What is the 1-20 Student Visa Form?

This article will explain what the 1-20 Student Visa form is. The I-20 is a multi-purpose document that is issued by a U.S. government-approved university that states that a student has gotten into a full-time academic program and has sufficient finances to live in the United States. The I-20 is also called the “Certificate of Eligibility” because it allows a student to apply for an F-1 student visa at any U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

Do all students require I-20s?

The answer is no. Assuming a student maintains a status in the United States besides F-1, an I-20 will not be needed. On the other hand, dependent children in E, H, I, J, L, M, N, 0, P, R, or S status are expected to change their status after their 21st birthday. Also students who are at UC Berkeley in a dependent child status and about to approach their 21st birthday should do well to see an International Student Adviser at Berkeley International Office for information about moving on from their nonimmigrant status to F-1.

How do you create an I-20 ?

Once an institution completes your admissions process, it asks for and collects necessary financial support and identification documentation for all admitted international students seeking F-1 status. Your names and biographic data will be entered into a U.S. government database known as SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). Afterwards, SEVIS will process the data and produce your copy of an I-20. The school official (known as the Designated School Official or DSO) will go on to print and sign the I-20 and then send it through to the student. If a student has need to update or change information on their I-20, the DSO will have to tender such requests through SEVIS inorder to produce a new document

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How do you use the I-20?

If you are outside outside the U.S.:  After you’ve gotten an I-20 from an institution, you must schedule an appointment to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate (you need this visa in order to be allowed entry into the United States via F-1 status). Students will be expected to tender both the F-1 visa and the I-20 to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer upon arriving at the U.S. port-of-entry.

Once inside the U.S.: The moment a student has gotten into the United States and successfully passes through the border inspections process (either at an airport, seaport, or land border), the I-20 will be used for your identification and proof of legal and resident status in the USA. Usually, students are expected to present their I-20 at the Social Security Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The I-20 will have to be submitted  to employers during the hiring process for employment purposes. Off-campus employment details and/or authorization will be shown on page 2 of the I-20.

Am I Required to keep all copies of my I-20s?

The answer is yes. You are allowed to obtain different versions of your I-20s while you are resident in the United States if there are any particular changes to your program or other information. Do well to keep all copies for future reference. Do not forget to use the most recently issued I-20 for travel, work, or other purposes.

Will my family members require I-20s?

Assuming you are accompanied by your spouse and children, all of them will each require their own I-20 inorder to obtain the F-2 dependent visas and inorder to stay in the United States during your studies and for travel reasons.

How Come I have multiple I-20s?

New I-20s are usually issued to continuing students whenever there is a need for an important  update to be made to their student’s record. These are as follows: changes in biographical information, program dates, change of major, the inclusion of a work authorization, to mention a few. Note that these types of changes are usually necessitated by students. You will be emailed to come pick up your new Change of Major I-20 once it is ready.

What is the 60-day Grace Period? 

Once you complete a study program, you will be given a 60-day grace period to either 1) exit the United States, 2) ask for a school transfer, or 3) alter your visa status. 

PS: Students who desire to work in the United States after their program comes to an end are expected to apply for Optional Practical Training work authorization before their 60-day grace period expires.

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Will I need the I-20 for travel?

Whenever you travel abroad, you must take your I-20 with you. The I-20 will also be required to reapply for a visa (if necessary) and for going back into the United States. Note that before exiting the United States, you should verify that you have a valid travel endorsement on page 2 of your I-20 from an adviser at your university. Typically, this signature is valid for a year for several visits outside the United States. In some cases, a travel endorsement would be done quickly and easily at your university’s International Office, however do well to  plan ahead and obtain your travel endorsement several weeks before leaving the United States in order to avoid getting caught up with the holidays 

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