Download: SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20

On November 1, 2021, SEVP notified stakeholders that it has made permanent its policy allowing DSOs to electronically sign and send Form I-20:

"On Nov. 1, 2021, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) published SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20, which establishes the procedures for the use of electronic signatures and transmission of the Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Students." This guidance permits designated school officials (DSOs) to electronically sign and transmit the Form I-20 to initial and continuing students and their dependents.

Under this guidance, DSOs may electronically sign all signature fields on the Form I-20 using software programs or applications, or by using electronically reproduced copies of a personal signature. Additionally, school officials may scan and email or electronically transmit the Form I-20 via secure platform, such as a school portal or other secure site, to F and M students and their dependents. DSOs may also choose to still physically sign and mail the Form I-20 to students."

New under this guidance:

  • This new guidance is permanent, i.e., it is no longer just a COVID flexibility. The guidance says: "SEVP has formally adopted the use of electronic signatures and transmission for the Form I-20." This was done in "response to Executive Order 14012, 'Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans," in which "SEVP identified recommendations to increase efficiency in the immigration system and reduce unnecessary burdens." SEVP also updated its COVID-19 FAQs to confirm that " SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20 permits the use of electronic signatures and transmission beyond the COVID-19 emergency."
  • Schools may "transmit the Form I-20 visa secure platform, such as a school portal or other secure site, to F and M students and their dependents." Under the original COVID guidance, schools could only "electronically send Forms I-20 to student email addresses listed in SEVIS." It is unclear from the wording of the new Policy Guidance whether schools that choose to email Forms I-20 are limited to the student's email listed in SEVIS.

What has not changed under this guidance:

  • Electronic signatures by students are still not acceptable on Form I-20. The student must provide a physical signature in ink. If a student receives an "electronic" Form I-20 from the school under SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20, the student must print the Form I-20 and provide a physical ("wet") signature in the Student Attestation of the printed Form I-20.
  • Forms I-20 still cannot be sent to third parties. SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20 (November 1, 2021) does not change the policy that Forms I-20 cannot be sent to third parties such as recruiters or agents. SEVP Policy Guidance - Form I-20 Issuance and School Use of Recruiters (June 4, 2019) continues to direct schools that: "For reasons of privacy, security and fraud prevention, the Form I-20 must be issued by a DSO at an SEVP-certified school and sent directly to a nonimmigrant student, his or her dependents, or, for minors, to the parent or guardian of the nonimmigrant student... DSOs are only authorized to release the Form I-20 to nonimmigrant students, their dependents, or, for minors, to their parent or legal guardian." The new SEVP policy allows the school to transmit the Form I-20 directly to the student using the specified electronic means, but does not allow Forms I-20 to be sent to third parties such as recruiters or agents, electronically or otherwise.

Regarding issues that students or schools have with other government agencies not accepting a Form I-20 that was electronically signed under this SEVP policy, SEVP's Study in the States website states:

"If a student or school official encounters an issue with a government partner accepting an electronically signed Form I-20 or has questions about this guidance, please contact the SEVP Response Center (SRC)."

Also, on November 1, 2021, SEVP updated its COVID-19 FAQs to say:

5. Has SEVP worked with both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in developing the policy to accept the use of electronic signatures during the COVID-19 emergency?

A. Prior to publication of SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20, SEVP coordinated with its government partners within DHS, the Department of State and U.S. Social Security Administration to ensure continued acceptance of electronically signed Forms I-20. If a student or school official encounters an issue with a government partner accepting an electronically signed Form I-20 or has questions about this guidance, please contact the SEVP Response Center (SRC). SRC contact information is available at the end of this FAQ.

[NAFSA note: SRC offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, except federal holidays. Telephone: 703-603-3400 or 1-800-892-4829; Email: [email protected].; For questions related to DMV/driver’s license or Social Security numbers, send an email to [email protected]]


NAFSA transcription of policy from SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20 (October 12, 2021).

Policy:

1. Use and acceptance of electronic signatures. DSOs may physically sign the Form I-20 or input their own electronic signature. SEVP accepts electronic signatures in the following forms:

1.1. Electronic signatures using software programs or applications. School officials may sign all signature fields on the Form I-20 using electronic signatures produced with software programs or applications.

1.2. Electronically reproduced copies of a signature. School officials may sign all signature fields on the Form I-20 using digitally reproduced copies of a signature. A digitally reproduced copy may be a scanned image of a physical signature.

2. Electronic transmission of the Form I-20. School officials may scan and email an electronic version of a Form I-20 that has been signed using either a physical or electronic signature, as outlined in Section 1, to nonimmigrant students and their dependents. Alternatively, school officials may use a secure platform that students can access with individual account credentials to send an electronic version of a Form I-20. This may include a school portal or other secure site that students can access.

Upon receipt of the electronically transmitted Form I-20, students should print a copy to present at any required visa interview and upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry.