All F and M students that study in the United States need a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”
Once accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, international students will receive a Form I-20 from their designated school official (DSO) depending on their program of study and purpose for coming to the United States:
- F Students: Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status – For Academic and Language Students.”
- M Students: Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status – For Vocational Students.”
You must also obtain a Form I-20 for any eligible dependents you plan to bring to the United States with you. However, please note that the name (i.e., Academic and Language students vs. Vocational Students) on the Form I-20 an SEVP-certified school issues you will dictate the type of student visa you may obtain from the U.S. Department of State and the status you will need to maintain in the United States. You and your DSO must both sign the Form I-20. If you are under age 18, your parents must sign the Form I-20 for you.
Form I-20 Uses
The Form I-20 is an important document that you should keep safe, as you will need it throughout the international student life cycle.
Paying the I-901 SEVIS Fee
Before you pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Fee, you must receive the Form I-20 from a DSO at the school you plan to attend. You will need information from the Form I-20 to pay the fee. The I-901 SEVIS Fee is mandatory and must be paid before you enter the United States.
Applying for a nonimmigrant visa
The Form I-20 lists your program start date, 30 days before which you are allowed to enter the United States. F-1 and M-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your course of study start date. Your type of student visa must match the type of Form I-20 you have (e.g., F-1 or M-1). You are expected to have the original Form I-20 at your visa interview. The consular officer may accept a copy of the Form I-20 in limited circumstances that warrant visa issuance prior to you receiving the original Form I-20.
Entering the United States
You are expected to have the original Form I-20 with ink signature on hand as you enter the country. Do not pack it away in your suitcase. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will instruct you to present your Form I-20 at the port of entry. You may arrive up to 30 days before the start date listed on your Form I-20; or
Changing status to F or M while in the United States
You need a Form I-20 if you are already in the United States as another type of nonimmigrant and you are applying to USCIS to change your status to F or M.
Applying for benefits
Your Form I-20 proves that you are legally enrolled in a program of study in the United States. Therefore, it may be needed when you apply for the benefits available to F and M students. If you are eligible to apply for a driver’s license or a social security number, remember to bring your Form I-20 with you.
When to Get a New Form I-20
After receiving the initial Form I-20 upon program acceptance, students may receive a new Form I-20 from their DSO in the following circumstances:
- If the physical copy of the form is destroyed or misplaced.
- For travel endorsement.
- When the student’s SEVIS status changes (e.g., from Initial to Active).
- For any substantive change to student information, such as changes to a student’s personal information, program of study, optional practical training, etc.
Redesigned Form I-20
As of July 1, 2016, the redesigned Form I-20 is required for all F and M nonimmigrant visa applications, entry into the United States, travel and applications for nonimmigrant benefits. The previous version of the Form I-20 (with a barcode) is now invalid. Students please note that your DSOs were responsible for providing an updated, hard copy of the Form I-20 with original signatures to all F-1 and M-1 students at their schools.