What is an I-20 form? All you need to know

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Are you one of the students searching for accurate information regarding the I-20 form that is also simple to understand? Are you looking for a thorough explanation of the I-20 document because you want to get your student I-20 visa as quickly as possible? You’re in the correct place. In order to help you understand the worth of the I-20 form and all the other requirements you’re supposed to be aware of before pursuing higher education in the US, AfterschoolAfrica provides this guide.

What is an I-20 Form? 

The I-20 form for international students on an F-1 student visa or M-1 student visa is a Certificate of Eligibility given by approved institutions or universities in the US that is required for a student visa in the country. Obtaining a student visa requires you to complete the form, which serves as proof that you are an actual student registered to attend school in the US. Depending on the kind of US student visa, you can work on or off campus after receiving your visa. 

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In addition, you can apply for a driver’s license and a Social Security number once you have your visa (pending visa and work status).

The designated school official (DSO) at the college or university where you intend to enroll will give you an I-20 form once you have been admitted to a US college or university that has been approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The I-20 form for student visas in the USA must be signed and given to you by the DSO. The DSO will make the necessary modifications via SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Details System) if you want to alter the details on your I-20 form student visa. 

International students receive one of two of them, depending on the kind of visa they have:

  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrants (F-1) Student Status: This is for academic and language students.
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrants (M-1) Student Status: This is for vocational students.

The information is the same even if the two I-20 forms are for various academic programs. When you get your I-20, the following details will be added to SEVIS:

  • SEVIS ID number
  • Academic program start and end dates
  • Intended program of study
  • Funding sources
  • Cost of attendance at your school of choice
  • Other personal information

While you are studying abroad in the US, it’s crucial that you keep your I-20 form with you. Note that there is more information about the I-20 form on DHS.gov.

Requirements for the I-20 Form

The following visa requirements must be fulfilled in order to obtain an I-20 application form:

  • Get accepted to an accredited college or university. First, your application must be approved by the institution or university you applied to. The organization must hold SEVP certification.
  • Make sure your information is correct and up-to-date. Your personal information must be accurate, and the school you are attending must vouch for your financial capability to cover your living expenses while you are studying there.

Read more about the I-20 student visa form on State.gov.

What does an I-20 form look like?

An I-20 form, issued by the Department of Homeland Security in the United States, is a document that is full of essential details. 

Everything is listed there, including your imprinted SEVIS ID and information about your institution, course of study, and finances.

Additionally, comprehensive policy standards for your time in the US as an international student are fully outlined. It is strongly advised that you read over each of the points listed in the 1–20 text individually.

Take a look at this example I-20 form document:

Source: dhs.gov

What is the I-901 SEVIS fee?

You must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee after being admitted to a US college or university in order to receive your F-1 or M-1 student visa. You’ll need to have your I-20 form on hand in order to complete the payment.

If you are, then you must pay the SEVIS cost.

  • F-1 or M-1 student with a visa from a nation where obtaining a visa is necessary to enter the US
  • F-1 or M-1 visa student from a visa-waiver country (before you seek admission at a US port of entry)
  • A non-immigrant in the US who wishes to change your non-immigrant status to F-1 or M-1 status (before applying for a change of non-immigrant status)
  • F-1 or M-1 student who has been out of status for more than five months
  • F-1 or M-1 student who has been away from the US for more than five months and wishes to re-enter the US for higher studies in the same course of study

Visit the DHS.gov site for more information about the SEVIS fee.

To pay the I-901 SEVIS fee, you need to provide your:

  • Name, address, date of birth, and email address
  • Country of birth and country of citizenship
  • Your school code, as stated on your form
  • Your SEVIS identification number as listed on the form

Note that you must keep the I-901 SEVIS fee receipt you receive after paying it and bring it with you to your visa interview as proof of payment. Before entering the US, the I-901 SEVIS fee must be paid.

What is the processing time of the I-20 Form?

The I-20 form will take 5-7 business days to process in 2023.

How Do I Get My I-20 Form?

You must first get the I-20 form, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, in order to enter the US if you’re applying for an F-1 or M-1 student visa. 

#1. Your designated school official (DSO) will give you your I-20 form once you have been admitted to a college or university that is SEVP-certified. 

#2. You will be registered in SEVIS and have to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee once your application has been accepted by the school that has received SEVP approval. 

#3. The institution or university will provide you with an I-20 form once you have registered. You may enter the US up to 30 days before the start of your academic program, as stated on the form.

#4. Your F-1 or M-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date of your program.

Who needs an I-20 form?

As a required document that proves your eligibility for an F-1 student visa or M-1 student visa status in the United States, the I-20 student visa form must be kept with you during your US study program. 

You need an I-20 form if you are an international student who is:

  • Non-immigrant who has never attended a school or university in the United States
  • Non-immigrant wishing to transfer from a secondary school, college, or university in the US
  • Non-immigrant: changing your current visa status to a F-1 visa
  • Non-immigrant returning from a leave of absence of more than five months in the US

As you enter the US, you must have your original, signed I-20 form with you. At the port of entry, a US Customs and Border Protection agent will request that you provide your I-20 form.

Will I get a new Form I-20?

In the following situations, you may ask your DSO for a new I-20 form:

  • The original form is stolen, lost, or destroyed.
  • It is required for travel.
  • Your SEVIS status alters (for example, your original status becomes active).
  • Your personal information, such as modifications (such as a new course of study, an optional practicum, etc.),

Contact your DSO to ask for a new I-20 form. Additionally, keep in mind that your SEVIS status must be initial or active for your DSO to be able to produce a new official I-20 form.

Do I Need the I-20 Form for Travel?

When traveling, you do not need to bring your I-20 form with you. For re-entry into the US, you must nevertheless have your I-20 form with you. For international students with an F-1 or M-1 student visa, you will be required to retain a hard copy of your I-20 form with the original signatures. Take your I-20 form with you, for instance, if you want to leave the country and then return to your US institution or university to finish your studies. 

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