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Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Office of International Services

Visa Basics > Application for Visa Certificate

Application for Visa Certificate

Now that you have been admitted to a full-time program of study at Teachers College, you will need to take steps to prepare and submit an Application for Visa Certificate (AVC) to request either a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from Teachers College. The Office of International Services (OIS) is responsible for processing AVCs and issuing I-20s or DS-2019s on behalf of Teachers College.

A Form I-20 is necessary to apply for an F-1 student visa and to enter the U.S. as an F-1 student. A Form DS-2019 is necessary to apply for a J-1 Exchange Visitor (student) visa and to enter the U.S. as a J-1 student.

Do I need to submit an AVC to Teachers College?

Submit an AVC to the Office of International Services only if you require TC's immigration sponsorship to enter or remain in the U.S. as an F-1 or J-1 student. You do not need to submit an AVC to the OIS if:

  •     You plan to hold (or currentlly hold) another non-immigrant status (e.g., J-2, G-4, H-4, etc.) that permits you to study while in the U.S.
  •     You will be sponsored by an external J-1 Exchange Visitor Program and will receive a Form DS-2019 from a sponsoring agency such as IIE / Fulbright, AMIDEAST, or LASPAU.
  •     You will be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident by the time you begin studies at Teachers College.

If you hold or expect to hold an immigration status other than F-1 or J-1 student status, please notify the OIS at tcintl@tc.columbia.edu. For more information, see below.

Procedure for Obtaining Form I-20 / Form DS-2019

To qualify for a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from Teachers College, you must:

Step 1. Obtain a copy of our Application for Visa Certificate (AVC) form.


You may download a copy of the AVC from the Forms section of our website:
    Application for Visa Certifcate (to access the form you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can download the Reader for free.)

Review all information on the form, including the documentation checklist and financial and affadavit requirements.

Step 2. Determine whether you will apply for a Form I-20 (for F-1 status) or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 status).

The vast majority of TC's international students apply for F-1 student status. F-1 students are typically funded through personal or family savings or by private, individual sponsors. J-1 student status is granted to persons who receive substantial funding from institutional or organizational sources, such as U.S. or home government scholarships, home-country universities or employers, or Teachers College. Other substantial differences between F-1 and J-1 status include the following:

  •     F-1 students receive a Form I-20 from Teachers College. J-1 students may receive a Form DS-2019 either from Teachers College or from another J-1 sponsoring organization, such as IIE / Fulbright, AMIDEAST, or LASPAU.
  •     J-1 exchange visitors and J-2 dependents must carry full health insurance while in the United States meeting US Department of State requirements
  •     J-1 exchange visitors and J-2 dependents may be subject to a "two-year" home residency requirement; if subject, they are required to return to their country of permanent residence for at least two years following completion before becoming eligible for U.S. permanent residency or certain kinds of U.S. working visas
  •     The J-2 dependent spouse of a J-1 exchange visitor may apply for employment authorization and/or engage in study. F-2 dependents are not permitted to work, and F-2 spouses cannot study.

Step 3.  Prepare and submit your AVC to the Office of International Services. 

The AVC should be submitted only AFTER you have been admitted to a full-time program of study at TC. Do not submit an AVC with your application for admission - we can only process AVCs for students who have been admitted to a full-time program at TC. Follow instructions on the AVC and provide all required documents as indicated on the form. The OIS cannot process an AVC unless all required documents as indicated on the AVC have been submitted and approved.

Step 4.  Submit an F-1 Transfer Information Form (only if you are already have F-1 status at another U.S. institution). 

If you are already in the U.S. in F-1 status at another institution, and intend to enroll at Teachers College, you must submit an F-1 Transfer Information Form to Teachers College in addition to your AVC. Please go to the F-1 Transfer Process page of this web site for more information.

