What Is an I-20 Form and Why Is It Important for International Students?

by | Mar 8, 2023 | Admissions

If you’re aspiring to pursue your degree in the United States, you’re likely to have come across mention of an I-20 Form as one of the key documents you’ll need.

You may be wondering, ‘What is an I-20 Form?’

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll answer that question and many more that you may have about the I-20 Form and why it matters for your studies abroad.

Let’s dive in:

What Is an I-20 Form?

The I-20 Form is a certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status issued by U.S schools to international students who have been accepted for a full-time academic program. It’s an important document required by the U.S government to obtain a student visa and enter the United States for the purpose of studying.

The I-20 Form plays a crucial role in the process of obtaining a student visa (F-1 or M-1) for international students who wish to study in the United States.

The form is issued by the Designated School Official (DSO) of the educational institution that has accepted the student for a full-time academic program. It serves as proof that the student is eligible for a visa and has the financial resources to support themselves during their stay in the U.S.

Both you and the DSO must sign the I-20 Form. If you’re under the age of 18, your parents are required to sign the document for you.

Once you have received the I-20 Form, you can use it to apply for a student visa at the US consulate or embassy in your home country.

The I-20 Form contains important information about the student, including:

  • SEVIS ID number
  • Program of study
  • Cost of the program
  • Expected duration of stay
  • Proof of funds/financial support

Why Do I Need the Form I-20 as an International Student?

As an international student intending to study in the United States, you need the I-20 Form for several reasons:

  • Proof of acceptance: The Form I-20 is issued by the U.S. school to international students who have been accepted for a full-time academic program. It serves as proof that you have been admitted to a legitimate academic program in the United States.
  • Visa application: To apply for a student visa, you must have a Form I-20. The U.S government requires this document as evidence that you are eligible for a student visa and have the necessary financial resources to support yourself while studying in the U.S.
  • Entry to the United States: Once you have obtained a student visa, you will need to present your Form I-20 at the U.S. port of entry. This document will be used by the immigration officer to verify your eligibility to enter the country.
  • Maintaining student status: The I-20 Form also contains important information about the student’s program of study, expected length of stay, and financial support. It is used by U.S. government officials to verify that you are enrolled in a legitimate academic program and have the necessary financial resources to support yourself while studying in the U.S. You must maintain your student status by following the guidelines outlined on your Form I-20.

The I-20 Form also comes in handy when applying for a driver’s license, social security number, or a bank account in the U.S. International students are advised to apply for an American bank account as soon as possible to start building their credit in the United States.

Note: As an international student, you’re allowed to enter the U.S 30 days before the start date indicated in your I-20 Form. You can choose to enter the U.S early to put things in order and get settled before your program’s start date.

Who Needs a Form I-20?

A Form I-20 is required for international students who want to study in the United States on an F-1 or M-1 student visa. You’ll need a Form I-20 if you’re an international student who is a:

  • Non-immigrant who has never attended a school or a college in the U.S
  • Non-immigrant wishing to transfer from a secondary school, college, or university in the U.S
  • Non-immigrant changing your current visa status to a F-1 visa
  • Non-immigrant returning from a leave of absence of more than five months from the US

The I-20 Form is also required for F-2 or M-2 dependents who will be accompanying the primary F-1 or M-1 visa holder.

What Are the Requirements for an I-20 Form?

The I-20 Form visa application form has specific requirements that international students must meet before they can obtain it. These requirements are as follows:

  • Acceptance to an accredited college or university in the U.S: To be eligible for the I-20 Form, you must first be accepted into an academic program at an institution that is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
  • Accurate and updated information: The college or university you will be attending must confirm that the information you provided in your application is accurate and up-to-date. This includes personal information such as your name, date of birth, and passport information.
  • Financial proof: For your DSO to sign your I-20 Form, they need to verify that you have the necessary financial resources to cover the costs of your education and living expenses while studying in the US.

To obtain the I-20 Form, international students must have been accepted into an accredited institution and must ensure that their personal and financial information is accurate and up-to-date. Making sure that you meet these requirements will help you avoid delays or complications in the visa application process.

