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Immigration information for admitted students

Form I-20 and F-1 Visa

To enter the United States as an F-1 student, you will need a Columbia College I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Student Status), a valid F-1 visa issued by an American embassy or consulate and a current passport. Have these documents on you person when you enter the United States. If you have questions, please contact the staff at the International Center.

Documents you will need

  1. I-20: Certificate of Eligibility
    The I-20 Certificate of Eligibility form will be sent to you after you have met eligibility requirements to be issued an I-20.
  2. Visa: Permit to enter the U.S.
    A U.S. embassy or consulate will issue your Visa. You must have a valid visa to enter or re-enter the United States, except from Canada, Mexico and the adjacent islands (with some restrictions). So long as you remain in the United States, visa expiration does not impact your ability to travel. A visa is used to enter the United States; if you leave the United States with an expired visa, even for a short time, you must have a current visa before being allowed to re-enter the U.S.
  3. I-94: Arrival-Departure Record The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issues this document in their database when you enter the United States. The I-94 is proof of your legal entry, status and permission to stay in the United States. You may access your I-94 electronically after you enter the U.S. here: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/request.html Please print off a copy of your I-94 card and keep it for your records. Double check that all information is correct.

Maintaining legal F-1 status

You must meet certain obligations to legally stay in the U.S. Failure to maintain your non-immigrant status can result in serious consequences up to and including jail time and deportation.

To keep your F-1 status you must:

  • Maintain a current passport. Your passport should always be at least 6 months valid into the future
  • Maintain a current I-20 (program extensions must be requested from the International Center staff well before the expiration date listed on the I-20 form)
  • Maintain full-time enrollment during the academic year:
    • ESOL Program: 12 credit hours
    • Undergraduate (associate’s or bachelor's degree program) Studies: 12 credit hours
    • Graduate (master's degree program) Studies: 6 credit hours; 3 credit hour minimum for each 8 week session during the fall and spring semesters
    • Do not enroll in too many online courses. See International Center staff if you have questions about this.
  • Limit approved on-campus employment to 20 hours per week during the academic year and 40 hours on holidays or outside the year
  • Do not accept unauthorized employment, either on or off campus
  • Attend classes and maintain satisfactory grades
  • Complete all required procedures if transferring to another institution
  • Notify International Center staff of any changes to your academic program
  • Notify the International Center staff of any changes in your local U.S. address within 10 days of the move

Travel outside the U.S.

If you travel outside the United States, you must have the proper documents to return:

  • A valid, F-1 visa (except if you've been to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands within 30 days, subject to some restrictions)
  • A travel signature from an International Center staff member on the third page of your I-20. This travel signature should be no more than 6 months old when you travel.

Travel to certain countries may require additional documentation. Please contact International Center staff before traveling outside the United States.

Transferring your I-20 to Columbia College

If you previously studied at a U.S. high school or other college or university, and are transferring to Columbia College, report to International Student Services within 10 days of the beginning of your first semester. You will need to present a current I-20 issued from the previous institution, and evidence of full-time enrollment at the other school (e.g., transcript, letter from the Foreign Student Advisor, etc.). Please contact the Admissions Office for further information regarding the transfer process.