Getting 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
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.
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.
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.