Frequently asked questions

New Students

F-1 New/Initial students may apply for the F-1 visa and enter the United States to enroll in a U.S. school for the Spring 2021 term to pursue a full course of study that is not 100% online. Your program is not considered to be 100% online if you are enrolled at least in one in-person or hybrid course. This adjustment is subject to change. We are monitoring the directives from USCIS closely and inform the community as soon as any changes (if any) will have been made.

While most classes will be offered remotely, some courses will be offered in-person or have an in-person component. Students should consult their academic advisor for information on in-person or hybrid courses available in their program. 

Initial students who are outside the U.S. can obtain a Form I-20 provided they will not be pursuing a program of studies that is fully or 100% online. If your program is 100% online, we will not be issuing you Form I-20 for the Spring 2021 term. 

If you are currently in the U.S. in F-1 status, we can issue you an I-20 and transfer your SEVIS record to TC regardless of whether your program is 100% online or a hybrid of in-person and online courses. 

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. 

New students planning to enter the U.S. the U.S. in F-1 status, as well as those who are currently in the U.S. in F-1 status, are required to enroll full-time in the U.S. 


Students who are currently in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status must enroll full-time in the Spring 2021 term in order to maintain legal status. 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. 

You can use the form I-20 that was previously issued to you only if you are pursuing a program that is not 100% online. 

If you are currently in the U.S. and you were issued a "Transfer Pending" I-20, your program start date will remain the same. 

You do not need a Form I-20 to begin your studies remotely while residing in your home country. You are also not required to enroll full-time if you are pursuing your studies remotely from your home country. 


If you are currently 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 Spring 2021 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 (or processing them with significant delays) 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. We recommend that you visit the U.S. Department of State website for the most up-to-date information on travel bans and restrictions. 

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. 


We hope that you will choose to begin your program remotely, as we are committed to providing you with the highest quality in instruction. If you wish to defer your program start date to Fall 2021, 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

Yes, you can return to the U.S. to resume your studies even if all your classes are online, provided that you have a valid F-1 visa and a valid I-20 with a travel signature. 

Yes. Current guidance from ICE allows us to keep active the SEVIS record of any continuing F-1 student who is enrolled full-time, even if that student will be pursuing their studies abroad. 

Continuing students are expected to enroll full-time (12 points or more) in the spring, if they wish to keep their SEVIS record active and their status valid. If you choose to take a Personal Leave of Absence (LOA) in the spring or if you choose to enroll for less than full-time, we are required to terminate your SEVIS record. Students wishing to take a personal LOA should contact the Office of the Registrar for guidance. 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 spring 2021 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 fall 2021. 


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 email it to you. You can request that the I-20 be sent to you by express mail via eSHIP Global (having provided us with a prepaid label). 


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. The U.S. Department of State announced on July 14th that it would resume routine visa services in stages. Services will be updated on a post-by-post basis. While there is no specific date for when all posts will reopen, DOS recommends visiting individual post's websites for additional information. READ MORE HERE.. 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 will continue to pursue your studies full-time remotely,  you will still be considered to be holding F-1 status. However, this temporary adjustment is subject to change. We will monitor the directives from the U.S. Government closely and will bring you the updates promptly. 


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 email it to you.



Under current guidance from the USCIS, you must be physically present in the U.S. in order to apply for OPT. If you are currently in your home country, you must return to the U.S. prior to completion of your program in order to qualify 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. 


Yes. Continuing/returning students can reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, even if  their program will be fully online, provided they have a valid Form I-20, a valid F-1 visa, and their SEVIS record is active. 

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