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The I-20 Form And Why It’s Important

The I-20 Form is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Once you have been accepted into a SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program)-certified school, and paid your I-901 SEVIS fee, an official representative from your school will give you the appropriate I-20 Form based on whether the school you attend is in F-1 or M-1 status. Every school that accepts you will send you an I-20 Form once you’ve paid the fee. Only complete the I-20 Form from the school that you decide to attend.

You will need the I-20 Form for other parts of your immigration application. You will use the I-20 Form to confirm payment of your I-901 SEVIS Fee, apply for your nonimmigrant visa at your U.S. Embassy or Consulate, and enter the United States.

Where would the I-20 form be useful?

The Form I-20 is an important document that you should keep safe, as there are several instances where you will need it, such as the following:

  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee: Before you pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System 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. 
  • Apply for a nonimmigrant visa: The Form I-20 lists the date in 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 I-20 you have (e.g., F-1 or M-1).
  • Enter the United States: You need to have your Form I-20 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. 
  • Apply 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.

For more information about the I-20 form, you can go through this detailed write-up by Prodigy Finance to ensure that you don’t miss out on any important details with your form. However, certain common things that may arise as a point of confusion are listed below:

You do not need a new form I-20:

  • If you simply need to travel; the travel endorsement is sufficient.
  • If you need to add an employer to your SEVIS record or move from one employer to another; that information will be recorded in your SEVIS record.
  • In order to apply for a Change of Status from F-1 to H-1B or another non-immigrant status; a copy of the form I-20 that you already have in your possession is sufficient for that purpose.
  • If you have applied for a Change of Status to H-1B and have become eligible for the Cap-Gap extension; your H-1B receipt is sufficient evidence of your continued work authorization.
  • If any information changes or needs to be updated on the I-20, the student must contact an Immigration Advisor prior to the change taking effect. There is usually some sort of immigration process required in order to make an update to I-20s.