U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will transition from a paper-based model to a secure, electronic environment. This new user-friendly system is called the USCIS Electronic Immigration System (USCIS ELIS).
USCIS ELIS is an easy-to-use system designed to modernize the application process for immigration benefits. It will also provide more accurate, convenient, and secure customer service and allow USCIS to process cases with greater efficiency and consistency.
The initial launch of USCIS ELIS in 2012 will allow certain applicants to electronically file to extend or change nonimmigrant status (Form I-539). USCIS ELIS will gradually expand to include more benefit types and offer more functions.
Please visit www.uscis.gov/uscis-elis and watch our USCIS ELIS video to learn more.
Questions and Answers
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 Divison at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.