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Form I-20 | A path to U.S. higher education
The pursuit of higher education in the United States has long been a dream for countless international students. Navigating the complex world of U.S. study visas can be a daunting task. Often seen as the first step in this journey, form I-20 is a crucial document that every prospective international student must understand. In this blog, we will discuss form I-20, shedding light on its purpose, contents, and the process of obtaining it.
Understanding form I-20
Officially known as the ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,’ form I-20 is a document issued by U.S. educational institutions. It certifies a student’s eligibility for an F-1 or M-1 student visa. The F-1 visa is for full-time academic students, while the M-1 visa is for vocational or non-academic students.
This form is a vital component of the U.S. student visa application process, as it provides the U.S. government with essential information about the student, the educational institution, and the intended program of study. It also serves as evidence of financial support and helps establish the student’s non-immigrant intent.
Information in I-20
- Personal information
- The student’s full name
- Date of birth
- Country of birth
- Passport information
- Institution details
- Name and contact information of the U.S. institution issuing the form I-20
- School Code, which is necessary for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System(SEVIS) fee payment and tracking.
- Program information
- Program start date
- Expected program duration
- Major field of study
- Financial information
- Estimated annual cost of attendance
- Amount of financial support provided by the institution or other sources
- Student’s financial sponsor information, if applicable
- SEVIS information – SEVIS ID number, a unique identifier for each student
- Responsibilities and acknowledgments
- Information about maintaining student status
- Declaration of intent to comply with visa regulations
- School attestation- School official’s signature, attesting to the student’s acceptance into the program
The form I-20 | Application process
To obtain form I-20, international students typically follow these steps-
- Receive admission – First, you must apply and be accepted by a U.S. educational institution that is SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program)-certified. Upon admission, the institution will send you an acceptance letter and a form I-20.
- Complete financial requirements – You must demonstrate that you have the financial means to support your education and living expenses in the U.S. This may involve providing bank statements, affidavits of support, or scholarship award letters.
- Pay SEVIS fee – Before applying for a visa, you have to pay the SEVIS fee, which funds the maintenance of the SEVIS database. You will need the SEVIS ID number from your form I-20 to complete this step.
- Visa application – Once you have the form I-20 and have paid the SEVIS fee, you can apply for the F-1 or M-1 student visa at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.
- Attend visa interview – During the visa interview, you will need to present your form I-20, SEVIS fee receipt, passport, financial documentation, and other required documents.
- Visa approval – You will receive a visa stamp in your passport, allowing you to enter the United States if your visa application is approved.
- Travel to the U.S. – With your visa in hand, you can travel to the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will inspect your documents upon arrival.
- SEVIS registration – After arriving in the U.S., your designated school official (DSO) will register your entry into SEVIS, activating your F-1 or M-1 status.
- Maintenance of status – It is essential to maintain your F-1 or M-1 status throughout your stay by attending classes, following the rules and regulations, and complying with any employment restrictions.
Common misconceptions about form I-20
- Form I-20 guarantees a visa -It’s important to understand that having form I-20 does not guarantee the approval of your visa application. The consular officer will assess your eligibility during the visa interview and then grant you a visa.
- Form I-20 equals admission -Possessing a form I-20 is not equivalent to being officially admitted to a U.S. institution. It is merely a part of the application process.
- Form I-20 can be easily extended – Extensions are possible, but they are subject to specific eligibility criteria, and you should apply well in advance of the expiration date to get this benefit.
- Form I-20, officially known as the ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,’ is a critical document for international students pursuing higher education in the United States.
- Form I-20 certifies a student’s eligibility for an F-1 or M-1 student visa, with F-1 visas being for academic students and M-1 visas for vocational or non-academic students.
- Upon approval, students can travel to the U.S., where a designated school official registers them in SEVIS, and must maintain their F-1 or M-1 status by adhering to visa regulations.
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Q1. How much is the fee for an I-20 visa?
Ans- The $350 cost is payable via an official website. Students can fill out form I-901 online with a credit card. The $350 fee can also be sent via mail. Submit a completed form I-901 along with a cheque or money order made payable in US currency and drawn on a US bank.
Q2. What is the validity period of the I-20 visa?
Ans- I-20 visas are valid for a student’s program duration. You should renew it on a regular basis if your major or special authorizations change.
Q3. How many days will it take to get an I-20 visa?
Ans- A DSO will usually issue an I-20 visa 2-3 weeks after a student completes all the new international student requirements.