Current Students FAQs

Updated January 19, 2022

We review this information regularly and update as needed. 

For the most up-to-date immigration and ISSO information, follow us on our social media channels and view our news updates:

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Student FAQs

Coming to Campus

Refer to Columbia University's COVID-19 Resource Guide, information on the Vaccine Page and the Vaccine FAQs that are updated frequently as new information becomes available.  Stay informed by regularly checking University Communications in the University's COVID-19 Resource Guide.

Effective November 8, 2021 all nonimmigrant adult travelers to the U.S. are required to show proof of full vaccination and effective December 6, all air travelers aged 2 and older must show a negative result to a COVID-19 test taken within 1 calendar day before departure. Limited exceptions apply. For more detailed information, open this link.

Immigration status

Columbia University has resumed in-person instruction and activities. The University expects all students to take in-person courses.

Review registration requirements for maintaining F/J status.

F-1 I-20: ISSO is issuing digital I-20s only (in PDF Format) for students and their dependents, per SEVP Guidance. Once you are emailed your I-20, you must print and sign it by hand in ink. This printed I-20 is an original and valid document

J-1 DS-2019: The Department of State administers J-1 regulations, and has not provided guidance that permits digital DS-2019 forms. ISSO will continue to ship original DS-2019 forms, signed in ink, to J-1 students and their dependents. 

Travel and Visas

On our website, please refer to both our News and Travel Resources sections. In addition, NAFSA maintains a helpful summary of the COVID-19 Travel and Visa Restrictions including the vaccine and negative COVID-19 test requirement for all air travelers eligible to enter the U.S. in effect since November 8, 2021.

We also recommend that you review the COVID-19 Resource Guide for the Columbia Community for the university’s guidance pertaining to travel.

OPT Employment (General)

Unfortunately, F-1 regulations still require you to be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your OPT or STEM OPT Extension application to USCIS.

Post-completion OPT - If you are abroad make sure you return to the U.S in F-1 status before the end of your final semester. Refer to the OPT Application process on our website

STEM OPT Extension - You must return and apply before the expiration of your current OPT. Refer to the STEM OPT Extension application information here

Yes, it is possible to apply online by creating a USCIS Online Account. USCIS maintains the requirement that you are in the U.S. when you  submit the application. 

Full application instructions are on our OPT webpages.

Pre-Completion OPT

Post-Completion OPT

STEM OPT Extension

You are allowed to leave the U.S. when an OPT application is pending at USCIS, but there has always been an element of uncertainty. The basic risk factor is that USCIS may contact you requesting additional information. You will need to be able to respond in a timely manner. That has always been true and in these extraordinary times it remains to be true.

In the best case scenario, if your application is processed smoothly, your EAD is delivered to a valid U.S. address, where someone is checking your mail. If they take an image of your EAD and email it to you for you to print, you may be able to enter the U.S. with your travel documents (I-20, EAD print out and valid visa).

If you are outside of the U.S. with an approved OPT application but without the EAD in hand, it may be a problem reentering the U.S.

If your application is denied while you are abroad, please contact the ISSO for guidance.

An additional risk factor in the time of COVID-19 is that international travel and visa restrictions are unpredictable.

US government guidance indicates that for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, students who are working on Post-Completion OPT and the STEM OPT Extension fewer than 20 hours per week are still engaging in OPT and are NOT accumulating any days of unemployment. The guidance did not specify a minimum number of hours that must be worked.

Yes, you may work remotely for a U.S. employer while on OPT and you do not need to do a second report that the employment has become remote. If you are currently engaged in the STEM OPT Extension, you don’t have to submit a new I-983 if working remotely. 

If your application was received on or after October 1, 2020 through October 31, 2021, inclusive, and you lost some allowable OPT time on your EAD because of a long USCIS processing delay, you may request a correction due to USCIS error. USCIS will issue a corrected EAD with a new end date, as requested, to cover the full amount of OPT time recommended in the original application. Go to this USCIS page on EADs and refer to the information in the tab "Replace an EAD" and follow the instructions for "If your EAD contains incorrect information because of a USCIS error..."

Before you return your incorrectly shortened EAD to USCIS, be sure you have met your employer’s requirements for the onboarding/hiring process which may require viewing your actual card, not a copy.  Make a copy of all documents submitted to USCIS for your own records.

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