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I-20 Form for US Visa – Decoding Uses, Fees & Processing Time

Updated on 09 November, 2023

Bulbul Sharma

Bulbul Sharma

Manager- Content @upGrad

The Form I-20 is an essential document for M and F category students looking to pursue academics in the US. The document signifies the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. International students receive the form from their DSOs (Designated School Officials) upon acceptance into any SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) certified institution. 

The I-20 form is also necessary for any dependents that will come to the country with you. You should remember that the name (i.e., Academic and Language students vs. Vocational Students)  given on the form by the SEVP-certified institution will determine your student visa type and the required status to maintain it. This is why many people call this document the I-20 visa, i.e., one that automatically determines these aspects. The form has to be signed by the recipient and their DSO. Those under 18 will need their parents to sign the form on their behalf. 

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Why it is Required? 

You already know what the I-20 form is and its basic details. 

But why is the form required? Here are some reasons worth noting: 

  1. The I-20 Form is an eligibility certificate for getting a Non-immigrant student status. 
  2. The SEVP-certified school taking you will dispatch the form once you have paid the I-901 SEVIS charge. You will have to complete the form only for the institution that you finally chose. 
  3. The I-20 Form is essential for many aspects of the immigration application. It is used for confirming the I-901 SEVIS fee payment and also for applications for nonimmigrant visas at US Consulates or Embassies. You will also require the form for entering the country. 
  4. The I-20 form helps in fast-tracking the immigration procedure, working as proof of legitimate educational residence in the country. It is vital to obtain a student visa. 
  5. Once you get the visa, you can apply for your social security number and driving license. This will qualify you for working either on or off-campus, depending on the visa type. 

How to Get an I-20 Form? 

Once you get accepted into any SEVP-certified institution, you will automatically get the I-20 Form from the DSO (Designated School Official). The DSO holds responsibility for signing the form and delivering it. You can also update information on the I-20 Form student visa through the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) framework. 

There are two kinds of forms, namely the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status, which applies to academic and language students, and the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status, which is for vocational students. When you get the I-20 Form, these are the details that will be noted within the SEVIS: 

  1. ID number
  2. Cost of attending your chosen institution 
  3. Chosen study program
  4. Source of funding
  5. Starting and ending dates of the program
  6. Additional personal details 

You will have to get the I-20 Form before applying for your F-1 or M-1 student visa. 

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I-20 Fees for the USA

Those applying for visas will first have to pay the SEVIS charge. The charge is US$350 for both F-1 and M-1 applicants under the SEVIS framework. This is a one-time charge only. 

I-20 Processing Time

One to two weeks are required for processing your I-20 Form after you complete all the paperwork. You will get a tracking number via your mail. 

Benefits/Uses of the I-20 Form

The I-20 Form comes with various uses and benefits of its own. Here’s looking at a few of them: 

  1. You should get the I-20 Form from the DSO before paying the I-901 SEVIS charge. The information in the form is required for fee payments. The SEVIS charge is compulsory before entering the country. 
  2. The I-20 Form has all information about your educational program, its starting and concluding dates, etc. F-1 and M-1 student visas may be given up to 120 days before the starting date. The details on the I-20 form are listed around 30 days prior to your official sanction to enter the US. Your student visa type should match the I-20 Form. The original form is required at the interview for your visa, and copies may be required as well. 
  3. The original I-20 Form with the hand ink signature is required for entering the US. The Customs and Border Protection officials will want to see this form upon your arrival. You may enter up to 30 days before the date listed on the I-20 Form. The date on the form is the starting date of your educational program. 
  4. You will require the form if you are already in the country and wish to change your nonimmigrant status to either M/F. 
  5. The form is necessary for proving your legal enrolment into any course in the US. You may also require the same for applying to get benefits available for students under M/F visas. You should also carry your I-20 Form while applying for social security numbers or driving licenses. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an I-20 Form used for?

Form I-20 proves your legal enrollment into any course in the US. It is also required for applying for your driver’s license and social security number. It should be matched with your student visa and is imperative for getting the same. The I-20 Form is what enables you to enter the country. 

How do I get my I-20 Form?

Upon getting your acceptance into any SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) certified educational institution, you will get this I-20 Form from the DSO (Designated School Official) at the institution where you wish to study. This is how you get the form. 

How long does Form I-20 take to process?

It usually requires anywhere between one to two weeks for your I-20 Form to be processed. Of course, you will have to be thorough with your paperwork beforehand. 

Can I print I-20 Form?

You can only print the I-20 form after digitally submitting the same and also after making any necessary updates to the same. Printing a copy will need Adobe Reader Version 5.0 or higher. Make sure that you adhere to this printing guideline. 

Bulbul Sharma

Manager- Content @upGrad

Bulbul is a self-driven professional and an expert writer & editor. She has been a part of the ed-tech industry for the past 2 years now and is motivated to provide study abroad aspirants with factually correct and relevant information. Her knack for impactful writing makes her blogs worth a read!

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