The I-20: What It Is and What It Contains
Once you have been admitted by an American university, your university will send you an I-20 to enable you to enter the U.S. on an F-1 (student) visa. The I-20 is a certificate of non-immigrant eligibility i.e. it certifies that you are eligible to travel to the United States as a student and are not traveling as an immigrant. This document, sometimes referred to as a DS-2019, is usually sent to you by the admissions office in your university.
The I-20 certifies that you have enough financial resources to attend school and pay for your living expenses while attending school without resorting to illegal employment or relying on public funds. For this reason, the I-20 states:
- The total costs of your course
- The amount of scholarships or any other financial assistance you will be receiving from the university, if any
- The amount that you will be paying towards the costs of the course.
The I-20 is based on documents that you would have previously sent while applying for admission:
- Bank solvency/statement to show you have adequate funds to pay the fees
- Your sponsor’s affidavit of support (which for some universities should be in the format that they specify)
Important Points to Check When You Receive Your I-20
Your I-20 is a 3-page document. All the information mentioned above is given on the first page. On the third page (item no. 5) are given your employment permissions i.e. permissions relating to:
- Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) which is a kind of internship that allows you to work while you are studying
- Optional Practical Training (OPT), under which you can work for a period of a total period of 29 months after graduating
The third page is extremely important since it is required when you enter and exit the US while you are still studying.
When you receive your I-20, check the following are correctly stated:
- your name exactly – it should be exactly the same as that given in your passport
- your date of birth – it should be the same as that given in your passport
- the name of your university or college you are going to attend
- the date of reporting/commencement for your course and the end date for the course
- the name of your course (e.g. it should not say M.E. instead of MS)
The document must also be signed by the appropriate university official/authority.
Once you have received your I-20 you may apply for your visa. You can appear for the visa interview within 120 days before the date of commencement, but not before e.g. if the date of commencement given on your I-20 is 15 January, you can apply for at any time after 15 September of the preceding year.
See sample I-20 below: