What Does i20 Visa Mean? A Comprehensive Guide

If you are an international student planning to study in the United States, one of the essential documents you will need is the i20 visa. In this guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about the i20 visa, including its definition, types, application process, and much more.

Key Takeaways

  • An i20 visa is a document that allows foreign students to attend universities and colleges in the United States.
  • There are three types of i20 visas: F-1 for academic studies, M-1 for vocational studies, and J-1 for exchange programs.
  • To obtain an i20 visa, you need to be accepted by a U.S. institution, pay the required fees, and follow the application process.
  • The i20 visa is valid as long as you remain enrolled in your program of study and comply with the U.S. immigration regulations.
  • You can travel outside of the United States with an i20 visa, but you need to follow the proper procedures to receive permission to re-enter.

What is an i20 visa?

An i20 visa is a document issued by a U.S. college or university that confirms you have been accepted to study there. It is a non-immigrant student visa that permits you to stay in the United States legally for the duration of your study program. The i20 visa is also referred to as the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status.

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Types of i20 visas

The three primary types of i20 visas are:

F-1 Visa

The F-1 visa is the most common visa issued to international students who plan to attend an academic program, including university or college. If you receive an F-1 visa, you are permitted to work in the United States while studying, but only under specific conditions.

M-1 Visa

The M-1 visa is for students who plan to attend vocational or technical schools in the United States. Students with this visa are not permitted to work in the United States, except in very limited circumstances.

J-1 Visa

The J-1 visa is for international students who participate in exchange programs, including students, scholars, and researchers. This visa is also available for U.S. citizens who wish to study overseas.

How to obtain an i20 visa

To obtain an i20 visa, you must follow these steps:

  1. Apply to a college or university that accepts international students.
  2. Receive acceptance from the institution and receive the i20 document.
  3. Pay the SEVIS fee and other required application fees.
  4. Schedule and attend a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country.

How long is an i20 visa valid?

The i20 visa is valid for as long as you remain enrolled in your program of study and continue to meet the other visa requirements. However, if you take time off or change your program of study, you may need to apply for a new i20 visa. If you remain in the United States after your program of study has ended, your visa will expire, and you will need to leave or apply for a different type of visa.

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Traveling with an i20 visa

You can travel outside of the United States using your i20 visa, but you must follow certain procedures to be eligible for re-entry into the United States. You must notify your school’s international student office before leaving the country, and you must obtain the necessary travel documents before returning to the United States. If you do not follow these procedures, you may not be able to re-enter the United States.


The i20 visa is an essential document for international students wishing to study in the United States. Understanding the i20 visa’s application process, types available, and how long it is valid will help you ensure a smooth study abroad experience. By following the proper procedures, you can enjoy your studies and travel without putting your visa status at risk.


What is the SEVIS fee?

The SEVIS fee is a fee that international students must pay when applying for a non-immigrant student visa. The fee supports the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that keeps track of international students and scholars studying in the United States.

Can I work while on an i20 visa?

Yes, but only under specific conditions. International students with an F-1 visa are permitted to work on-campus or off-campus, but only for a limited number of hours per week, and only after completing one year of study.

How long does it take to obtain an i20 visa?

The time it takes to obtain an i20 visa varies depending on the individual situation and the U.S. embassy or consulate where you are applying. However, you should allow several months to complete the necessary steps, including receiving acceptance from the institution, paying fees, and completing the visa application process.

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About the Author

Raymond Broady

Raymond is immigration attorney based in Los Angeles, California. He has a law degree from Harvard University and has been practicing immigration law for over two decades. Raymond is passionate about helping clients navigate the complexities of the US immigration system, and he shares his knowledge and expertise on the blog. His articles are informative and detailed, providing readers with valuable insights into US immigration policies and procedures.

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