in Fall 2021. Read more in President Bollinger's message.

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Admitted Students FAQs 

Applying for a Visa

The Department of State indicated that U.S. Embassies and Consulates are beginning a phased resumption of routine visa services based on local conditions. Students have been reporting that visa services are resuming. For the latest status of visa processing at your nearest U.S. Embassy, refer to the U.S. Embassy website for details and check the Department of State's U.S. Visa News.

If you have an unexpired visa in your passport, you do not need to apply for a new visa. You may enter the U.S. with the unexpired F-1 entry visa, even if there is another institution’s name on it. Bear in mind that the F-1 entry visa is valid to enter the U.S. only until the expiration date listed on the F-1 entry visa. You will still need to apply for an I-20 issued by Columbia.

You must obtain an updated I-20 to arrive for a later term. You can apply for your student visa only up to 120 days before your new term of arrival. We will email you to report your change of arrival plans to obtain an updated I-20. You will need your updated I-20 for your visa appointment.
 


 


 

Yes, you may use the I-20 you have to obtain the visa. Your visa will remain valid until its expiration date, even if your I-20 dates change. Report your change of arrival plans to the ISSO to obtain an updated I-20. 

CPT/OPT Eligibility

We understand that there are visa and travel challenges, but new students are expected to arrive at the beginning of the term if possible. You should contact your department and request information about your options for arriving late. 

Refer to our webpages on CPT and OPT in the Employment section of our website which address eligibility.If you have additional questions, please email us at isso@columbia.edu or to cumc-intl-students@columbia.edu (for CUIMC students). 

Students need to study for two semesters in the US before being eligible for OPT. 

If you have only one semester remaining in your program, you will not be eligible for OPT after completing your program.

Refer to our webpages on CPT and OPT in the Employment section of our website which address eligibility. If you have additional questions, please email us at isso@columbia.edu or to cumc-intl-students@columbia.edu (for CUIMC students)

Change of Status

Review the information on applying to change your status in the U.S. Typically the ISSO recommends that you travel abroad to apply for your F-1 visa. Given the current uncertainties regarding visa processing and travel restrictions, if you are considering changing your status in the U.S., the ISSO strongly encourages you to work with an experienced immigration attorney.

Deferring Offer of Admission

If you are unable to obtain a visa or will arrive late you should contact your department or admissions office and request information on your options for attending at a later time.

You should contact your department or admissions office and request information on your options for attending at a later time. You should apply for your I-20 3-4 months before you plan to arrive. 
 

You should contact your department or admissions office and request information on your options for attending at a later time. We will email you to report your change of arrival plans to obtain an updated I-20. You will not need to pay the COE Processing Fee again. 

Enrollment Requirements for New Students

SEVP has not updated their guidance for 2021 and indicated that COVID-19 guidance from 2020 is still currently in place until further notice.

The existing guidance states that New/Initial students in F-1 status may apply for a visa and enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school for the Fall 2020 term only for a full course of study that is not 100% online. The current guidance applies to 2021 as well. Therefore, you must enroll in at least one hybrid course to maintain your visa status in the U.S. We are hopeful that we will be able to return to in-person classes in the fall.

Refer to Columbia's Methods of Instruction offered during the 2020-2021 academic year for definitions of Online, In-person, Hybrid, and HyFlex courses. Review  information about full-time enrollment requirements.

Online Courses

New/Initial students who are taking all their classes online, and are currently outside the U.S., are not able to enter the U.S. You will need to request an updated I-20 with a later start date. You can enter the U.S. for a later term with the updated I-20 and a valid unexpired F-1 visa when you resume hybrid/in-person classes.

Transfer Students

The ISSO will issue your transfer I-20 as long as you can be transferred to us by your current institution. Per the current guidance, you are able to stay in the U.S. and take classes in any format from anywhere in the U.S. to maintain your F-1 status. After receiving your transfer I-20, report your arrival by submitting your SEVIS Report Form so we can activate your F-1 record.

Yes, you may study remotely as long as your program allows for remote study. We are not permitted to make your F-1 SEVIS record Active while you are outside of the U.S. We will email you to report your change of arrival plans to obtain a new I-20. You will not need to pay the ISSO COE Processing Fee again. 


 

As a transfer student, you may return to the U.S. and take classes in any format from anywhere in the U.S. to maintain your F-1 status. However, given the current uncertainties regarding travel restrictions, be sure to check our Travel Information on the ISSO Updates and Resources page.

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Related Resources

Please refer to the University’s Communication Updates for official announcements and reach out to your school.

Refer to Columbia University's COVID-19 Resource Guide. For information on vaccination, testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, please review COVID-19 Public Health Protocols. If you have questions please email covidresource@columbia.edu.