F-1 Visa students must have a valid I-20 in order to study in the US. The I-20 proves that you are legally enrolled at an education program in the US (e.g., an ESL program). An approved US school can issue I-20s. It shows that you have sufficient financial resources to stay in the US and allows you to apply for an F-1 Student Visa at a US embassy abroad. Once you receive your Form I-20 from a Designated School Official (“DSO”), you can pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System Fee. You have to pay this before you enter the US.
Your I-20 will list your program start date and you can enter the US 30 days before the start date. You need to bring the original I-20 when you enter the US and a Customs and Border Protection officer will review it when you arrive at the airport (or other port of entry).
The consular officer might deny your student visa if they think there are errors in it. You must check if your name is spelled correctly, it has the correct program of study, it is signed by a DSO, etc. A common issue with I-20s is when the date on your I-20 has a date listed when you are supposed to report to school, but it already past. If this happens, you will likely be denied to study. You should talk with your DSO and an immigration attorney if you have questions about your I-20.
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