What is the i-20 Form? Role in US Student Visa, the Application Process, and More

What is the i-20 Form? Role in US Student Visa, the Application Process, and More

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By Prabhadri Suman|Updated On - 2023-12-06 09:20:08

A Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, is required for all F and M students studying in the United States. Check what is i-20 from, application process, benefits of i-20 form, information included in it and more.

What is the i-20 Form? Role in US Student Visa, the Application Process, and More

Topics Covered:

  • What is the i-20 Form and who requires it?
  • Difference between i-20 form and student visa
  • Form I-20 Uses
  • What information is included on the i-20 form?
  • Who gets the i-20 form?
  • How to receive an i-20 form?
  • I-20 Form Requirements
  • What Is the I-901 SEVIS Fee?
  • Do I Need the I-20 Form for Travel?
  • Can Changes Be Made in Form I-20?
  • What is the Validity of Form I-20?
  • How is your Form I-20 used?
  • Conclusion

Are you a prospective student of a USA university wondering what the i-20 form is all about? This article is your simple guide to understand the importance of form i-20 and all that you will be required to know about it for pursuing higher education in the US.

What is the i-20 Form and who requires it?

The i-20 Form is an important document for international students going to study in the USA. International students need to get it from the school they have been admitted to in order to get their US student visa. The i-20 form must have the signature of the designated school official who is authorized to issue the form. 

The i-20 form includes all relevant official information about the student, including the name of the school they will be attending, the duration of their course, as well as the estimated cost of tuition and living expenses. It also contains the student’s financial eligibility to bear the expenses of living and studying in the US as well as contact information of the school in the US they have been admitted to.          

Form i-20 is thus a mandatory document for international students to pursue their higher education in the USA. It affirms that the student has been enrolled in an authorized study program in the US and has sufficient funds to sustain themselves in the country while studying the course. 

Form i-20 is a requisite for all F-1 (for academic courses) student visa  and M-1 (for non-academic/vocational courses) student visa. No international student gets a US student visa without having the requisite i-20 Form. A separate i-20 Form is also required in case there are any eligible dependents who will go with the student to the United States. 

Difference between i-20 form and student visa

Note that the i-20 form is not the same as the student visa, but it will be required for the latter. The two are separate documents and ultimately, both will be required by the student to study in the United States.           

A prospective international student going to the US for studies must provide the i-20 form to apply for the student visa, which must be obtained for entering the United States to study.

The i-20 form is issued by the school and it serves as proof that the student is eligible to study in the United States. It is an important part of the student’s application for a student visa. Whereas the student visa is issued by the U.S. Department of State once the student’s application for visa has been approved.

Form I-20 Uses      

Having an i-20 form has many benefits for international students. Upon receiving it, one becomes eligible to study in the United States and apply for student visa USA (both F1 visa  & M 1 visa categories). It also makes students eligible for several scholarships and financial aid.          

In addition, the i-20 document will be of advantage in the following other ways as well: 

1. As academic and legal verification

2. To get social security number and driving license in the US

3. To apply for jobs and internships in the United States

4. For traveling within the United States

5. At the time of traveling to and from the United States

6. Re-applying for a US visa          

On the other hand, not having an i-20 form means the student will not be able to apply for a student visa to study in the United States . This implies the student may also not be eligible for scholarships, financial aid programs, jobs or internships and not be able to travel to and from the United States.

What information is included on the i-20 form?

What is the i-20 Form? Role in US Student Visa, the Application Process, and More

Issued by the Department of Homeland Security of the United States, the i-20 form includes important information about the student and the school they will be attending. The form includes the student’s name, date of birth, permanent address, and contact information. It also includes the name of the school, the length of the program of study, the estimated cost of tuition and living expenses, the student’s financial information, and the school’s contact information.

The form also includes a section for the student to indicate whether or not they intend to work while studying in the United States. It is important to keep in mind that international students are only allowed to work part-time on-campus and are not allowed to work off-campus without authorization.

The form has your SEVIS ID imprinted right on the top and complete description of policy guidelines for your stay in the US as an overseas student. It is highly recommended that you go through all the points mentioned in the i-20 document one by one.

Who gets the i-20 form?          

To be eligible to receive the i-20 form, the student must meet certain criteria. They must be enrolled in an accredited institution of higher education in the United States. They must provide evidence of sufficient financial resources to cover the cost of their studies and living in the United States.           

The student must also confirm they have no criminal record or history of immigration violations. The school will review the student’s documents, including the financial documents, before issuing the i-20 form.           

Before issuing the i-20 form, a student may be required to provide the following:          

1. A non-refundable deposit amount to secure their admission

2. A bank statement or solvency certificate to confirm their financial capability to fund their education

On receipt of this form, students must submit it along with their student visa application. Once their visa application is approved, they will be able to begin their studies in the United States.

How to receive an i-20 form?

Once a student is through with the admission process, their personal details are entered in the US government database called Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The SEVIS database processes that information and generates an i-20 form accordingly. The i-20 form thus generated is then collected by the college authority, signed and stamped by the designated school official (DSO), and sent out to the prospective student.          

After obtaining the i-20 form, you can request any changes in the information (such as changes in personal details, course details, work authorization, etc.,) to the DSO. The DSO then gets them amended through SEVIS, generating a new i-20 form. Do keep all the old copies of the i-20 forms for your record. However, for work, travel, proof of current student status, etc., always use the latest i-20.

Please make sure that you request the i-20 document through a trusted courier service like DHL or FEDEX, even if you have to pay $30-40 more, because this will ensure your i-20 form reaches you safely.

The i-20 form is a must to determine the student’s eligibility for a student visa. So, if you got this form from more than one university, please do not hold onto the ones you do not need. Because many deserving aspirants are waiting, and you may be wasting their chance by doing so.

I-20 Form Requirements

To acquire the I-20 visa application form, you need to fulfill certain prerequisites. These prerequisites are as follows:

  • You must gain admission to an accredited college or university. The institution must be SEVP-certified.
  • You should ensure that all your personal information is accurate and up-to-date. Additionally, the college or university you are enrolled in should verify that you have sufficient funds to cover your expenses while residing in the US.

What Is the I-901 SEVIS Fee?

After obtaining your Form I-20, you must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee, which is mandatory for all international students before entering the United States. The I-901 SEVIS fee for F & M visa applicants is $350.

Do I Need the I-20 Form for Travel?

When you travel, it is not necessary to have your I-20 form with you. However, it is mandatory for you to carry your I-20 form for re-entry into the US. International students with F-1 student visa and M-1 student visa are required to keep a hard copy of their I-20 form with original signatures. For instance, if you intend to travel outside of the US and return to your US university or college to resume your studies, ensure you remember to take your I-20 form with you.

Can Changes Be Made in Form I-20?

Yes, you can make changes to your Form I-20 if necessary. Some instances where you may need a new Form I-20 include:

  • Changes in personal details mentioned on the form.
  • Change in program dates.
  • Change in college or university major.
  • Addition of work authorization.
  • Update on visa status.
  • Reduced Course Load (RCL) due to the final semester, medical condition, or academic difficulties.
  • Practical Training, including Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
  • Leave of absence and withdrawal.

You must report any changes to the principal designated school official (DSO) within 10 days of the change. The DSO will then report the changes to SEVIS, and a new Form I-20 will be issued.

What is the Validity of Form I-20? 

Form I-20 is valid as long as you are enrolled in a legitimate program at a SEVIS-certified school. If you extend the duration of your course, your Form I-20 validity will also be extended. To do this, apply for an extension before the last day of your ongoing course.

It is important to note that your stay in the US is considered legal only as long as your Form I-20 is valid. If your Form I-20 expires while your student visa is still valid, you will be living in the United States illegally.

How is your Form I-20 used? 

Outside the US : If you're planning to study in the US, you need to apply for an F-1 visa at the embassy or consulate after receiving your Form I-20 from the institution. Upon arrival at the US airport, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will ask for your F-1 visa and Form I-20.

Inside the US : Once you enter the United States and clear the border inspection at the airport, seaport or land border, you will need to present your Form I-20 as a proof of your legal and academic status. This document will also be required by the Social Security Office, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and prospective employers during the hiring process.


As evident from above, i-20 is indispensable when it comes to your stay as a student in the United States. So, make sure to obtain your legit i-20 document and ensure every information on it is filled out correctly. With i-20 in hand, international students can finally ensure that they have all the necessary documents to fulfill their dream of studying in the United States.

The Edmissions team is here to provide you with help throughout the college application process. Before you submit your application to your desired college or university, it is recommended that you get in touch with a overseas education consultants by registering on the website.        

To learn more about application processing, contact our Edmissions specialists at [email protected] .           

For a quick overview related to study abroad, click here           

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