Form I-20

The I-20 is a multi-purpose document issued by a U.S. government-approved educational institution certifying that a student has been admitted to a full-time study program and that the student has demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the U.S. The I-20 is officially titled the “Certificate of Eligibility” because it allows an individual to apply for an F-1 student visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

New Form I-20

I-20 sample

Effective June 26, 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has introduced an updated version of the Form I-20.

Currently, the new I-20 is not required for travel or at local Iowa Social Security or Department of Motor Vehicles offices. However, it may become required in the near future and for travel after July 1, 2016. If you do not have the new I-20, you may be denied entry after this time.

Do all students need I-20s?

No. If a student is maintaining a status other than F-1 in the U.S., an 1-20 is not needed. Dependent children in E, H, I, J, L, M, N, 0, P, R, or S status must change status after their 21st birthday.

How is an I-20 is created?

After a school completes the admissions process, the school collects necessary financial support and identification documentation for admitted international students requesting F-1 status. Those student names and biographic information are entered into a U.S. government database called SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). The SEVIS database processes the information and produces an I-20. The school official (called the Designated School Official or DSO) prints and signs the I-20 and then delivers it to the student. If a student needs to update or change information on the I-20, the DSO makes these requests through SEVIS to produce a new document.

How is the I-20 is used?

Outside the U.S.:  After receiving an I-20 from a school, an international student must make an appointment to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate (the visa is needed to be allowed entry into the U.S. in F-1 status).  Students must present both the F-1 visa and the I-20 to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer upon arrival at the U.S. port-of-entry.

Inside the U.S.:  Once a student has arrived in the U.S. and passes through the border inspections process (either at an airport, seaport or land border), the I-20 is used as identification and proof of legal and academic status. Typically, students must show their I-20 at the Social Security Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The I-20 is also shown to employers in the hiring process for employment. Off-campus employment information and/or authorization will be printed on page 2 of the I-20.

Do I need the I-20 for travel?

If traveling abroad, students must take their I-20 with them. The I-20 is required to reapply for a visa (if needed) and for re-entering the U.S. Before departure from the U.S., students should verify that they have a valid travel endorsement on page 2 of the I-20 from Peter Gerlach, Director of International Affairs at Coe. This signature is valid for one year for multiple visits outside the U.S.  In most cases, a travel endorsement can be done quickly and easily; however, students should plan ahead and get their travel endorsement at least a week before departing the U.S. to avoid the holiday rush.

Why do I have multiple I-20s?

New I-20s are issued to continuing students whenever there is a significant update to a student's record. This includes changes in biographical data, program dates, change of major, the addition of a work authorization, etc. These types of changes are typically prompted by student request, but Coe will automatically produce a new I-20 when a student declares or changes their major. In many cases, it may be necessary for students to request and pick up this new I-20.

When to Get a New Form I-20?

After receiving the initial Form I-20 upon program acceptance, students may receive a new Form I-20 from their DSO in the following circumstances:

  • If the physical copy of the form is destroyed or misplaced.
  • For travel endorsement.
  • When the student’s SEVIS status changes (e.g., from Initial to Active).
  • For any substantive change to student information, such as changes to a student’s personal information, program of study, optional practical training, etc.

What is the I-20 completion date?

The "completion date" is entered on item #5 of the I-20 based on a student's particular major and degree level. This is an estimate of time the College feels it may take to fulfill all degree requirements. However, if a student is not able to finish the program on that date, an extension must be requested from Peter Gerlach at least one month - though, one semester is preferred - before the completion date expires.

According to U.S. immigration regulations, the "completion date" is defined as the day final degree requirements are completed.  The actual completion date may not necessarily be the day of the graduation ceremony or the date on the I-20 (In fact, many students actually finish degree requirements before the completion date on the I-20).

The completion date is considered to be the last day of final exams of the semester degree requirements are fulfilled.

The 60-day Grace Period

When students complete a study program, they are allowed a 60-day grace period to either 1) depart the U.S., 2) request a school transfer, or 3) change visa status.

Note: Students who are interested in working in the U.S. following their program completion must apply for Optional Practical Training work authorization before the expiration of the 60 day grace period.

What happens if I lose my I-20?

If you are a Coe F-1 student, please contact the International Student Affairs office for a replacement I-20. Please note that if you are outside the U.S., you must obtain the replacement I-20 before entering the U.S. to resume your studies. Allow sufficient time for processing and mail delivery.

Should I keep all copies of my I-20s?

Yes. You may obtain several different versions of your I-20s while you are in the U.S. if there are changes to your program or other information. Keep all copies for future reference. Always use the most recently issued I-20 for travel, work or other purposes.

Do my family members need I-20s?

If you will be accompanied by your spouse and children, they will each need their own I-20 to obtain the F-2 dependent visas and to remain in the U.S. during your program and for travel purposes. In the rare case this applies to you, see Peter Gerlach for more information.