What Is the Process of Getting an I-20 Form as an International Student?

Getting an I-20 Form is a simple and straight forward process. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Apply and get accepted to an SEVP-certified school: The first step is to research and apply to an academic program at a U.S. institution that is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You will need to meet the admission requirements of the school you are applying to.
  2. Submit the required documents: Once you have been accepted, the school will request that you submit additional documents to verify your identity, academic records, and financial resources. These documents may include transcripts, test scores, bank statements, and proof of English proficiency.
  3. Receive the Form I-20 from your school: Once the school has verified your information and determined that you meet the requirements for obtaining the I-20 form, they will issue it to you. This document will contain your personal information, program of study, expected length of stay, and the estimated cost of your education and living expenses in the United States.
  4. Pay the SEVIS fee: Before you can apply for a student visa, you must pay the SEVIS fee. This fee supports the administration of the SEVP program.
  5. Apply for a student visa: With the Form I-20 and the SEVIS fee payment, you can now apply for a student visa at the U.S embassy or consulate in your home country.

In summary, to get the I-20 Form as an international student, you need to apply and get accepted to an SEVP-certified school, submit the required documents, receive the I-20 Form from your school, pay the SEVIS fee, and apply for a student visa. It’s important to follow these steps carefully and ensure that you meet all the requirements to avoid any delays or complications in the visa application process.

Do I Need the I-20 Form When Travelling Outside the U.S?

It’s not mandatory to have your I-20 Form with you while traveling outside the United States, but you are required to carry it when re-entering.

This is particularly important for international students holding a student visa who must keep a hard copy of the I-20 Form with original signatures.

For instance, if you plan to travel outside of the US and return to your university or college to continue your studies, you must ensure you have your I-20 Form with you.

While traveling, it’s not essential to carry the I-20 Form, but for re-entry to the US, it is a must-have document for international students with F-1 visa.

When Will I Need to Get a New I-20 Form?

You can get a new I-20 Form from your DSO under the following circumstances:

  • When the physical copy of the I-20 form is destroyed, lost, or stolen
  • When you need it to travel and re-enter the U.S
  • When your SEVIS status changes (such as your status changing from initial to active)
  • Your personal information like changes (such as new program of study, optional practical training, etc.)

In case you need a new I-20 Form, contact your DSO.

Is an I-20 Form Relevant for Your International Student Loan?

You might be wondering if the I-20 Form is in any way connected to your international student loan.

The answer is “Yes”.

To obtain the I-20 form, you need proof of financial resources to cover your studies and living expenses abroad.

You’ll need a sanction letter from an authentic private lender to show that you have adequate funds. The letter must show the loan amount and date of issuance. All the information in the letter must be clearly visible.

Note: 8B provides no-cosigner, collateral-free education loans for African students in global universities. Check your eligibility for an international student loan today. 

How Will I Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee?

To obtain your U.S student visa, you’ll have to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee. You’ll need to have the I-20 Form to complete the payment.

To pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee, you’ll also need to provide the following information:

  • Your name, date of birth, and address
  • Your nationality and the status of your citizenship
  • Your School Code (as listed on the Form I-20)
  • The SEVIS Identification number (included in the I-20 Form)

How much is the I-901 SEVIS Fee? The SEVIS Fee is $200 USD. This is a one-time fee applicable to students seeking a U.S student visa (either F-1 or M1 student visas).

Frequently Asked Questions About I-20 Form

Who is eligible for an I-20 form?

All international students who have been granted admission to U.S colleges or universities are eligible for I-20 Form. The school will issue the form to affirm the student’s nonimmigrant status.

After getting an I-20 Form, what next?

After getting an I-20 Form, the next step is to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee and complete your U.S student visa application.

Will I Need an I-20 Form For My Dependents?

Yes. You’re required to obtain a Form I-20 for any eligible dependents you plan to bring to the United States with you.

Can my visa get rejected even with I-20 form?

Yes. An I-20 Form doesn’t get guarantee student visa approval. Your student visa application may be rejected due to other reasons.


Share This