Understanding the Form I-20 for F1 Visa International Students (The Ultimate I-20 Guide)

In this article you will learn all about the Form I-20 given to F1 visa international Students. We will learn what it is Form I-20 and what it’s used for, how you can get one, what’s contained in the documents and how to fill Form I-20 for F1 Visa International Students.

What it is Form I-20?

In simple terms, the Form I-20 is a three page document given to non-immigrants who intend to study in the United States. The Form I-20 or simply I-20 is an important immigration document given to F1 and M1 visa international students who intend to study in the USA.

This document can only be issued by schools that are certified by the U.S Department of Homeland Security, specifically, the Students in Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Form I-20 is issued to prospective international students who have been admitted into a program of study.

While the majority of non-immigrants who receive the I-20 are on an F1 visa engaging in an academic program of study, the I-20 is also given to non-immigrants who plan to enter the U.S on an M1 visa to pursue non-academic or vocational programs of study.

The ultimate use of the Form I-20 is to apply for an F1 or M1 visa and to seek entry into the U.S on these visa classes.

However, the Form I-20 also serves several other purposes, as will be discussed later in this article.

How exactly do you get the Form I-20?

Getting the Form I-20 is generally a two-step process.

  • The first step is getting accepted into a school certified by SEVP, and this school could be a University or College or even a primary or secondary school.
  • The second step is providing evidence of financial support as requested by your school’s designated school official (DSO). This proof of financial support must include funds covering tuition fees and living expenses for one academic year of study.

International students who intend to bring their dependents to the US, such as a spouse, a child or children, must also obtain a Form I-20 for each dependent.

Thus, you must also show evidence of financial support covering the living expenses for each dependent as specified by your school’s designated school official. The evidence of financial support you provide to get the form it could be in the form of bank statements showing personal savings or family savings.

It could also be in the form of an award letter offering you a scholarship, a Fellowship, or an assistantship by your University or your school, and could also be a letter of sponsorship from a government, an organization, or a company.

So what else is the form I-20 useful other than the primary purpose of applying for an F1 or M1 visa, and seeking entry into the US on these visa classes? Form I-20 is needed for other purposes, such as:

  • applying for a US Social Security number,
  • applying for a US state driver’s license,
  • applying for a US state identification card,
  • changing your immigrant status from the F1 status to another status while in the US, and
  • serves as a proof of work authorization.

I-20 form sample and how to fill Form I-20 for F1 Visa International Students

I-20 form sample

Let now take a close look at each section of the Form I-20.

  • At the top left corner of page one is the service ID number. This number always starts with the letter N.

  • The first box contains your biographical information, your admission number, and your admission class. This first box also contains the reason for issuing the form. When you first receive an I-20 from your school’s DSO, the form issue reason will be listed as initial attendance, and after you’ve enrolled in your program of study, you would be given a new form I-20 that States continued attendance as the form issue reason.

I-20 form sample and How to fill I-20 form

  • The second box on page one is the school information. Here you will find the name of your DSO as mentioned earlier, this person would be your main point of contact when seeking to enter the US. So keep a note of their contact information before traveling to the US.

I-20 form sample and How to fill I-20 form

  • The third box on page one contains information about your program of study. Very important to take note of is the program start and end date. You are only allowed to enter the US on an F1 visa within 30 days of your start date. Note that the end of your F1 status does not depend on the expiration date of your F1 visa, but on the end date shown on your current from I-20.

I-20 form sample and How to fill I-20 form

  • The fourth box on page one summarizes your financial responsibility. You should have evidence of financial support covering the total amount in this box when applying for an F1 visa and seeking entry into the US on an F1 visa.

I-20 form sample and How to fill I-20 form

  • The fifth box is a remarks section where your DSO would make any appropriate comments about your I-20 at any point in the future.

I-20 form sample

  • The six box on page one will have the signature of your DSO certifying that you’ve provided correct information and indeed meet the qualification to attend the school to pursue a full program of study.

I-20 form sample

  • The 7th and last box on page one is for you to sign and date. If you are under the age of 18 this box should also be signed and dated by a parent or legal Guardian accordingly.

I-20 form sample

  • The first and second boxes on page two are relevant to your authorization for off campus employment, such as curriculum practical training (CPT), and optional practical training (OPT).

I-20 form sample

As an active F1 student, you become eligible to use CPT or OPT after completing one academic year of studies. You may not engage in any kind of work off campus without receiving this work authorization from your DSO.

  • The CHANGE OF STATUS/CAP-GAP EXTENSION box is applicable to F1 students changing into another nonimmigrant visa class, such as going from an F1 student visa class to an H1 B worker class.

I-20 form sample

  • AUTHORIZED REDUCED COURSE LOAD: F1 students who wish to take a part time course load would need to obtain permission from the DSO. This approval for a reduced course load would be added to the fourth box on page two.

I-20 form sample

  • Finally is the TRAVEL ENDORSEMENT box, which is yet another important section of the I-20. Once you enroll as an F1 student and receive an I-20 for continued attendance, a valid travel signature from your DSO will be required to re-enter the US after a brief departure from the US.

I-20 form sample

The third page is Instruction section, which contains very important information for you, the students signing this document and the DSO issue and signing the Form I 20. Make sure to read and understand this page in its entirety.

I-20 form sample

Your I-20 is an important immigration documents that you will need for several years while in the U.S, so ensure to keep this safe at all times. I hope you found this article quite informative.

Disclaimer: This site is not owned by any U.S Government Agency or an Immigration attorney. The contents in the site/post is for informational purpose only collected from various public domains (Youtube, Google, etc). You may need to contact an Immigration Attorney for your specific immigration needs.

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