Decoding the American I-20 Form

Decoding the American I-20 Form

For many international students, securing an I-20 form is the first step towards pursuing higher education in the United States. This crucial document, issued by US educational institutions, serves as a visa application support document and provides information about the student’s intended program and financial support. Decoding the I-20 form is essential for students to understand the necessary requirements and ensure that all information is truthful and accurate.

What is an I-20 Form?

An I-20 form, or Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, is a document issued by US schools and universities to foreign students who have been accepted into an educational program. It is a critical document that foreign students must possess before applying for an F-1 or M-1 student visa at a US embassy or consulate in their home country.

Who needs an I-20 Form?

All international students who plan to study in the United States require an I-20 form. Additionally, the I-20 form is essential for applying for an F-1 or M-1 visa in their home country.

What documents are needed to get an I-20 Form?

To obtain an I-20 form, international students must provide various documents to their US school or university. These documents include:

1. Acceptance Letter from a US school or University

The acceptance letter is proof that the student has been offered admission to a US school or university. It should specify the program’s duration, start date, and expected graduation date.

2. Financial Support Documents that Prove the Ability to Cover Tuition Costs and Living Expenses

The US government requires international students to provide evidence of financial support to cover their tuition fees, living expenses during their stay, and return transportation. This evidence includes bank statements, scholarship letters, and sponsorship letters from sponsors.

3. Passport Information

A copy of the student’s passport information page is required, including the full name, date of birth, country of birth, and passport expiration date.

4. SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt

International students must pay the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee before applying for an I-20 form. Applicants must submit the SEVIS fee payment receipt as proof.

How to Fill Out an I-20 Form?

The I-20 form is crucial in the visa application process for international students. Every student’s situation is unique, but information required in the I-20 form is generally straightforward. Students must ensure that all information is entirely accurate, as the information stated on their I-20 form becomes the basis for their F-1 or M-1 visa.

Below are the necessary steps to fill out an I-20 form:

1. Personal Information

Enter the student’s full legal name, date of birth, country of birth, and gender.

2. SEVIS Information

The SEVIS ID number is a unique identifier assigned to the student by the US government. This number can be found on the acceptance letter or I-20 from previous schools and universities. Students must ensure they have this number on hand when filling out the I-20 form.

3. Education Information

Information about the intended program of study should be included in this section. This includes the program start and expected graduation date.

4. Financial Information

This section requires evidence of the student’s financial support to cover tuition, living expenses, and return transportation. Students must upload proof of their ability to meet these costs in the form of bank statements, scholarship letters, or sponsorship letters.


1. What is the difference between F-1 and M-1 visas?

F-1 visas are for academic students pursuing an academic degree or studying English language programs. M-1 visas are for vocational or technical students studying at non-academic institutions.

2. Can I change my visa status after entering the United States?

Yes, it is possible to change status from one nonimmigrant visa to another while in the United States. However, the process is complicated, and a lawyer’s assistance is necessary.

3. How soon should I apply for an I-20 form before school starts?

International students are advised to apply for an I-20 form as soon as they receive their acceptance letter from their US school or university. It is recommended to apply at least 120 days before the program start date.

4. How long is an I-20 form valid?

I-20 forms are valid for the duration of the student’s specific program of study. If the student changes their program of study, they must update the I-20 form.

In conclusion, an I-20 form is a crucial element in obtaining a student visa to study in the United States. International students must ensure they completely understand the process of obtaining an I-20 form and that they provide truthful and accurate information when entering the United States on an F-1 or M-1 visa. For more information and assistance, it’s advisable to reach out to academic institutions and legal experts who are well-versed in the visa application process.

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