What is a Leave of Absence for Immigration Purposes?
While in the United States, F-1 students must be continuously enrolled full time during the academic year until the completion of their programs of study. A Leave of Absence (LOA) allows F1 student to take time off from their academic program.
During a LOA your SEVIS record is terminated until you are ready to return. When you are ready to return your record is “reactivated” and you will be back in status.
Important Considerations Before Taking a Leave of Absence or Withdrawing:
- You must have been in F1 status for one full academic year (2 semesters) before you are eligible for a LOA.
- If your record is terminated, you cannot remain in the U.S. during your leave. You must leave the U.S. See below for more information.
Leave due to Medical Reasons
- If your leave is for a medical reason, you can be authorized for a reduced course load based on medical conditions. In this situation and your SEVIS record will remain active and you are allowed to stay in the US.
- You must have documentable proof that you cannot physically attend classes from a medical physician.
- You cannot be authorized for work authorization while you are on an official school leave
Length of Leave
Students are advised to not take a LOA longer than one semester. For visa purposes, F1 students that take a LOA for more than 5 months of academic time will need to apply for a new I-20 and visa. Summer or December vacation time does not factor into this 5-month time limit.
- If your leave of absence is for more than 5 months, you will not be eligible for CPT or OPT based on your previous time as an F1 student. You will need to complete another academic year before you would be eligible for CPT or OPT.
How to Apply for a Leave of Absence:
- Plan ahead. You need to ensure that you do not have any holds on your student account and that you will have any balance owed to the University paid off before you will be eligible to return to SAU.
- Submit the Leave of Absence Request Form. Please do this at least two weeks before your leave will go into effect.
- After submitting this form, your SEVIS record will be terminated for “Authorized Early Withdrawal”, which will not adversely affect your immigration record. The exact date of the termination will be based on the date you indicate on this form.
- Depart the country within 15 days of the termination date (for “Authorized Early Withdrawal” only).
Returning from a Leave of Absence
F-1 students returning from a leave of fewer than 5 months:
If the leave will be less than five months, ISS can usually request that your F-1 status to be reactivated by SEVP. This process allows you to maintain your OPT/CPT eligibility and use the same I-20 and visa (if not expired). This process is ultimately up to SEVP, our office can only request a reactivation.
2 Months Before You Return:
- Ensure that you do not have and holds or a balance on your student account. If you have not taken care of this, we will not be able to process your reactivation.
- Email the following documents to SAUInternational@saumag.edu
- Unofficial transcript
- Arrival ticket or itinerary
Once our office has these documents and checks your student account a request will be submitted to SEVP. The process can take 1 to 4 weeks, so it is important that you start this process well ahead of your return. Our office will notify you once your record has been reactivated. Failing to reactive your record before your travel will result in you being refused entry into the US.
Important things to Remember:
- You can only return to the US within 30 days of the start of the next semester.
- Check that you have a valid travel signature on page 2 of your I-20. If not, you can request an updated signature from ISS.
- Check your email regularly during the reactivation process. SEVP may require additional information and the deadline to submit information is usually within 2 days of a request. ISS will contact you via email if additional information is required or when your reactivation has been approved.
- Travel with all of your regular immigration documents.
F-1 students returning from a leave of more than 5 months:
If your leave will be longer than five month, you will require a new F-1 status and a new ‘Initial’ I-20. This will be a completely new F-1 record. It will be like coming to the US all over again. If your leave is for more than five months, you must contact our office with your intent to return and complete a new SAU application.
Once you receive your new I-20 you will need to:
- Wait until within 30 days of your program start date to return to the US
- Pay a new SEVIS fee
- Apply for a new visa
- Complete one academic year to be eligible for CPT or OPT
- Check in with ISS once you arrive in the US