In a Fact Sheet posted on its Web site, USCIS addresses several common questions regarding how electronic filings and adjudications of Form I-539 processed in the optional USCIS ELIS system will relate to paper Forms I-20 generated by SEVIS.
Q1. What is the Form I-20?
A1. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Form I-20 is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status for foreign exchange students who wish to attend an educational program in the United States. Educational institutions issue Form I-20. Once students have a Form I-20, they can apply for a student visa or change of status.
Q2. Does the Form I-20 prove lawful status?
A2. No. Some state and federal benefit administrators require foreign students to present a Form I-20 under the mistaken belief that it is an indicator of lawful status. Form I-20 does not indicate lawful status, nor does it require a stamp to be valid.
Q3. Will Forms I-20 continue to be stamped?
A3. Once USCIS ELIS goes live, USCIS will no longer stamp Forms I-20. Applicants wishing to have USCIS stamp their Form I-20 may make an appointment online through InfoPass and take their form to a USCIS office. Stamping Form I-20 is a transitional service that field offices will discontinue in the near future.
Q4. How will SEVIS Forms I-20 and Department of State Forms DS-2019 be handled in the online system?
A4. Students using USCIS ELIS to file a stand-alone Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, will scan and upload supporting documentation, including the original Form I-20 and the original Department of State Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. USCIS will adjudicate the request electronically. Although the student will receive the approval notice (Form I-797) through the mail, the scanned copy of the Form I-20 will not be stamped and returned.
Q5. How will an unstamped Form I-20 affect work authorization and applying for state or federal benefits?
A5. The USCIS-issued Employment Authorization Document is the only legal document that authorizes students to work off-campus. An unstamped Form I-20 should have no negative impact on off-campus student employment or applications for state or federal benefits, including driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards. USCIS is actively communicating with Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) to ensure their understanding that a Form I-20 does not require a stamp to be valid. However, if specific issues arise with a DMV or other government agency rejecting a student’s unstamped I-20, we request that the student or their designated school official (DSO) contact our Public Engagement Division at [email protected] so that we can contact the government agency to clarify the benefit. Students may also make an appointment online through InfoPass and take their Form I-20 to a USCIS office to have it stamped. Stamping Form I-20 is a transitional service that field offices will discontinue in the near future.
Q6. What is the difference between a stamped and endorsed Form I-20?
A6. A stamped Form I-20 has been marked with an official stamp by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspections officer at a port of entry or by a USCIS officer who received it with the student’s Form I-539. A Form I-20 is endorsed when it is signed by a DSO for specific purposes, such as travel or employment. The Form I-20 does not provide any immigration benefits and does not require a stamp to be valid. However, it does require a DSO’s endorsement before the student may travel internationally or apply for employment authorization.
Q7. What should students do with their original Form I-20?
A7. USCIS recommends that students keep their original Form I-20 in a safe place for as long as they are in the United States on their student visa, and there is a possibility they may travel outside the U.S. for any reason.