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What is the I-20 Form?

You’ve finished with all of the applications and have been accepted to a college in the United States.  As a foreign student, you are required to submit certain forms in order to get your student visa.   One of these is the I-20 form.

 

What is the I-20 Form?

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of keeping track of foreigners in the country.  They have a specific department in charge of keeping tabs on students.  This department is known as SEVP – or the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.   SEVP uses a system called SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) to keep track of foreign students in the country.

The I-20, also known as Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status-For Academic and Language Students, is basically a paper version of the SEVIS record.   As a foreign student, you will need to present the I-20 form in certain situations and update it as required.

i-20 form example

Example I-20 form

 

Who Needs a Form I-20?

The form I-20 is only for F-1, F-2, M-1, and M-2 statuses.

  • F-1 Status: For students who attend an academic or English-language program in the USA.
  • F-2 Status: This is for dependents (children, spouses) of an F-1 visa holder.
  • M-1 Status: For students who attend a vocational or technical school.
  • M-2 Status: This is for dependents of the M-1 visa holder.

If you are in the United States on another visa and decide to study, you do not need to get an I-20 form.  Your current visa status is adequate.

 

How Can I Get an I-20 Form?

After getting preliminary acceptance to a certified school in the United States, you will be given an Affidavit of Support form to fill out.  Note that some schools call the form something different, like Undergraduate Sponsor Statement. 

On the form, you will need to provide proof that you or your sponsor (which is probably your parents) have enough funds to cover the costs of your stay in the United States.   This typically means that you will need to get an official statement from your bank.

After submitting the Affidavit of Support form, the school will review it.  If you are approved, they will give you a form I-20.

 

When Do I Need the I-20 Form?

The I-20 form is very important and you will need it for various things, including:

  • When paying your I-901 SEVIS fee
  • At your visa application interview
  • When entering the United States for the first time
  • When traveling abroad (you need it to re-enter the US!)
  • When applying for a driver’s license in the US
  • During the hiring process for a job

 

How Long Is My I-20 Valid?

Your I-20 form will list the date when your studies are to begin.  You may enter the United States up to 30 days before this date.

When you enter the United States, you will be given a Form I-94.  This form will have an expiration date on it, or “D/S” (Duration of Status).  The expiration date will be the date your I-20 form indicates that the program will end. At this point, you will lose your student visa status and must leave the United States within 60 days.

 

What if I Lose My I-20 Form?

If you lose your I-20 form, you can request a new one from the school.  However, it can take a few weeks for it to arrive.  This can be very problematic if you lose the I-20 form outside of the USA.  For example, if you lose your I-20 form while visiting family in your home country during school break, you won’t be able to re-enter the United States until you get your I-20 form.  You could end up missing classes while waiting for your new I-20 form to arrive!

 

When Do I Need a New I-20 Form?

There are two situations when you will need to get a new I-20 form:

  1. When SEVIS makes changes to the I-20 form
  2. When your student status changes

For example, SEVIS may request new information.  If this happens, then your school will issue you a new I-20 form.

Or, you might decide to change schools, switch from a full-time to part-time student, or take a leave of absence from school.  All of these are considered a change of your status and you’ll have to update your I-20.  You can get a new I-20 from the school.

Make sure you keep ALL of your I-20 forms.  You will only need to show the most recent I-20 form though, such as when traveling or applying for a driver’s license.

 

Still confused?  Read this step-by-step guide to the student visa process.

 

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