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Leave of Absence

Leave of Absence and Reenrollment

The decision to take time away from your studies, sometimes known as a leave of absence or a gap semester, is a difficult one. In most cases, taking a  semester off will mean the loss of your F-1/J-1 status and will require a new immigration document when you are ready to return. Students considering a leave should schedule an appointment with an ISSS advisor to discuss your situation.  

Before you take a leave of absence

Please meet with an ISSS advisor as soon as you begin to consider whether to take a leave of absence. While we will detail some of the academic and immigration impacts in the information on this page, it is important to discuss your individual situation with an ISSS advisor before you make adjustments to your registration or finalize your plans. Students will need to consider  separately the academic permission needed for taking a leave of absence and the immigration implications of taking a leave of absence.

Students should work with their academic advisor or their contacts in their academic department to understand and secure any academic permissions needed to take a leave of absence from their studies. Students will need to consider whether a withdrawal from the courses they are currently taking is needed, or whether they will finish the semester and skip registration for the next academic semester. These policies may differ by whether the student is an undergraduate or graduate student:

Undergraduate students

Undergraduate students should speak with their academic advisors about the process to withdraw from courses that are currently in progress or their plans not to enroll in an upcoming semester. When preparing to return to the University, in many cases an application for reenrollment will need to be approved prior to returning to the University. Please meet with your academic advisor to discuss all required academic steps prior to your absence from the University and the process for applying for reenrollment when you are ready to return.

Graduate students

Graduate students should speak with their academic advisors about the process to withdraw from courses that are currently in progress or their plans not to enroll in an upcoming semester. In some cases, the Graduate department will recommend seeking a petition for a leave of absence or a petition for waiver of continuous registration. In general, students should plan to file these petitions prior to discontinuing their enrollment. In some cases the petition may require an ISSS signature; please make sure you are meeting with an ISSS advisor prior to the submission of these forms.

In most cases, taking a semester off will mean the loss of your F-1/J-1 status and will require a new immigration document when you are ready to return. F-1/J-1 students who withdraw or do not register for one or more semesters are not permitted to remain in the U.S. during a leave of absence. In uncommon situations, such as a medical leave of absence and pursuing research while abroad, it may be possible under certain conditions to maintain the F-1/J-1 status. 

Preparing to depart the University
Students should meet with an ISSS advisor to discuss their specific circumstances before they take any actions to withdraw or depart the US. In most cases, your I-20 or DS-2019 will be terminated for an early authorized withdrawal or after the end of the semester in which you last registered or the date of your withdrawal. This termination comes with a 15-day grace period. After you have met with an ISSS advisor but before you leave the US, please log on to iTerp and fill out the Exit Plan form so that we can record your departure plans and end the I-20.

Returning to the University
Before you prepare to return, please make sure you have followed the Undergraduate or Graduate School re-enrollment process. Once approved to re-enroll, prior to the semester you return, work with ISSS and provide the necessary documents for the creation of a new immigration document. Please contact Guennadi Bratichko at at these suggested times:

  • Returning for Fall semester – March
  • Returning for Spring semester – October

A new SEVIS fee is required for this new immigration document. If your F-1/J-1 visa remains valid for your return, you are permitted to use it even if your SEVIS number will be different. If your F-1/J-1 visa is not valid, you will need to apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy.

When you return to UMD, you will be in a new period of F-1 or J-1 status. You may only enter the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the start of the new I-20. You will be required to complete the Documents Check process to activate your new SEVIS record. The regulations limit F-1 students from participating in any off-campus employment benefits (CPT or OPT) until you have finished both a fall and spring semester (or four terms for a student participating in a 12-week term program).

If you are experiencing an illness or medical condition and are being treated in the United States for this condition, you may be eligible to pursue less than a full course of study upon the recommendation of a U.S. licensed medical doctor, U.S. doctor of osteopathy, or a U.S. licensed clinical psychologist. Permission to drop below a full course load may not be given for more than one year (two academic semesters maximum).  The part-time authorization for medical reasons is a good option for students who have already established care with a medical professional in the US. If you have yet to seek treatment for your medical condition, the timing of establishing a treatment plan and approval of this form may not align with University drop deadlines.

To apply for part-time authorization for medical reasons, log on to iTerp and complete the part-time authorization e-form. The part-time authorization form for medical reasons must be filled out by your physician or psychologist and uploaded to the request.

If your request is approved, our advisors will apply permission in your SEVIS record for a reduced course load. Once the request is approved, the student can remain in the United States with an active SEVIS record and can drop the courses that the physician or psychologist recommends (depending on their recommendation, this could be all courses or a specific number of courses). Students should not take action to drop these courses before the part-time authorization request is approved. Graduate students may also need to take action to file a leave of absence request with the Graduate school if they are dropping all courses.

Finally, a student who plans to depart the United States and seek treatment outside the US may not be eligible for part-time authorization for medical reasons. Please seek advice from an ISSS advisor; it may be recommended that a student in this situation follow the leave of absence guidance above instead of applying for part-time authorization for medical reasons.

F-1 and J-1 students are required to take in-person courses every Fall and Spring semester and be present in the US while enrolled in those courses (this includes research credits, such as 799, 898, and 899) in order to maintain their status. However, in limited circumstances, students may desire to continue working on their degree program from abroad. While this is not considered a leave of absence, it may have a similar effect on the student’s F-1/J-1 status. Some of these circumstances and their effect on the F-1/J-1 status are described below:

  • Pursuing online coursework from abroad. In some cases, students may wish not to register for in-person classes and desire instead to return to their home country (or a third country) to enroll in online only-classes. In this case, the F-1/J-1 student status cannot be maintained and their F-1/J-1 status will be terminated while the student is enrolled in online-only courses. The student will not be able to remain in the United States while enrolled online-only. Students who wish to pursue this option should review the “Immigration Consequences of taking a leave of absence” section above as the steps to depart and return to the University (if the student will return to take in person courses) are similar. It is also recommended that the student meet with their academic advisor to discuss their course enrollment plan while online, as well as meet with an international student advisor to review their plan for departing the US and how to return to the US in F-1 status in a future semester if they plan to continue their enrollment.
  • Participation in a study abroad program. Students who plan to enroll in a study abroad or exchange program during the Fall or Spring semester should speak with an international student advisor during the application process for the study abroad/exchange program. In most cases the F-1/J-1 status can be maintained, but there are some circumstances where maintaining status during the study abroad program will not be possible. Students should meet with an international student advisor before commencing the study abroad program to determine whether it will be possible to maintain status while participating in the study abroad program.
  • Engaging in research abroad. In some situations, masters thesis or doctoral students enrolled in dissertation research credits may have an academic need to spend a semester abroad (for example, collecting research or data for the dissertation that can only be done from another country). If an academic need to engage in research abroad exists, the student should prepare a letter from their academic advisor that details:
    • The subject of the thesis/dissertation;
    • A description of the research that will be conducted from abroad and the reason why this data cannot be gathered while at UMD or inside the US; and
    • Estimated duration of the time the student will be conducting the research abroad.

The student should obtain this letter and meet with an ISSS advisor prior to departing the US. The advisor will inform the student whether the F-1/J-1 status can be maintained while abroad and discuss any other considerations for maintaining status. If the absence from the US is for non-academic reasons, the ISSS advisor will discuss the termination of the student’s status and how to re-enter in a period of F-1/J-1 status (the steps and considerations will be similar to the “Immigration Consequences of taking a leave of absence” section above.

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