The I-20 Form is a mandatory document when applying for the F-1 and M-1 visas. This document will be sent to the prospective college or K-12 student by the school that has admitted the student to a program of study. You cannot make an appointment at the U.S. consulate and apply for the F-1 or M-1 visas without the I-20 Form. In addition, each time the holder of a F-1 or M-1 visa enters the country, they must present the original I-20 Form.
The I-20 Form is a numbered and limited form, which cannot be downloaded from the Internet or filled out electronically. It can only be issued by an educational institution in the U.S. However, not all U.S. educational institutions can issue the I-20 Form. The educational institution in the U.S. must have a SEVIS registration in order to be able to issue an I-20 Form. SEVIS, which stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, is a web-based U.S. government database that allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to view data about all exchange students who are in the U.S. SEVIS includes information about the student’s location, educational institution, and legal status among other data. If all relevant information about the student is recorded in this tracking system, then the I-20 Form can then be generated, printed, and sent off. Once the data has been entered into SEVIS, it becomes the responsibility of the educational institution to keep the student’s information up to date and to change it, if necessary, during the visa holder’s entire stay in the U.S.
Applicants wishing to attend an educational institution in the U.S. must clarify beforehand whether the notified institution in the United States has a SEVIS registration and thus is able to issue the I-20 Form. Generally speaking, most public schools cannot issue an I-20 Form. Visa applicants can find out on the website of the DHS whether the notified institution has a SEVIS registration and is thus able to issue the I-20 Form: http://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/school-search
Page 1 of the form requests information about the student, educational institution, and the prospective program of study. The student must also sign a declaration on this page and thus confirm that they will comply with the rights and obligations of an F-1 or M-1 visa holder during the entire study period.
The second page contains information regarding the Designated School Official (DSO), i.e., a specially appointed representative of the educational institution, as well as various instructions in the event of re-entry, transfer to another educational institution, and information concerning possible employment. If the student should be accompanied by family members, they are noted on page 4.