CBP No Longer Stamping I-20 for Students at POE
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently confirmed that officers have stopped stamping I-20s at airports and other U.S. ports of entry (POEs). This information was first circulated in mid-August 2012 by NAFSA: Association of International Educators (formerly known as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors). An August 10, 2012 CBP memorandum confirming this shift in I-20 procedure was released subsequently. Reasons for the change and for its importance to students are explained for the benefit of MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers.
Importance of I-20s for Students
When a foreign student is accepted into an academic program at a U.S. college or university, the institution's Designated School Official (DSO) generates a Form I-20. The I-20 includes information on the student, the school, and the particular program into which the student is enrolling, including the required Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) codes. [Topics important to foreign students, including I-20s, are discussed in our NewsBrief, Overview: Maintaining Valid F-1 Student Status (02.Sep.2011), available on MurthyDotCom.]
The I-20 is needed for all student applications for immigration, including visa applications at U.S. embassies or consulates. In order for foreign nationals to be admitted into the United States as students, CBP officers at U.S. POEs must be presented with the I-20. The officers then can issue the I-94 cards reflecting the student status.
I-20 Stamp Previously Demonstrated Status Maintenance
The prior CBP practice upon a student's admission to the United States was to stamp an expiration date or the letters 'D/S' (meaning that the student was admitted for the duration of status related to his/her academic program) on the I-20s of students in F status. The date 30 days beyond the academic program's expiration would be stamped for M visa holders. The date (or D/S) was in addition to the stamps on the I-94 cards, issued to F and M visa holders when inspection at the POEs was complete and they were admitted into the United States. The CBP is no longer following this procedure.
ELIS Does Not Require USCIS Stamp on I-20: CBP Consistent
The reason for discontinuing the practice of stamping I-20s at the Port of Entry is connected to the implementation of the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS). Prior to ELIS, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) practice upon approval of a change to F-1 or M-1 (Form I-539) student status was to place an approval stamp on the student's I-20 and return the stamped form to the student. The USCIS ceased stamping I-20s upon implementation of the ELIS system. Thus, the CBP is changing the stamping practices it employed, for the sake of consistency.
Potential Problems with Unstamped I-20s
Some governmental offices in the United States are accustomed to seeing stamped I-20s as evidence students have maintained valid nonimmigrant status. Such agencies, therefore, may not realize that the I-20s are valid without the CBP or USCIS endorsement. In particular, there are concerns that the agencies in some states that regulate and monitor motor vehicles registration and operation (DMV, MVA, etc) may refuse to issue drivers' licenses or identification cards to foreign students who possess unstamped I-20s.
Contact USCIS on Delays with Drivers' Licenses
In response to concerns raised by NAFSA, the USCIS has asked that students report any DMV issues to their DSOs and bring them to the attention of USCIS through the Office of Public Engagement. The USCIS will attempt to contact the particular motor vehicle agency and other government offices to explain the validity of I-20s absent the stamp.
The Murthy Law Firm appreciates the continuing work and advocacy of NAFSA, and for their generosity in providing notice of this change in policy before its official release by the CBP. Hopefully, the system in place for addressing any confusion on the part of various governmental offices in the United States will be able to sufficiently address any problems.
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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.