International Student Resources

Overview of Terms & Process Timeline

Certificate of Eligibility (I-20) for F-1 Student Visa


After you have accepted your admissions offer to GTU, the Senior Director for Student Success and Designated School Officer (DSO) for GTU and will contact you about required documentation, timelines, and instructions.  To obtain a F-1 student visa to enter the United States (U.S.) to study at the GTU, you will first require a Certificate of Eligibility: Form I-20. 

The I-20 is a multi-purpose document issued by a U.S. government-approved educational institution certifying that a student has been admitted to a full-time study program and has demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the United States. The I-20 is officially titled the “Certificate of Eligibility” because it allows an individual to apply for an F-1 student visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.


The DSO collects necessary financial support and identification documentation for completing the I-20 application. That student information is entered into a U.S. government database called SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). SEVIS processes the information and produces an I-20. The school official (called the Designated School Official or DSO) processes and signs the I-20 and then emails or delivers it to the student by post.  This can take up to a month--from initiating the application to receiving the I-20.  If a student needs to update or change information on their I-20, the DSO makes these requests on their behalf through SEVIS to produce a new document.

As of October 12, 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allows I-20s to be signed and distributed electronically by Designated School Officials (DSOs).  When you receive an I-20 from GTU, you can either choose to receive the I-20 electronically with a digital signature or as a printed and signed physical paper I-20. If you receive an electronically signed I-20, you must print out the I-20 and carry a physical copy when using it for travel or other official purposes. As always- be sure to keep all old I-20s for your records, but use the newest version for travel or other purposes.


Outside the U.S.:  After receiving an I-20 from a school, an international student must make an appointment to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate (the visa is needed to be allowed entry into the United States in F-1 status). Students must present both the F-1 visa and the I-20 to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer upon arrival at the U.S. port-of-entry.  Stay on point with your customs conversation and answer questions directly.  Do not chatter excessively with answers or speculate about anything such as future work or discuss anything than the present facts being asked of you.

Inside the U.S.:  Once a student has arrived in the United States and passes through the border inspections process (either at an airport, seaport, or land border), the I-20 is used as identification and proof of legal and academic status for important matters in the States.    The I-20 is also shown to employers in the hiring process for employment. Off-campus employment information and/or authorization will be printed on page 2 of the I-20.


When traveling abroad, students must take their I-20 with them. The I-20 is required for re-entering the United States and reappling for a visa if needed. Before departure from the United States, students must verify that they have a valid travel endorsement on page two of their I-20 from the DSO at GTU. 


Students must return to the U.S. within five months of departure, if only for a visit to a U.S. counselate or customs office abroad to ensure that customs agents record that visit as a student visit (not a tourist), otherwise international students can forfeit their I-20 with a Termination Status.  This is a very serious and non-negotiable feature of the I-20 / F-1 visa. 

The DSO travel endorsement signature is valid for one year, for multiple visits outside the United States. Students should plan ahead and get their travel endorsement several weeks before departing the United States to avoid the holiday rush.


The "completion date" is entered in the Program Start/End Date section of the I-20 based on a student's particular major and degree level. This is an estimate of time the GTU feels it may take to fulfill all degree requirements. However, if a student is not able to finish the program on that date, an extension must be requested from DSO at least one month before the completion date expires.

According to U.S. immigration regulations, the "completion date" is defined as the day final degree requirements are completed. The actual completion date may not necessarily be the day of the graduation ceremony or the date on the I-20. (In fact, many students actually finish degree requirements before the completion date on the I-20).

Graduate Students and the 60-Day Grace Period:

The completion date is the day on which all degree requirements are fulfilled, such as filing the thesis or dissertation.  When students complete a study program, they are allowed a 60-day grace period to either 1) depart the United States, 2) request a school transfer, or 3) change visa status.

Note: Students who are interested in working in the United States following their program completion must apply for Optional Practical Training work authorization before the expiration of the 60-day grace period.


If you will be accompanied by your spouse and children, they will each need their own I-20 to obtain the F-2 dependent visas and to remain in the United States during your program and for travel purposes.  Inform your DSO of this need in advance.


The GLACIER Tax subscription expired this tax season, and we do not plan to renew it since the program did not provide California state tax support.  Invariably, most tax programs provide a state component since federal tax information lays the foundation for state data.

UC Berkeley developed a helpful and comprehensive web site to walk international students through the process of filing federal and state taxes.  The link for that site is:

The Graduate Theological Union (GTU) cannot give you tax advice or make a determination as to whether you qualify for tax benefits.  That statement is applicable to most U.S. institutions of higher learning, thereby limiting what can be said in that regard. 

Transferring your F-1 SEVIS Record to GTU

If you are currently in F-1 status in the U.S., but no more than 5 months will have lapsed between your last day of enrollment and the start of fall quarter, you may transfer your SEVIS record to the GTU. Here are the steps that are required to transfer your SEVIS. 

1: You need to fill out the SEVIS Transfer Form. This form will collect immigration related information to confirm your eligibility to transfer your SEVIS record and determine when your SEVIS record will be released to GTU. 

2: Contact the Designated School Official (DSO) at the school that currently sponsors your F-1 status and ask them to complete Section 2 of the SEVIS Transfer Form. 

3: Return the completed SEVIS Transfer Form to as an email attachment, or fax.  

4: Complete and submit the “Getting the I-20 for F-1 Status” form. 

5: GTU will issue a “Transfer Pending” I-20 to you after the SEVIS “Transfer Release Date” noted in the SEVIS Transfer Form provided we have received all required documents – including the evidence of financial support. 

6: Complete the SEVIS Transfer process by reporting to the Director of Student Life & Liaison for International Students and Scholars at the GTU no later than 15 days after the start date indicated on your GTU Form I-20. Failure to report by this deadline will jeopardize your F-1 student status. 

Maintaining Student Status

Students must be careful to abide by all regulations to maintain their F-1 status. International students must provide the GTU with a copy of the passport upon arrival, and current address information at all times. International students can only work on campus. Students are not to work in any capacity off campus, unless authorized for Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

Proofreading/Writing Support

The Director of Student Life coordinates a proofreading program for students writing research papers in the course work stage of the doctoral program. The proofreaders are current students who are paid for their service. Please email if you wish to avail this service.

There are co-working groups for students wanting peer support, particularly for those in their comprehensive exam and dissertation writing stages.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training is off-campus employment or training directly related to your field of study. You must be authorized by the Dean of Students/PDSO, and you must register for a special agreed upon course where you will receive unit credit for the CPT training or work. You need to register for the course during each of the academic terms that you will be involved in the CPT training. The authorization will be indicated on the last page of a new I-20 form

  • To be eligible for CPT you must have been in F-1 student status for at least one academic year.
  • You will to provide an offer letter from the institution offering you job training.
  • During the academic term, you are only eligible for part-time CPT (20 hours a week).

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training is an opportunity to gain experience after the completion of your program on a 12-month OPT. It is intended to enhance your academic program by providing a way to gain experience in your field of study. Students may apply to work part-time (20 hours a week) or full time in either a paid or unpaid job related to their field of study. Apply to the Dean of Students/PDSO early, as it can take three months to get approval from USCIS. The earliest you can send in your application is 90 days before your program completion. You OPT start date must be within 60 days after your completion date. Your OPT end date will be 12 months later.