Passport • All scholars must keep their passports valid at least six months into the future at all times. You may obtain extensions of your passport through the nearest consulate or embassy of your country. The ISSO or the IAO will provide you with any appropriate documents your government may require.
Entry Visa • The entry visa is a machine-readable stamp in your passport issued by an United States consul abroad. It authorizes you to apply for admission into the United States at a port of entry. All international scholars (with the exception of Canadian nationals) are required to have a valid entry visa in their passport at the time of entry into the United States. Your visa specifies the type of immigration status you will hold (H-1, J-1, etc.), the date until which you may enter the United States, and the number of entries you may make before you must apply for a new entry visa. The length of validity of each visa type is determined by an agreement between your home country and the United States government and is not necessarily tied to the length of your program of study.
Application for a new entry visa must be made in person at a United States consulate outside the United States. The validity period of your entry visa does not determine the length of time you may remain in the United States after you enter. Your length of stay is determined by the completion date on your DS-2019 or your I-94 Card (see below) expiration date, whichever is earlier.
I-94 Card • This is a record of your nonimmigrant status and permission to stay in the United States. It is a small white card, known as the I-94 card, given to you by an immigration official when you enter the United States that has “I-94 departure record” written in the top left under the eleven digit number. The I-94 card is your most important immigration document as establishes your J-1, H-1, O-1, or TN immigration status in the United States. The I-94 card also notes the date and port of your arrival in the United States, and the date until which you have permission to stay. The notation “D/S,” indicating “Duration of Status,” refers to the completion date on the certificate of eligibility (the DS-2019) given to those who wish to enter the United States in J-1 status. Those in H-1, O ot TN status have a specific date by which they must either (1) leave the United States, (2) extend their status, or (3) change to another status. The I-94 Card is also called the Arrival/Departure form because each time you enter the United States you receive a new form, and each time you leave the country you surrender your I-94 card. Only in the case of short trips of fewer than thirty days to Canada, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean do you keep this form. The I-94 card is an important form and it is difficult to replace; we recommend that you make a photocopy of both sides of the form to keep separately in case you need to replace it.
Immigration Status • Your immigration status, e.g. H-1, B-2, J-1, etc., is determined at the time of entry into the United States by an immigration official and is noted on the I-94 Card. Your immigration status is generally the same as your entry visa classification. On arrival in the United States, the customs or immigration official retains the Arrival portion of the I-94 card, notes your immigration status (nonimmigrant classification such as H-1, J-1 etc.) on the Departure portion, and gives you the I-94 (Departure) card. Unlike your entry visa, your immigration status may be changed in the United States.
Those in J-1 (Researcher or Professor category) are allowed to stay for up to five consecutive years in that status. Those in H-1 status are allowed to stay a total of six years in H status but will only be approved for a maximum of five years at a time. O status can initially be granted for three years and can be renewed indefinitely in one-year increments by application to DHS.
I-797 Notice of Action • This is a one-page form issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) when an H-1 or O-1 I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker has been approved. It provides the dates of validity, and indicates if (1) a change of status has been approved, (2) an extension of status has been approved, or (3) a notification has been sent to the consulate listed on the petition.
SEVIS – SEVIS is an acronym for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is a data collection and monitoring system that creates an interface between institutions of higher education, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), consulates and embassies abroad, and ports of entry. Schools are required to make regular electronic updates in SEVIS throughout each semester on the records of enrolled students in F-1 and J-1 status-and their dependents-and researchers and faculty in J-1 status. This includes, but is not limited to enrollment status, changes in address, changes in level of study, employment recommendations, and school transfers.
Certificate of Visa Eligibility (Form DS-2019) • Scholars coming to the University in J-1 status will receive a Certificate of Visa Eligibility (DS-2019). This document certifies eligibility for an entry visa and must be shown to an immigration official at the time of entry into the United States in order to enter in J-1 status. The Certificate of Visa Eligibility for Nonimmigrant J-1 Exchange Visitor Status is commonly known as the DS-2019. This is the document issued by the program sponsor, i.e., the university, government agency or other organization sponsoring the visit, for presentation at a United States consulate abroad to obtain a J-1 Exchange Visitor entry visa. Those in J-1 status must also present the DS-2019 to a United States immigration official upon entry into the United States. The completion date on the DS-2019 must not expire if there is to be an extension of the original program. Notification of an extension of the program must be made to the United States Department of State (DOS), the government agency that regulates J Exchange Visitor activities. The maximum length of stay in J-1 Researcher or Professor category is usually three years. The DS-2019, when properly recertified by an ISSO or IAO adviser, serves (for the period of its validity) as a reentry document after short trips abroad. We urge you to make copies of all pages of any DS-2019 stamped by Immigration upon entry into the U.S. and store these separately. Retain these originals for your records.
Duration of Status (D/S) • Those in J-1 status are admitted with the notation “D/S,” indicating “Duration of Status,” on the I-94 card. Duration of status is the period of time in which the J-1 Exchange Visitor continues to be engaged in the employment or research activity as reflected on the DS-2019 (in section 3, which covers the dates of validity, and section 4, which describes the scholar’s activity). At the conclusion of the J-1 program, those in J-1 status have an additional thirty-day “grace period” in which to travel in the United States and/or prepare for departure. Those in H-1 or O-1 status are admitted to the United States until a date specified on the I-94 card.
Foreign Residence Requirement • Scholars in J-1 immigration status and their dependents may be subject to a “foreign residence requirement.” J-1 scholars who receive direct or indirect United States or home government funding, or who are working in fields for which personnel are considered in short supply in their home countries (most developing nations have “Country Skills” lists of varying lengths), are ineligible to apply for a change to most other nonimmigrant statuses (except A or G) or permanent residence in the United States until they have satisfied the “two-year home country physical presence requirement.”
Only those in J-1 status with government funding or whose skills are on the Country Skills List are subject to the foreign residence requirement. This means that, upon completion of the program of study, they must reside in their country of last legal permanent residence for two years before they are eligible to apply for entry into the United States on an immigrant visa or on specialized work visas (H or L). There is no foreign residence requirement for those in any other nonimmigrant status.
Medical Insurance • Scholars in J-1 status and their dependents are required to have comprehensive medical coverage in order to fulfill U.S. government regulations governing the J Exchange Visitor status. Currently Columbia University offers a comprehensive medical insurance package for full-time employees, which covers all requirements for those in J immigration status. Check with your departmental administrator to see what benefits you qualify for. If you purchase insurance other than the insurance offered through the University for your dependents or yourself, it may cost as much as $3,000 per year in excess of the usual living expenses. Refer to the section Overview of Health Insurance in the United Statesfor more information.
Social Security Numbers • United States federal regulations require that all persons who are employed in this country have a Social Security number. The University requires a Social Security number, or a receipt that application has been made, in order to be processed for the payroll. If you do not have a Social Security number, you must apply for one at a Social Security office as soon as you arrive in the United States, as you are not allowed to do so abroad as a nonimmigrant.