Because full-time enrollment is a requirement for maintaining F-1 status, any F-1 student who takes a leave of absence (LOA) from their program (i.e. will no longer maintain full-time enrollment) must be aware of the immigration implications.
Leaves of absence can be a complicated topic for international students, since there are two separate processes you must navigate: 1) following the leave of absence procedure with your school and 2) taking appropriate steps for your immigration record. These are separate processes, but the timing of each process can impact the other.
If you are considering a leave of absence from your program, you should contact OIS for individualized advice as soon as possible.
SEVIS Termination vs. Medical Reduced Course Load (RCL)
In most cases, F-1 students who take a leave of absence from their program will simply need to depart the United States and their SEVIS immigration record will be terminated for “Authorized Early Withdrawal”. This is a standard process that does not leave a negative mark on your record. Then, when students plan to return to the United States for a future term, they will need to take steps to obtain a new I-20 (see below).
However, in specific cases where the reason for the leave of absence is medical in nature, students may be eligible for a Medical RCL instead. The Medical RCL process is significantly different and does not involve SEVIS termination.
If you are not sure which option is right for your situation, you should contact OIS as soon as possible.
Taking a Leave of Absence (Non-Medical)
Contact OIS as early as possible once you begin planning to take a leave of absence from your program. OIS can provide important information to help you plan for your departure from the United States and avoid spending time in the United States without a valid immigration status, which can have significant immigration repercussions in the future.
In general, the process is as follows:
- You should notify OIS and your academic program right away once you decide to take an LOA. You should work with your academic program to take steps to be put on an LOA. Your program will drop you from your classes. Once you are dropped from classes, you are no longer maintaining your F-1 status since you are no longer full-time enrolled.
- OIS will usually receive notification directly from the school about your leave of absence or your change of enrollment status. Alternatively, we may look for that information in your SIS record or elsewhere. Updates to your SIS record may not be timely so it is important that you communicate with OIS about your academic program’s process.
- Once OIS receives official notification that you are taking a leave of absence, we must terminate your SEVIS immigration record within a certain timeframe. We will always notify you in advance (by email) before terminating your SEVIS record. You must depart the country no later than 15 days after your record has been terminated.
Note: If you drop below full-time status prior to being approved for a leave of absence and notifying OIS, we may need to terminate your record for failure to maintain enrollment (which is a negative action, different from Authorized Withdrawal).
Returning from a Leave of Absence (Non-Medical)
To return to the United States and resume your program, you will need to take steps to obtain a new I-20 for your re-entry to the U.S.
To request an I-20 for your return:
- You will need to submit the “Return from Leave of Absence” eForm through iHopkins. To submit your request:
- Go to http://ihopkins.jhu.edu
- Click “Login” under “Active JHED Login
- Login with your JHED ID and password
- Once logged in, click on “Admission” in the menu on the left, then click on “Return from Leave of Absence” eForm
- Students studying in SOM, SPH, and SON only: Once logged in, click on “F-1 Student Services” in the menu on the left, then click on “Returning International Student eForm”
- Enter all required information and upload all required documentation
- You will need to provide proof of financial support for 1 academic year of your program as part of the request, per the current year’s tuition and living expenses. Refer to the Estimated International Student Expenses for your specific program/campus
- Before your I-20 can be issued, OIS will need confirmation that your school has approved your return (via SIS or other documentation)
- Once OIS approves the eForm, you will receive an email notification and electronic I-20
Students usually complete this process somewhere between 2-5 months prior to return. However, the specific timing and details of your I-20 issuance will depend on the length of your LOA.
Calculating Leave of Absence Length: The 5-Month Rule
The process for returning from a leave of absence depends on whether your leave of absence is LESS or MORE than 5 months long. In general, SEVP calculates the length of your leave of absence with the following dates:
- Start date: Varies based on SEVP’s discretion (e.g. last date of enrollment, date of SEVIS termination)
- End date: Start of the next term the student will be enrolled in full-time
This calculation usually does include official school breaks (like winter break and summer break), although this can also vary based on SEVP’s discretion. Because of this, a student who takes an LOA during spring term almost always has an LOA greater than 5 months.
Returning after LESS than 5 Months
In cases where your LOA is less than 5 months in duration, OIS can attempt to reactivate your previous SEVIS record. This process requires a request to SEVP, which may or may not be approved based on several variables. When you submit the Return from Leave of Absence E-Form through iHopkins, an OIS advisor will determine whether you are eligible for this process.
Consider the following for this process:
- Reactivation can only be attempted up to 60 days before the start of the term you are returning for. If you do not have a valid visa and will need to apply for a new one prior to your return, this timeline may be problematic.
- Note: SEVP will ask for information about students’ last day of class attendance as part of the reactivation request. In cases where students declared an LOA mid-semester, SEVP will usually only consider students for reactivation if they properly declared the LOA prior to dropping classes/stopping attendance.
- If the reactivation is approved, you will retain the same SEVIS ID you had prior to termination.
- If you met the 1-academic year requirement for CPT/OPT eligibility prior to termination, you will retain it upon reactivation of your previous SEVIS record.
If OIS’ attempt to reactivate your record is unsuccessful, OR if you are not eligible for this process, OR if you need an I-20 more than 60 days prior to your return, you will need to follow the other process:
Returning after MORE than 5 months
In cases where your leave of absence was more than 5 months long OR reactivation is not an option for other reasons, you will be issued a new SEVIS immigration record and receive an Initial Attendance I-20.
Consider the following for this process:
- You will receive a new SEVIS ID and will be required to pay the SEVIS fee again.
- You will need to enter the United States in F-1 status and complete 1 full academic year of your program before you are eligible for CPT or OPT.
- You will need to complete OIS check-in upon your return to the United States.
- The earliest you can re-enter the United States will be 30 days before the next start of term (your new I-20 program start date).
Re-Entering the United States
- Review the OIS webpages on Travel and Visa Renewal (if applicable)
- If you will still have a valid F-1 visa at the time of your re-entry to the United States, it is not required for you to get it renewed. Even if you have a new SEVIS ID, generally you are able to use the same F-1 visa to seek entry to the US. However, keep in mind, that as always, the port-of-entry officers have full discretion when admitting individuals to the US
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