Guidelines to Maintaining Status (Scholars)

Maintaining Status
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About Your Status

You obtain an immigration status in the U.S. through admission at a port of entry or by approval of an application to USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services). Your status is also referred to as “visa status”or “nonimmigrant status”.

A visa is an entry document only--you can have more than one entry visa in your passport (Canadians are exempt from the visa requirement) but you can enter the U.S. in only one status.

What is the difference between visa and status? View our Visa page.

How your status is recorded

The status in which you are admitted by an immigration officer is stamped in your passport and recorded electronically in an I-94 arrival/departure record if entering by air. Land borders issue a paper I-94 record. If your status is approved by USCIS as a change from another status, your I-94 card will be part of USCIS approval notice (I-797 Notice of Action form). 

It is important not to violate any of the provisions of your visa status so you can keep your focus on the academic and professional objectives for which you came. These guidelines should help you be aware of what you need to do--and should not do---to maintain your legal status.

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J Scholar

Two-Year Home Residency Requirement

This provision, also known as 212(e) applies to some--not all--individuals in J status. If you are subject based on any of the three circumstances, you are required to return to your home country at the end of your J-1 Exchange Visitor program for a cumulative period of at least two years for a cumulative period of at least two years (24 months) before being eligible to obtain H-1B, L, Permanent Residency status or changing visa status within the U.S. Please see J-1 Visa Characteristics for more information.

Guidelines to Maintaining J Status

Guidelines to Maintaining Status Part 1
Guidelines to Maintaining Status Part 2

Follow the instructions for Reporting Your Arrival. This is mandatory and will activate your SEVIS record. You cannot apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) until at least two days after reporting your arrival.

If you need more time, work with your academic department to get an extension of your DS-2019.

Also for any J-2 dependents. See more information on health insurance requirements.

Follow the instructions at Changing Your Address.

Request authorization for any incidental employment approval.

Always have the necessary up-to-date documents with you when you return from a trip abroad.

We must remove them for your SEVIS record and issue you an updated DS-2019.

Always keep a paper or electronic copy of all documentation pertaining to your immigration status, including current and expired passports and any employment authorization. You may need them for a future immigration application.

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H-1B/ E-3/O-1/TN Guidelines

Immigration documents

  • I-94 Arrival/Departure Record: an electronic record of your most recent admission to the U.S. and reflects the date and class of admission, and the expiration date of the period of authorized period of stay. Always check it for accuracy each time you return to the U.S.
  • I-129 petition is filed with USCIS by Columbia University on your behalf. A copy of the I-129 was given to you with your H-1B or O-1 approval notice. If you are in E-3 or TN status you will have an I-129 only if we filed a petition for you in the U.S. (It is more common to obtain TN status at a port of entry and to obtain an E-3 visa directly at a consulate or embassy).
  • I-797 Approval Notice: shows that you are the beneficiary of an employer’s I-129 petition with the period of validity.
  • Labor Condition Application (LCA): The LCA is a formal declaration we filed with the U.S. Department of Labor stating our intention to employ you in H1B or E-3 status in compliance with specific federal employer sponsorship requirements (e.g. wages, work conditions, etc.). The LCA specifies your dates of employment, your minimum annual salary, your job title and employment address. The LCA is required for H-1B and E-3 only.

The paper form is an AR-11. You can change your address with online USCIS tool.

Your status is both employer and job specific. You cannot work for another employer unless they sponsor you.  

  • It is a violation of your status to work or accept honoraria or consultation fees for another employer.

You and your department have to report to us any proposed changes in your employment conditions well in advance of the proposed change (e.g. change in title, hours, duties).

When you travel outside of the U.S., refer to our page on Documents Need to Travel to be sure you have everything you need before leaving the U.S.

Be sure you are admitted in the correct status and for the correct length of time when you return. Your status will end on the date of you I-94 Arrival/departure record. Contact us if you notice an error or data inconsistency.

You may need them for a future immigration application.

Your status is linked to your continuing employment. Remember there is no "grace period", so it is important that you take steps to secure an alternate status or depart the U.S. in a timely manner.

See our Leaving Columbia page.