Reference : Wikipedia

Department of Homeland Security

Designated School Official and FORM I -20

If a prospective international student’s primary purpose for coming to the United States is to engage in learning or a course of study, DSO’s must always issue the student a Form I-20, regardless of the program’s length. DSO’s may only issue a Form I-20 for a program that is SEVP-certified and listed on the designated school’s Form I-17 to mention “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Non immigrant Student.”

DSOs should issue Forms I-20 for the length of time that the student will take to complete the program; this should match the length of the program on the school’s Form I-17. The program end date on the Form I-20 should contain the expected date of completion of the student’s academic or vocational program. The program end date should not contain any grace periods.

Federal regulations state that only a DSO at an SEVP-certified school may issue a Form I-20 to a prospective or continuing non immigrant student, or to an accompanying dependent. Third parties are not permitted to issue the Form I-20 to a student or to have the Form I-20 issued directly to them.

The Designated school should carefully review admission requirements and only admit international students who meet all qualifications for the program of study.

Each student’s Form I-20 includes a program start date and program end date. The program start date may be as many as 30 days prior to the initial session start date, the day classes begin for Initial students, to allow for activities such as placement examinations or orientation sessions.

The program end date must be based on the amount of time it typically takes to complete the accepted student’s program of study. DSO’s can change the program end date, if needed, at any time until that date passes.

If a person’s primary purpose in the United States is not to engage in learning or a course of study, or the person has a dependent status derived from their parents that allows full-time study, then F-1 or M-1 status is inappropriate or unnecessary. In these cases, the person should consider or continue with another visa classification.

In addition, SEVP certification begins at the kindergarten grade level for private schools. Therefore, a DSO may not issue a Form I-20 for pre-kindergarten or any grade level below kindergarten for any school, even if the school is SEVP certified.      


The Form I-20 is an important document that international students need to keep safe from the time they receive it through the duration of their time in the United States, because it is required to perform many of the actions students need to take throughout the international student process


  1. Pay the SEVIS Fee.
  2. Apply for a non immigrant visa.

The Form I-20 lists a student’s program start date. F-1 and M-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the student’s course of study start date. Students are expected to have the original Form I-20 at their visa interview. The consular officer may accept a copy of the Form I-20 in limited circumstances that warrant visa issuance prior to the student receiving the original Form I-20.

Students are expected to present the original Form I-20 with ink signature at the U.S. port of entry when they arrive in the United States. Students may arrive up to 30 days before the start date listed on their Form I-20

International students must have a Form I-20 when applying for benefits, such as employment or training authorization, a driver’s license or a social security number.

Students need a Form I-20 if they are already in the United States as another type of nonimmigrant and apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to change their status to F or M.