What is the Form I-20 and When do I Need it?


By Imagility

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Table of Contents

What is Form I-20?
Key Details on Form I-20
Why is Form I-20 Important?
How to Obtain Form I-20?
Document Checklist

If you’re planning to study in the United States, navigating the complex web of paperwork is a critical first step. Among the essential documents you will encounter, the Form I-20 stands out as one of the most important. This form, officially known as the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” is a cornerstone of the U.S. student visa process.

In this blog, we’ll explore what Form I-20 is, its purpose, how to obtain it, and when you need it during your educational journey in the U.S. 

What is Form I-20?

The Form I-20 is a critical document issued by U.S. educational institutions to prospective international students who have been admitted to their programs. It certifies that the student is eligible to apply for an F-1 or M-1 visa, which is necessary to study in the U.S. for academic and vocational courses, respectively.

Key Details on Form I-20

The Form I-20 includes crucial information such as:

  • Student Information: Personal details like name, date of birth, and country of citizenship.
  • School Information: Details about the SEVP-certified school and its SEVIS ID number.
  • Program Details: Information about the student’s course of study, including start and end dates.
  • Financial Information: Estimated cost of the program and evidence of financial support.

This form is essential for various stages of your student visa process and must be kept current and accurate throughout your stay in the U.S.

Why is Form I-20 Important?

Form I-20 serves multiple critical purposes:

Visa Application: Students need Form I-20 to apply for a U.S. student visa (F-1 or M-1). The information on the form is used to complete the DS-160, the visa application form.

Visa Interview: You have to carry your Form I-20 to the interview. It is critical to prove your eligibility for a student visa.

Maintaining Student Status: Once in the U.S., the Form I-20 is essential for maintaining your status as an international student. It must be kept up to date with accurate information about your studies.

Employment Authorization: Form I-20 is crucial for seeking employment opportunities in OPT and CPT.

How to Obtain Form I-20?

Follow the below steps to get Form I-20.

  • Apply to SEVP-Certified Schools

Only institutions certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) can issue Form I-20. Ensure your prospective schools are SEVP-certified.

  • Gain Admission

Complete the admission process at your chosen institution. This includes submitting required academic records and meeting any language proficiency requirements.

  • Prove Financial Ability

Provide documentation showing you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses for at least the first year of study. This may include bank statements, affidavits of support, or scholarship letters.

  • Submit Required Documents

Each school may have additional requirements, such as copies of your passport or other identification documents.

  • Receive the Form I-20

Once your application is accepted and you have provided all necessary documentation, the school’s DSO will issue your Form I-20.

Document Checklist

To ensure a smooth process, prepare the following documents:

  • Passport: A copy of the photo page of your passport.
  • Financial Documents: Bank statements, sponsorship letters, or proof of scholarships.
  • Acceptance Letter: Official admission letter from the school.
  • Completed School Forms: Any additional forms required by the school.


Navigating the U.S. student visa process is a crucial step for international students. The form I-20 certifies your eligibility to apply for an F-1 or M-1 visa and plays a critical role in maintaining your student status throughout your stay in the U.S.

From facilitating your visa application to authorizing employment and ensuring you meet all regulatory requirements, the Form I-20 is foundational to your educational journey in America. Understanding its purpose, how to obtain it, and when to use it will equip you with the knowledge to navigate your academic aspirations smoothly and confidently.

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