FAQs

Frequently asked questions


New Students


On June 23, President Thomas Bailey announced that instruction for fall classes would be delivered online. The College’s administration is taking all precautions to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff. To that end, we are following the guidance from the scientific community, while continuing our tradition of excellence.  

New students who will be engaging in distance learning from their home country, are not required to enroll full-time. Since we will not be issuing them a Form I-20 and they will not hold F-1 status, those students may register for as little or as many points as their program allows. 

 

Students who are currently in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status must enroll full-time in the fall in order to maintain legal status, even though classes will be offered online. If you are transferring your SEVIS record to Teachers College, you will be required to enroll in a minimum of 12 points in the fall in order to maintain lawful status in the U.S. 

Now that we have announced that fall instruction will be online, you cannot longer use the Form I-20 or DS-2019 that was issued with an August 2020 program start date. We will automatically defer the start date of all fall I-20s and DS-2019s to January, except the those that were issued to students who are currently in the U.S. and who are transferring their SEVIS record to Teachers College 

Since we are only offering classes online for the fall term, we will not be able to issue the Form I-20 or DS-2019 for new students. However, you will be able to begin your program in your home country by enrolling online. We will be able to transfer the SEVIS records of students currently in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status. 

Since this summer term is online, you do not need a form I-20 to enroll in classes. Once you are ready to enter the U.S. and enroll in face-to-courses, you can request an I-20.  You should be sure to contact the office of admissions to ensure that they move your admission term to the summer. 

 

If you are currently present in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status, we do not recommend that you travel until after the transfer of your SEVIS record has been finalized. Your SEVIS record is not fully transferred until the fall term begins and we register you in SEVIS. You should also keep in mind that the U.S. consulates are still not processing visa applications and that there are various travel bans in place.  Once you exit the U.S., there is no guarantee of when you will be able to obtain a visa or when will be able to return because of travel restrictions. 

If the summer is your first semester and you will be engaging in distance learning from your home country, you are not required to enroll full-time and we will not be issuing a Form I-20 for entry to the U.S.

If you are currently in the U.S. in F-1 status, are transferring your SEVIS record to TC,  and you are requesting a program start date in the summer, you are required to enroll full-time. 

 

Due to the current health crisis, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is temporarily allowing schools to send the form I-20 electronically to students. You can use the electronic copy to apply for the F-1 visa and to enter the U.S. 

 

If you are unable to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. by September, you may begin your studies online from your home country. We would then issue an I-20 for you to enter the U.S. in the spring 2021.  If you wish to defer your program start date to the spring, you must contact the TC Office of Admissions directly for guidance. You can reach them at admissions@tc.columbia.edu

 

It is not necessary for you to exit the U.S. if your visa is expired. Simply be sure to transfer your SEVIS record to TC within 60 days of completion of your program or end of post-completion OPT. As long as your SEVIS record is active and you are enrolled full-time every required term, you can legally remain in the U.S. A new visa is only needed if you choose to exit the U.S. and it can only be issued at a U.S. consulate or embassy.

 

Continuing Students


If you are in the U.S. in F-1 status, you are required to enroll full-time in the fall semester. At TC, 12 points is equivalent to full-time enrollment. If you are outside the U.S. you are not required to enroll full-time, but your SEVIS record would be terminated and you would have to reaply for an initial I-20 in order to return to the U.S. in F-1 status. Please be sure to familiarize yourself with the full-time enrollment requirements outlined on the OISS website. 

 

If you have completed all requirements for your program, you have a 60-day grace period during which you can  1) apply for OPT, 2) apply for a change of status to another nonimmigrant classification, 3) be admitted to another program, 4) exit the U.S. If you choose to change status to B1/B2, we recommend that you consult an attorney. 

 

If you chose to take a leave of absence in the fall 2020 for personal reasons, we would be required to terminate your SEVIS record and you would be required to exit the U.S. or change your status to another nonimmigrant classification. You can then apply for a new I-20 to reenter the U.S. in spring 2021. 

 

If you wish to maintain your F-1 or J-1 status valid, you will be required to enroll full-time in the fall, even though classes will be online. Please note that this is contingent upon authorization from the federal government. As of today, the Department of Homeland Security has not released any guidance in regards to how they plan on handling the enrollment of international students at institutions that will be online for the fall semester. We suspect that they will handle fall enrollment in the same way in which they handled the spring 2020 and that international students will be allowed to remain in status while engaging in distance learning. 

 

International Travel


To obtain a travel signature, you must complete the Travel Request eForm via TC-Compass. We will then reprint your form I-20, sign it, and mail it to you. You can request that the I-20 be sent to you by express mail via eSHIP Global or you can request and electronic copy. 

 

If you need a new visa, we do not recommend that you travel outside the U.S. until you are confident that the U.S. consulates and embassies abroad have fully reopened and that you will be able to obtain a new visa. TC and the OISS have not received any official word on when the consulates will start processing visas again. In addition, you should be aware of the various travel restrictions impossed by the U.S. government and other countries. For additional information about country specific travel restrictions, please visit the U.S. Department of State Website. 

 

The federal government has temporarily suspended the 5-month Temporary Absence rule. If you left the U.S. because of the health crisis and you return to the U.S. in September, you will still be considered to be holding F-1 or J-1 status. We are still wainting for the federal government to confirm that the suspension of the rule will be extended through the fall semester. We will notify all students as soon as futher guidance is provided. 

 

To obtain a travel signature, you must complete the Travel Request eForm via TC-Compass. We will then reprint your form I-20, sign it, and mail it to you.

 

Employment


Under current guidance from the USCIS, you must be physically present in the U.S. in order to apply for OPT. 

 

We know that it might be difficult for international students to find employment at this time. Under current Post-completion OPT rules, volunteer activities can be considered as employment by the USCIS, provided the activity is in your field of studies. Be sure to document any volunteer activities that you may engage in, as you may have to provide that documentation to the USCIS. 

 

Yes, remote work is permitted as long as the employer allows it. 

 

We cannot extend your form I-20 in order to allow you to apply for OPT. We strongly recommend that you do not exit the U.S. until after you have submitted the application for OPT to the USCIS. 

 

Although there may be talks of revamping OPT at the federal level, no decision has been made yet. TC and the OISS are following this development closely and will notify students immediately if there are any changes to the OPT policy. On June 23, 2020, President Trump released a Proclamation suspending the entry of individuals in H and L, status, and certain J categories. F-1 students and J-1s in the researcher, professor, and student categories were excluded from the Proclamation. 

 

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