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A comprehensive guide to understanding Form I-20


Form I-20 is a multi-purpose document issued by a Government-approved US educational institution, to certify that you are admitted to a full-time study programme, and have also disclosed enough financial resources to stay in the United States. This form is officially titled as the “Certificate of Eligibility”, because it allows a student to apply for an F or M Student Visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad.


Do all students need a Form I-20?

All F and M Visa holders planning to study in the US, need a Form I-20 or a “Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Student Status.” Once you get accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP)-Certified school, you will receive a Form I-20 from their Designated School Official (DSO). However, you will have to procure a separate Form I-20 for any eligible dependents who may accompany you to the US.


How does one apply for a Non-Immigrant Visa?

Your Form I-20 bears your programme start date. This implies that you are permitted to enter the country 30 days before the commencement of your programme, as per the mentioned date. You should know that F-1 and M-1 Student Visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance, of your programme start date.


What is the validity of your Form I-20?

The completion date on your Form I-20 depends on the major you have chosen, and the level of education you are pursuing (under graduation or post-graduation). Besides, this is an estimate made by the university based on the time that you might take to fulfil all the degree requirements.


Role of Form I-20 while applying for benefits

Your Form I-20 implies that you are legally enrolled in a study programme in the US. Therefore, you might need it while you apply for the benefits available to F and M Visa holders’ categories. For instance, if you are eligible to apply for a driver’s license or a Social Security Number, you’ll need to show your Form I-20.


Completion of your study programme

Once you complete your study programme, you are allowed a 60 day grace period to either depart from the US, request a schooltransfer, or change the Visa status.


Note: If you are interested in working in the US after your programme completes, you must apply for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorisation, before the expiration of your 60 day grace period.

It’s important to remember that your Form I-20 is a significant document that should be kept safe, as you will need it throughout your international study life-cycle in the US.

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