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Find out when your DSO needs to update SEVIS information and sign your Form I-20.

F and M Students: When a DSO Should Update Your SEVIS Information and Sign Your Form I-20

May 24, 2013

As an F or M student in the United States, it is important to know when your designated school official (DSO) should update your Student and Exchange Visitor Information (SEVIS) information and sign your Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Your DSO should update your SEVIS information and sign your Form I-20 in the following circumstances:

Before you travel out of the United States, make sure the DSO approval will still be valid at the time of your planned return.

  1. When you gain acceptance into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, the DSO at the school will issue you a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status,” signed in item 10 (Page 1). This form certifies that you have shown all the qualifications and meet all the standards for enrollment at that school and that the school recommends the U.S. government admit you into the United States to enroll in a full course of study at that school. This is an important legal document and is essential to you receiving a visa and being admitted into the United States.
  2. You will need a new, updated Form I-20 with DSO signature for any reportable action while you are in the United States as a student (e.g., extension of nonimmigrant status, employment authorization, transfer to another school, change of educational level or reinstatement of status). If you change your plans and want to do anything different in your studies, you must check with your DSO and get a recommendation or an authorization.
  3. If you want to travel outside the United States and return while in student status, you will need DSO approval (i.e., a signature on Page 3) before you go:
    • For an F student, the DSO must sign within one year before your return and you must return within five months of leaving.
    • For an M student, the DSO must sign within six months before your return and you must return within five months of leaving.
  4. In the United States, you should keep your signed Forms I-20 in a safe place and carry a copy of your most recent Form I-20 at all times. If you experience legal difficulties, having the copy of this form will prove that you are authorized as a nonimmigrant visitor. You will also find that some government agencies, like the Social Security Administration (for Social Security numbers) and state Departments of Motor Vehicles (for driver’s licenses) may ask for copies as part of processing your benefit application.

When You Should Sign Your Form I-20 and Why

Your Form I-20 is a legal contract between you, the school where you would like to study, and the U.S. government. The DSO signature verifies that the school accepts you for enrollment and that the school recommends you to the U.S. government for admission to the United States. The U.S. government welcomes you if you will promise to comply with certain terms and conditions during your visit. These are briefly described on Page 2 of your Form I-20. You must read the “Instructions to Students” on Page 2 and then sign the “Student certification” on item 11, Page 1. By signing, you pledge to honor the terms of your visit. Customs and Border Protection may not admit you into the United States until you sign you Form I-20.

While the “Instructions to Students” are carefully written, they may be confusing. We recommend that you read the entire Form I-20 when you receive it to make sure all the information your DSO has entered is correct. If not, let the DSO know. That way, the DSO can send you a new, corrected form. Then read the instructions and make sure you understand them. If you have questions, please contact your DSO immediately, before you travel. The DSO can give you a complete explanation.

In general, for the entire time you are a student in the United States, if you have any questions about the Form I-20 or anything to do with your F or M status, talk to a DSO at your school. Remember that only a DSO at an SEVP-certified school can issue a Form I-20 to an F or M student.


  • Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status"
  • 8 CFR 214.2(f)
  • 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(ii)
  • 8 CFR 214.3
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