What is an I-20 Form? What is its Utility in the US Student Visa?

    Updated on: 13 Apr 2023

    International students who want to study in universities in the US will need an I-20 form for their student visas. It is a very important document, and students must know all the details related to the issuance, requirements, additional documentation, and all other relevant information. The I-20 is issued by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to the universities that are recognised in the US. The I-20 form helps authorities ascertain that the individual seeking the student visa is admitted to a recognised university in the US and is a legitimate student. 

    Latest Update: In a recent announcement, the US Department of State revealed that the fee for US student visas will be increased to $185 from $160 starting May 30, 2023.

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    What is the I-20 Visa Form?

    It is a certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status, which helps students in getting the F1 or M1 status. The I-20 form helps the authorities ascertain that the individual applying for the student visa has the means to study in the US and the financial capacity to finance the cost of education and cost of living for the duration of stay in the US. The I-20 Form is given by the Designated School Official or the DSO to international students. It certifies the student’s eligibility to get a visa as they are admitted to a recognised educational institution in the US. The visa type varies depending on the type of course for which the student has applied or the university where the student got admission. Both F1 or M1 visas are given depending on the factor mentioned above and as per the university’s recommendation. Officially it is termed as 'Certificate of Eligibility', which makes the student eligible to contact the US consulate or embassy in the native country to apply for the student visa. 

    What is the role of the I-20 form in a USA visa?

    The US has one of the strictest visa policies, and it’s because of valid reasons. The country’s threat level is way higher than any other nation globally. Amid the rising security concerns, every visa application is considered very carefully before giving the go-ahead. The department of homeland security explicitly mentions the relevance of the I-20 Form and outlines that an international student mustn’t lose it in the entire stay period in the US. However, the students have a misconception about the I-20 Form that it is a ticket to the US visa, while this isn’t the case. Having an I-20 Form only helps ease the next set of processes involved in the issuance of a visa. In no possible way, and I-20 Form guarantees a US visa

    The university verifies all the details then sends the required documents about the confirmation of admission and the I-20 Form. All the documents required for a student visa, including the I-20 Form, are sent via email by the DSO of the university where the student is admitted for pursuing a course. For any query regarding the I-20 Form, students are expected to reach out to the DSO, the ultimate authority in issuing this document. 

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    Types Of I-20 Form 

    There are two types of I-20 Form issued by the universities to international students. The type of I-20 Form depends on the type of visa that will be issued to the student. 

    1. The first type of I-20 Form is issued to students who have been admitted to Academic and Language courses. The first type is a certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant students in the courses mentioned above, and it is called an F1 visa. 
    2. The second type of I-20 Form is issued to students who have been admitted to vocational courses. The first type is a certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant students in the courses mentioned above, and it is called an M1 visa. 

    One needs to give all the relevant details for the I-20 Form, and the information is automatically uploaded to the SEVIS or Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. The following information is contained in the SEVIS;

    • The source of all the finances related to tuition fees and cost of living
    • The universities issue the SEVIS ID number. 
    • The program on which the student has enrolled. 
    • The visa officials can use relevant personal information for verification and other purposes. 
    • The start and end date of the program. 
    • The tuition fee of the course for which the student has secured admission.
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    The Requirements for I-20 Form

    To get the I-20 Form from the university’s DSO, one has to ensure that the below-mentioned criteria are met:

    • The university or the educational institution in the US must accept the application for admission. The educational institution must be SEVP Certified. 
    • The university must confirm that the student has the financial capacity to pay the tuition fee and also bear the cost of living for the duration of studies in the US. It should also confirm that all the personal information given by the student is correct. 

    Bank Statement 
    Students have to send a copy of the bank statement for the issuance of the I-20 Form. All the details like bank account number, address, type of account, account balance, and all other information must be clearly visible and true to the best knowledge of the visa applicant. 

    Loan Sanction Letter from the Lenders
    Students must have the loan sanction letter from an authentic lender. It is only required for those students who have taken an abroad education letter, and it must contain the loan amount, the date of issuance of the loan letter, and all the information must be clearly visible. 

    Evidence to Substantiate that the Student Will Return to the Native Country 
    It is an important aspect of getting the I-20 Form as the US visa officials require solid reasons to believe that the student will return to the home country. To substantiate the intent of returning, the students need to give property documents; parents job details, social proof, or anything substantial that can convince the authorities that the student has sufficient reasons to return to the home country. 

    Payment of I-901 SEVIS Fee
    To pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee, which is $200, the student should have the I-20 Form with them, without which it is impossible to complete the payment. The completion of payment requires information from the I-20 Form issued by the DSO from the university. The payment of the I-901 SEVIS Fee is compulsory before entering the US. Students seeking both F1 and M1 visas are required to pay for the I-901 SEVIS Fee, and one needs to provide the following information:

    • Name, Date of Birth, and Address of the student visa applicant. All the information must be the same as that in the mark sheet and certificates. 
    • The place of birth (i.e. the nationality of the visa applicant), and the status of present citizenship. 
    • School Code as listed on the Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”
    • The I-20 Form also includes the SEVIS Identification number, which has to be provided at the time of payment of the SEVIS fee. 

    Use of I-20 after Entering the US

    There is a misconception that the use of the I-20 Form is only till the time a student visa isn’t issued. However, its use is way more than that, and it can be used for several other purposes than getting an F1 or M1 student visa. A student visa is required at the time of entering the US, while it is not the only document that a student has to show at the time of entry. When a student reaches the US, the customs and border protection officer asks for the I-20 Form at the port of entry. Students are allowed to enter the US 30 days before the start date mentioned on the I-20, as it helps students in putting things into order. The students need some time to settle, so a 30-day window is allowed. 

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    The Use of the I-20 Form is way more than entry and getting the student visa. It can be used to take the driver’s license and open a bank account. Students are advised to open a bank account in an American bank as soon as possible because using an Indian debit or credit card can be a pricey affair. It also helps students in bringing their dependents to the US, as each dependent will have their I-20 Forms. The I-20 Form is also used when students wish to re-enter the US. There are several instances when students leave the US due to projects, research work, seminars, vacations, etc., each time students must show the I-20 Form. 

    Cost of the I-20 Form

    Students have to pay for the SEVIS fee, and it costs $200. It is a one-time fee and applicable to students seeking F1 or M1 student visas. Students can apply for it only after the SEVIS fee is paid, for which one needs the I-20 Form. 

    Redesigned I-20 Form

    The USCIS has redesigned the new form for students seeking F1 and M1 visas. The new form doesn’t have the barcode which used to be there in the earlier forms. Students can also ask for a new I-20 form in the following case:

    • If the original copy is destroyed, lost or stolen. 
    • For travel related needs. 
    • If the SEVIS status has changed from initial to active.
    • If the student has enrolled in a new program or switched the field of study. 

    For the issuance of the new I-20 Form, the students have to talk to the DSO. The students must note that the DSO can only reprint the I-20 Form when the status is active or initial. 

    Getting admission to a top university is a great opportunity for students to change the course of their lives. The US is certainly a top location for students seeking world-class education and great employment opportunities. The I-20 Form is a crucial document, and students must take all the precautions to fill the university application form carefully as any mistake will delay the entire admission process or even the admissibility to the university. So, one must refer to the sample I-20 Form before proceeding with entering the details in the university application form.

    First published date: 06 Feb 2018


About author

Aishwarya Bhatt
A bookworm who transforms into a web-usability evangelist, when her favorite blend of coffee is flowing in her veins. Happiest in a bookstore and when she is painting with words on paper!

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