According to the US Department of Homeland Security, if you seek to study in the United States on the basis of an F or M visa, you need to seek approval through Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”

When you are accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school, the designated school official (DSO) will issue you one of two forms:

  • The Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students.”
  • The Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status – For Vocational Students.”

You need to complete this form and have it approved by USCIS “to apply for a student visa (F-1 or M-1), to enter the United States and apply for benefits.”

If you have any dependents, you’ll also need Form I-20 for each eligible dependent. Both the foreign applicant and the Designated School Official (DSO) must sign Form I-20. Parents should sign for anyone under 18-years-of-age.

You’ll need Form I-20 throughout the course of your study program.

Form I-20 is also used to determine your I-901 SEVIS Fee which is mandatory and must be paid before you enter the United States.

What’s the relationship between Form I-20 and your F or M visa?

The Form I-20 lists your program start date. You can enter the US within 30 days of the start date. F-1 and M-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your course of study start date.

The type of student visa you have (F or M) must match the type of Form I-20 you have. You’ll need the original Form I-20 for 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.”

When you need Form I-20

You’ll need the original Form I-20 (with ink signature) to enter the US. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will instruct you to present your Form I-20 at the port of entry.

You also need the original Form I-20 if you are currently in the US on another nonimmigrant visa and you’re seeking a change of status (such as from B-1 or B-2 status) to F or M status.

You also need Form I-20 to prove you are legally enrolled in a study program – which means you’ll need it to apply for any F or M student benefits. You’ll also need it to apply for a driver’s license or a social security number. Be certain you know where the original Form I-20 is at all times.

Obtaining a New Form I-20

You can receive a new Form I-20, after receiving the initial Form I-20 upon program acceptance:

  • “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, a program of study, optional practical training, etc.”

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.

Call Herman Legal Group at 1 (800) 808-4013 or fill out our contact form to talk with us about obtain and completing Form I-20.

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