International students who wish to pursue degrees in the United States must obtain F-1 visas before they can enter the country. This process involves gathering and completing certain documents, including Form I-20. There are two types of forms, the F-1 and M-1; F-1 is for academic and language students, and M-1 is for vocational students. Aside from the different form names, the rest of the information in these documents are the same.
How Do I Obtain Form I-20?
Form I-20, or Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, is used during the entire time that the international student is working on their studies. It proves that the student is legally enrolled in a study program in this country. After international students are accepted in a Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), they must pay a I-901 SEVIS fee of $350 through the website. Once this is done, a designated school representative will send out the form. This is normally the responsibility of the school’s international office; if the form is not received, the office should be contacted.
These forms include the student’s name, passport number, and place and date of birth. There will also be details about the program’s start and end date, duration, and degree. Form I-20 also includes information about how the student will be covering tuition payments. The learning institution completes much of these forms, except the Cost of Attendance section. Applicants have to enter the costs for tuition, fees, living expenses, and other expenses. Students who are accepted and want to bring eligible dependents with them must also complete additional forms for them.
How can I Show Proof of Funding?
One way to show proof of funding is by providing bank statements, and the international office can provide parameters for this. Some international students secure teaching assistant or campus employment positions, but these are never guaranteed. Working while studying can also be very challenging, especially for students admitted in master’s programs.
If the university is providing scholarships or financial aid, these details will automatically go onto Form I-20. If there are external scholarships, these must be documented by the student. Students who receive funding through employer sponsorships, educational loans, or other private sources may have to complete additional forms for this.
Applying for an F-1 Visa
In addition to Form I-20, applicants must provide a valid passport that does not expire until at least six months longer than the intended stay; a completed DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application; and the application fee receipt. Prior to the visa interview, applicants must gather together their GRE or GMAT results, certificates for passing an English Proficiency Test, scholarship/loan letters, and bank statements. It is also important to have a copy of the acceptance letter, proof of undergraduate degrees and reports, and documents from family members, teachers, and anyone else who supports the student’s studies.
As soon as all this information is in order, the applicant can schedule their visa interview through their country’s U.S. Embassy or Consulate. There may be a waiting period, so it is advised to apply as soon as possible. F-1 visas can be issued up to 120 days before courses begin, but applicants are not allowed to enter the country more than 30 days before that date.
How Do I Use Form I-20?
Once the student is issued Form I-20 and a visa, both will need to be shown to authorities when they arrive at a U.S. port-of-entry. After the student has passed through border inspections, Form I-20 will be necessary for identification if the student applies for a job, goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles, or a Social Security Office.
F-1 visa students who leave the country and then return to continue their studies at the same institution must obtain the appropriate documentation. When planning departure from the U.S., the student must research what the country’s entry requirements are. The student must also obtain a valid travel endorsement from a school advisor; this signature goes on the form and is good for one year of multiple visits outside the country.
Before re-entering the U.S., students must present their form with the current signature from the school, a valid F-1 student visa stamp, and a valid travel document or passport. All this confirms that the student maintained the F-1 status and they are eligible to return to the U.S. F-1 students who plan to travel out of country should always take steps to get their travel endorsements well in advance, in case there are any delays.
What Else Should I Know About Form I-20?
Whenever there are significant changes to a student’s record, a new form may be issued for the following reasons:
- Changes in biographical data, such as marriage, name change, etc.
- A change of major
- New program dates
- New work authorization
Students should keep their old forms but use the most updated one for confirming their legal status when required. The completion date is the day that the educational institution feels that the student will be completing their degree requirements. Should the student not finish their program by then, it may be possible to apply for an extension. This needs to be done well before the completion date. For undergraduate students, that completion day is usually the last day of final exams; for graduate students, it would be the day when all of their degree requirements or final exams are completed. After the completion date, students are given a 60-day grace period. During this time, they can change their visa status, ask for a school transfer, or depart the United States.
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