Applying for Your I-20 or DS-2019

What is an I-20 or DS-2019?

An I-20 is a form issued by our office for students to obtain F-1 Student status. A DS-2019 is a form issued by our office for students to obtain J-1 Student status. You will need an I-20 or DS-2019 to:

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apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

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enter the U.S. for the first time in F-1 or J-1 status and to return to the U.S. from all trips abroad during your program.

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apply for a change of status from another nonimmigrant status. Learn more about changing to student status in the U.S.

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show as evidence of your F-1 or J-1 status after arrival in the U.S.


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To qualify for an I-20 or DS-2019 you must:
  1. be admitted to a full-time program of study (and maintain full-time enrollment every term)
  2. document the financial resources to cover tuition, fees and living expenses of the first academic year and have a plan to finance any additional time. Refer to our Estimated Expenses by School of Admission.
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F-1 Status or J-1 Status


Most students come to the U.S. in F-1 status.

If you receive at least 51% of your total expenses through a scholarship you may be eligible for J-1. Review our Comparison Chart to understand the benefits and restrictions.

If you’re eligible for both F-1 and J-1 status, we recommend choosing F-1. However, if your sponsor requires J-1 status you must apply for a DS-2019. Columbia PhD students are not required to obtain J-1 status.

Before You Apply

Do any of these situations apply to you?

Current F-1 Students at Another U.S. School

Go to the Applying for Your Transfer I-20 page.  

Current Columbia Students Beginning a New Academic Program

If you are a current student at Columbia -- or on Post-Completion OPT after completing a program at Columbia -- you should not apply through this page. Follow the instructions on our beginning a new program page.

Former Students Returning After a Temporary Absence from Columbia

If you are a former student returning after a temporary leave from Columbia, you should not apply through this page. Follow the instructions on our leave of absence page.

Studying English at Columbia's American Language Program (ALP)
  1. Apply for your ALP I-20.
  2. Use the I-20 from ALP to apply for your F-1 visa and to enter the U.S.
  3. Before you complete your ALP program, ALP will send you instructions on how to transfer your ALP SEVIS record to the ISSO and apply for an I-20 for your program. Review these FAQs.
Studying English at another school in the U.S.
  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.

Current J-1 Students at Another U.S. School
Bringing a Spouse / Child

Your spouse (and children under 21 years of age) will need a dependent I-20 or DS-2019 to apply for an 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 documents will be processed and sent to you at the same time.

Planning to Get Married

If you are not yet married at the time of your application but will be 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.

Bringing a Partner

If you are in a relationship but not legally married, your partner is not eligible for a dependent visa, but may apply for a B-2 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).

How to Apply for your I-20 or DS-2019

For an overview of the process, watch our short video below. 

If you have activated your UNI then you can also enroll for our online interactive Canvas Course.

1. Prepare your documents

Supporting Documents Checklist

2. Log in to Compass to apply for your I-20 or DS-2019

There are two ways to log in to Compass: with a PID or with a UNI.

Apply with your PID

Your PID is the 9-digit number beginning with “C” you receive from your admissions office (e.g. C123456789). If you don't have a PID, contact your admissions office.

  1. Use your PID to request a Limited Services PIN
  2. Receive your Limited Services PIN at the e-mail address you used to apply to Columbia.
  3. Log in to Compass using your PID, Date of Birth and Limited Services PIN by clicking the appropriate link below:

Apply with your UNI (Morningside students only)

Your UNI is assigned to you by your school & consists of your initials plus a number, e.g. AB1234. It is part of your Columbia email address. Learn more about your UNI: Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT) website.

Compass Login Help

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.
Are you a Teachers College student? Contact their Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS): [email protected].

PID Login Issues

If you do not receive your Limited Services PIN within a few minutes, please check your SPAM folder. If you still do not receive it, please email the correct ISSO campus and be sure to include your PID and your preferred email address in the body of the email. In the subject line write “Limited Services PIN”:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.

If you were recently accepted to Columbia, your record may not yet be in our system. Make sure you have accepted your offer of admission and paid your deposit, if applicable. If you cannot access the system after 10 business days, please email the correct ISSO campus:

Not sure of your campus? Check our Campus school list.

UNI Login Issues

Don't worry! You can follow the steps above (With a PID) to login to Compass without a UNI.

3. Receive your I-20 or DS-2019

  • Based on government guidelines, we will send your I-20 or DS-2019 to you electronically by email.
  • You will need to print and sign your I-20 or DS-2019, which you will use for a visa appointment and for traveling to the U.S.
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Processing Time

Complete applications will be processed per the processing time indicated above.

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Check your email

We will email you if we need additional information.

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You will receive your SEVIS ID when your I-20 or DS-2019 has been issued.

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Please review the information on your I-20 or DS-2019 for accuracy when it arrives.

4. Apply for your visa at a U.S. Consulate


If you have questions not addressed on this page, email the correct ISSO campus. Not sure of your campus? Check our Campus school list.