What is an I-20 Form and why do I need it?

What is an I-20 Form and why do I need it?

5 mins read26.2K Views Comment
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Aug 29, 2023 19:33 IST

It is always great to be accepted by the school of your choice in the USA. After your selection, you need to complete other formalities to realize your dream of studying at your favourite school. Now is the time to apply and do other paperwork to study legally in the USA. By this time, you must have heard about an I-20 form. In this article, we will inform you what an I-20 form is and why you need it. We will also cover each and every aspect related to Form I-20, so, you can understand it better.

I-20 form

Applicants should fill out the I-20 Form for the school that you are going to attend. The form I-20 issued to international students is officially titled the 'Certificate of Eligibility' as it allows the candidate to apply for an F-1 student visa at a US embassy or consulate in his home country.

What is an I-20 form?

The I-20 form is a certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status, issued by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school stating that a student has been admitted to a full-time study program and has also demonstrated sufficient financial means to stay in the United States. Students receive a Form I-20 from their Designated School Official (DSO). The appropriate I-20 Form is issued based on whether the school you are going to attend is in F-1 or M-1 status. Every school that accepts you will send an I-20 form once you pay the fee.

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In February 2023, the US announced that international applicants can now File Student Visa Applications in the USA 1 Year Before Program Commences but they would be allowed entry into the US only 30 days prior to the course commencement.


Due to COVID-19, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Department has permitted US Universities to electronically send Forms I-20 to students on their email addresses listed on SEVIS. For minor students, the email address may belong to their parents or a legal guardian.  

Considering the Coronavirus pandemic, SEVP has lifted the restriction of mailing the physical Form I-20s and is allowing schools to email I-20s directly to the students temporarily. The emailed Form I-20 will now be considered official for the purpose of applying for the visa by the US embassy. It also means, currently, students need not pay shipping fees until further notice.

An electronically received I-20 can be:

  • A scanned version of a physically signed form I-20, or
  • A digitally signed form I-20 that includes a digitally reproduced copy having a physical signature
  • A digitally signed form I-20 using electronic signature software
  • Students can pay their I-901 fees so that when the embassies reopen, they will get the visa appointment at the earliest. 

Why do you need an I-20 Form?

As per the Department of Homeland Security, “Form I-20 is an important document that you should keep safe, as you will need it throughout the international student life cycle.”

The immigration process may seem long and tiring, however, once you got the I-20 form, the remaining process will smoothen. If you have any queries regarding it, you can ask the official who sent you that form.

Note: A candidate cannot apply for a US Student Visa without an I-20 form, however, having an

I-20 does not guarantee that you will be given a visa. You need to fulfil all the criteria set by the US authorities for getting it. In addition, you need to carry the I-20 Form for your visa interview.

Also, Read

The US embassy requires proof that the applicant has been admitted to a US school. Candidates receive this certificate in the mail along with the offer letter/admission letter. You need an I-20 form to apply for the student visa

This form includes all your details from your full name, DOB, and the details of the school you are going to join and your SEVIS ID. A student needs the I-20 for everything in his graduate school journey right from getting a student visa to pursuing an internship. An I-20 form is also required to clear the US immigration process.

Also Read: SEVIS Fee & US Student Visa: What it is and how to pay it?

Form I-20 Uses

  •  Once you received the I-20 form, you should proceed to pay the I-1901 SEVIS fee. You need to pay this fee before entering the US. Information from the I-20 form is needed to complete this payment.
  • The I-20 is an important part of the visa application process. Its original copy can be requested by the Visa Officers at the consulate during the visa interview. This form consists of information related to the finances and cost of the program and how the student plans to pay it. Apart from this, the form also includes information related to the program the aspirant is going to pursue. Make sure that the visa type to which you are applying and the one which is mentioned on the form should be the same.

Arrival in the US

Once you reach the US, the customs officer can ask for the I-20 form, so, it is recommended to keep it handy and safe.

To apply for benefits

Apart from the above-mentioned details, this form can also be used to avail of other benefits an international student is entitled to. You might need it while trying to get an internship or employment, a driver’s license or a social security number.

When to get a new Form I-20

After getting the initial Form I-20 for program acceptance, students may receive a new Form I-20 from their DSO in the following circumstances:

  • In case the physical copy of the form is destroyed or misplaced
  • For travel endorsement
  • In case of a change in a student’s SEVIS status (e.g., from Initial to Active)
  • In case of any changes need to be made to student information, like the program of study, optional practical training, or student’s personal information

Still have more queries, write to us in the comments below or sign up for free counselling at https://studyabroad.shiksha.com/apply

About the Author
Written by
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert

Aishwarya is a professional Writer currently working as a Study Abroad Expert in the Editorial Team at Shiksha. She has over 5 years of experience and is skilled at creating Online Content with leveraged knowledge i... Read Full Bio

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Expert in MS in USA

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