US immigration reaffirms that I-20s should not be sent to agents

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The US government recently confirmed its long-standing policy that Form I-20s may only be released directly to the applying student
  • One implication of this is that the I-20 may not be sent to an education agent acting on the student’s behalf
  • US immigration officials say that this policy is in place for reasons of privacy, security, and fraud prevention

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a policy statement on 4 June 2019 to clarify that US institutions may only issue Form I-20s directly to students, or, in the case of minors, to the student’s parent or guardian. More to the point, ICE cautions that I-20s cannot be sent to recruiters – that is, to education agents.

The Form I-20 is issued by the admitting institution or school in the US, and must be presented by the international student when he/she applies for a US study visa. Without the I-20, in other words, the student cannot obtain a visa.

As reported by ICE, the 4 June guidance statement arises from recent questions as to “whether recruiters may receive the Form I-20 directly from a school’s designated school official (DSO) and control the distribution to the prospective student.” ICE’s position on this is clear, and the 4 June statement is apparently meant to reinforce long-standing US government policy in this regard. The department points out that the practice of sending I-20s directly to the student is consistently reflected in the manuals, fact sheets, and other information resources it has produced in support of the US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

“These resources,” notes the ICE statement, “state that recruiters cannot be given Forms I-20.” citing one background note for students that says, “A recruiter has no proper role in handling your Form I-20. A recruiter does not issue a Form I-20, nor should the recruiter hold onto your Form I-20 for any reason.”

On that point, US immigration authorities say that the policy is in place for reasons of privacy, security, and fraud prevention. The statement notes in particular that SEVP officials are “aware of instances where recruiters, having obtained a student’s Form I-20, subsequently demanded additional payments before providing it back to the student in advance of a meeting with the consulate for a visa or traveling to the United States.” There is no additional detail provided for this claim, however, nor any indication as to how widespread ICE believes any such issues may be.

Visa processing in the US remains an area of significant concern for international students aspiring to study in the United States, as well as for the American institutions and schools that aim to host them. A recent survey of US colleges found that concerns around visa delays or denials topped the list of factors that, in the eyes of educators, had the greatest influence on the attractiveness of the US as a study destination.

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