Once your AVC has been submitted and approved, the OIS will issue a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 to you. AVC processing usually takes 7 to 10 business days (see our AVC FAQs for more information about AVC processing). You will receive further information regarding I-20 / DS-2019 document delivery, visa and immigration procedures, and other important matters once the I-20 or DS-2019 has been prepared and made available for delivery.

Helpful Hints and Information

Sending Your Documents.

If you have already been admitted to Teachers College, send the AVC and your financial documents directly to the Office of International Services. Do NOT send AVC-related documents to the Office of Admission, your academic department, or other offices. We cannot guarantee that documents sent to other offices will be processed in a timely manner. Our mailing address is: Office of International Services, TC Box 007, 525 W. 120th St. New York, NY 10027. You may also send documents by express / courier service to: Office of International Services, L5 Whittier Hall, 1230 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027. For faster service, documents may be faxed to 212-678-3990 attn: International Services. You may also email your documents to us.

Keep Your Original Documents.

When sending your documents, we recommend that you keep all originals and send only copies to the OIS. The OIS may ask for originals if necessary, but in most cases copies will be sufficient. If you send originals, please be sure to keep copies of any documents that you send to our office. We cannot be responsible for returning any documents sent to us.

Processing Time.

Documents will be processed after May 31st for newly admitted fall students and after September 31st for newly admitted spring students. Once the OIS receives your AVC and all supporting documents, and we begin reviewing and processing your submitted documents according to the processing schedule, it will take  approximately 7-10 business days to issue a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, assuming that no additional information is required, your tuition deposit has been received and processed and (if you already hold F-1 status at another school) your F-1 transfer 'release date' has been reached. Your document will be sent to your mailing address, as indicated on your AVC, by first class mail or international airmail, free of charge. Express service is available for a fee (consult the fee schedule on the AVC form or contact the OIS at tcintl@tc.columbia.edu).

When You Receive Your I-20 or DS-2019 Certificate.

When you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, please read any enclosed information carefully. You are responsible for maintaining lawful student status while you are a student in the United States. Immigration regulations change from time to time, so you should attend the informational meetings related to F-1 or J-1 status sponsored by the OIS, and ask the OIS staff if you have any questions about what you can and cannot do while you are an F-1 or J-1 student.



If you are in or plan to enter the United States in another non-immigrant status, you may or may not need to obtain F-1 or J-1 student status in order to study at Teachers College. For example, most dependents (such as H-4 dependents) are permitted to study while accompanying their family members in the U.S. However, many non-immigrant statuses carry immigration restrictions on employment that may make it desirable to seek F-1 status. Contact the Office of International Services at tcintl@tc.columbia.edu with specific information about your individual situation. Some typical situations include the following:
The following immigration classifications are not permitted to study or to lawfully accept employment while in the U.S.:
  •     Tourists (individuals admitted in WT / WB or B-1 / B-2 status) are not eligible to study while in the United States, but must obtain F-1 or J-1 status as appropriate.
  •     F-2 dependent spouses are not permitted to pursue academic study but must switch to F-1 or J-1 status as appropriate.
The following immigration classifications are permitted to study, but may not lawfully accept employment while in the U.S.:
  •     H-4 dependents of H-1 temporary workers
  •     TD dependents of TN (NAFTA) workers
The following immigration classifications are permitted to study full or part-time, and may apply for employment authorization incident to their status:
  •     Dependents in E-2 or L-2 status
  •     Dependents in G-4 status
  •     Dependent spouses in J-2 status
If you are the primary visa holder and your immigration status depends on employment (as a A-1 diplomat, H-1 temporary specialty occupation worker, G-4 international organization employee, etc.), you will need to switch to F-1 or J-1 status if you decide to terminate your employment. Otherwise, in most cases you may study 'incident to status,' i.e., as long as you continue to fulfill the terms and obligations or your current immigration status.


Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
Box 7, 525 W 120th Street
New York, New York 10027-6696
Phone: (212) 678-3939 ♦ ~ Fax: (212) 678-3990 ♦ Email: