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Form I-20 for international students in USA: Requirements, process, samples

MS in USAGetting an admit from a business school or Masters university of your choice in USA definitely calls for a celebration!

After months of seemingly endless hard work you’ve put in to build a strong application and earn your test scores, you surely deserve a pat on the back for having crossed a big milestone.

At this stage, it would also be useful to familiarise yourself with what the U.S. student visa process has in store for you.

You might have come across the term ‘form I-20’. What exactly is an I-20 form? What is the full form of I-20? When and why is it required? What are the documentation requirements and process? How does the I-20 fit into the picture in the entire visa application process? Where can I see PDF samples of I-20 form?

We cover all these questions in this article.

Form I-20 Requirements

Procedural Requirement:

The basic requirement for getting an I-20 is to get admitted to a SEVP – (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) certified, full-time government – approved college or university in the US.

What is SEVP?

SEVP monitors F and M students as well as their dependents during their stay in the US. SEVP works together along with other government partners to make sure that the international student follows all the rules and regulations. Hence, to facilitate this, it is mandatory that international students get enrolled in programs offered by SEVP-certified schools.

SEVP manages and make use of the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) which is an internet-based system that stores data about international students and the institution they attend.

Documentation Requirement:

The second requirement for the student in order to obtain the I-20 is to complete the required financial documentation.

Once this is done, the student’s name and other required information is entered into the SEVIS database. This database is then processed and the I-20 is created.

The I-20 is then printed by the DSO (Designated School Official) of the concerned institution. It is then signed and delivered to the student.

This form I-20 is also known as a Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status (for F and M visas).

The I-20 is a code (like many of the visa related terminology). It does not have a full form.

Types of I-20: Difference between F1 and M1 visa

Students who enroll themselves for an academic program with a core academic curriculum usually qualify for an F1 visa whereas those who get enrolled in a vocational program without a core academic curriculum attend the program on the M1 visa.

Students under both the above non-immigrant visa status would receive the form I-20 from their respective institutions.

SEVIS fee payment

Each Form I-20 has a SEVIS ID number. The SEVIS consists of a record of foreign students and exchange visitors before and during their stay in the United States. In order to register your SEVIS number into the database, you have to pay a SEVIS fee to the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

The SEVIS fee receipt needs to be carried along as proof when you attend the visa interview and also during your entry to the US. Your spouse and children accompanying you to the US also need to obtain their individual I-20 to get an F-2 dependent status, however they do not need to pay a SEVIS fee.

I-20 validity

As per regulations, your I-20 needs to be valid throughout the period of your study. The date of completion on your I-20 is usually an estimated date. However, for certain reasons, if you are not able to complete the course before the date on the I-20, you have to request for an extension before the expiration date.

The date of issue of the F-1 and M-1 visa can be up to 120 days before your program start date. However, you’re allowed to enter the US not earlier than 30 days before the start date mentioned on your I-20.

Use of I-20

Once you receive your I-20 from your institution, you are ready to schedule your F-1 visa appointment in your country with the US embassy or consulate. You need to apply 120 days before the date mentioned on your I-20. Both the F-1 visa and I-20 need to be carried along while entering the U.S.

Whenever you travel abroad during the course of your study and you’ll be travelling back to the US, make sure you carry the I-20 along. The I-20 is also an important document while applying for a social security number or a driver’s license.

The I-20 would also need to be produced before your employer in case you land a job on or off-campus. The information related to your off-campus job would be printed on page 3 of your I-20. Students on F-1 are able to work for a maximum of twenty hours a week during term and full-time during vacations.

After completion of your study course, you are permitted a grace period of 60 days during which you can change your status or depart from the US. Those intending to work in the US under the OPT (Optional Practical Training) need to make sure to apply for it on time i.e. not later than 90 days before the program completion date.

Read this article for more information about the OPT.

I-20 Form Sample PDF

What we’ve mentioned above may seem quite technical and complex. The easier way to understand what it really means would be by downloading a sample PDF of the I-20 form (or viewing it online) and checking its contents.

Note: As of June 2015, the I 20 Form has been redesigned, deeming the older version invalid. Students are advised to keep their older version, for record purposes, but update to the newer version (without the barcode) through their Designated School Official (DSO). This will be required for traveling and for government related documentations like SSN, DL, etc. Here is a link to the redesigned version – link.

Here’s are a few links for you to use as reference:
– Sample I-20 Form (PDF) for F1 type: link
– Sample I-20 Form (GIF) for M1 type: link

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About Swati
After working for over a decade in technical and managerial roles in the corporate world, Swati now works as a freelancer and writes on a variety of topics including education, career guidance and self-improvement.

7 thoughts on “Form I-20 for international students in USA: Requirements, process, samples”

  1. Hi,

    I have completed B.Tech. in ECE branch. I have been placed in Deloitte now. My query is if one has to do MS in Computer Science after doing BTech in ECE, they seem to have prerequisites in computer. To fulfill these prerequisites, working in Deloitte is enough or one needs to take some other special courses.

  2. Hi,

    I have done my engg in EnTC in 2008, since than i having a seven years of experience. Now,I want to move forward in career, don’t want to stick at one place.So, I started my GRE preparation, My doubt is can I apply for direct Phd or for MS is better than direct Phd.

  3. Hii sameer sir..
    I’m a student studing in junier collage..and also prepareing for jee !! And its my dream to complete ms from top US universities!! And I’m biggest follower of Mr.Sunder pichai..can u plzz suggest me what type of preparation should I do…

  4. Hello,
    I am a Computer Science Engineering graduate from a government college of Kerala University. Right now I am placed in Wipro and waiting for the call. I have 83.6% in 10th, 84% in 12th and 7.24 CGPA in Btech. I would like to know how should I plan to build up my profile for doing a MS in robotics or artificial intelligence abroad. I plan to work in wipro for a year and do MS but I want to build up my profile accordingly so that I am accepted in a very reputed university abroad. I am very keen on specializing in robotics field but I am just confused on how to put up a road map for next few years in order to achieve it like getting recommendation letters, publications and research papers. I have no idea of how to get projects regarding robotics, where could I get courses programs or internships regarding it. It would be a great help. Thank You.

  5. @Rohitash: Academic pre-requisites cannot generally be compensated by practical experience. However, if you can demonstrate (by sharing the right evidence) that you have expertise in that area and it will not be a stumbling block during your MS studies, admission officers may consider it and grant you an exception.

    @Kamlesh: You are consider 2 degress that are radically different from each other when it comes to the eligibility requirements, the experience during the course and the job opportunities. Take some time to research both and decide if either of them will get you to your goals.

    @Saurabh: This should help you start off:

    @Shruti: Short projects and publications are good, but nothing beats having actual hands on experience in any field to show your interest and expertise. That may be difficult since (I assume) you’ve been selected at Wipro for a specific division. You can try moving internally into the team that you like, but it’ll be tough.

  6. Few quick queries wrt Undergrad Engg
    -Cheapest and convenient education loan in India?
    -US employment opportunities for International students for specific Engineering Majors. Best fit Major?
    -Financial Requirements for VISA.
    -US non ivy league vs top Canadian Universities wrt Cost and Employment opportunities for Engineering. In the current climate what are the advantages and disadvantages of both

  7. My STEM OPT is about to expire in June 2019. Which part time courses can I apply to be able to get an I20?


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