Thomas Jefferson University

Leave of Absence & Program Withdrawal

Remaining in valid immigration status as an F-1 or J-1 student requires international students to enroll full-time each term. Suppose a student needs to end their studies or depart the U.S abruptly due to unforeseen circumstances. In that case, the student must first request permission for a leave of absence from the Office of International Affairs; this request must be made before withdrawing from classes, departing the U.S., or before the last day to drop without a “W” grade as listed on the Academic Calendar. Similarly, withdrawing from a program entirely requires a student to meet with OIA prior to any formal action taken with the College.  If a medical leave is necessary, please refer to Reduced Course Load for more information. 

Note: Working with OIA is a separate and mandatory requirement from anything you must do with your academic program and/or Jefferson.

An approved leave of absence allows students to temporarily suspend their immigration status while outside the U.S. and later return to active status to continue studies more easily. It results in the termination of your SEVIS record for Authorized Early Withdrawal.

The return process depends on if you come back to the U.S. within five months or after five months. If you stay out of the U.S. for more than five months, your SEVIS record and I-20 cannot be reactivated.  

Note:  Taking a leave of absence is an immigration action and does not relieve students' academic or financial obligations.

Important Considerations:

  • If your SEVIS record is terminated, you must leave the U.S. within 15 days.
  • A terminated record means your status is inactive and does not allow you to enter back in F-1 status until your SEVIS record is reactivated.
  • If your leave is for a documentable medical reason, you can be authorized for a reduced course load based on medical conditions before the start of the term, and your SEVIS record will remain active. Read more about Reduced Course Load before submitting a Leave of Absence/Withdrawal Request Form.
  • If your leave of absence is more than five months, you will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training based on your previous time as an F-1 student. You will need to complete another academic year before you would be eligible for OPT.
  • Students who withdraw from all of their classes in their first semester are NOT eligible for a leave of absence. They must either depart the U.S. within 15 days of the withdrawal or request the transfer of their SEVIS record to another school in the U.S. Schedule an appointment with an OIA advisor immediately if you must withdraw from all classes in the first semester.
  • A return to active status is not always guaranteed and is subject to approval by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Steps for a Leave of Absence: 

Follow all steps in the order presented.

  1. Fill out a Leave of Absence/Withdrawal Request Form for OIA (this is separate from any forms your College or the Registrar Office requests).
  2. Contact oia@jefferson.edu to request counseling from an International Student Advisor and attach a completed Leave of Absence/Withdrawal Request Form. Warning! If you do not contact OIA first, you will not qualify for an additional 15-day period for departure. Also, the DSO will be obligated to terminate your SEVIS record for “Unauthorized Early Withdrawal,” which could have severe consequences for future study, work, or travel in the U.S. 
  3. Wait for approval from OIA.
  4. Talk to your academic department about the possibility of resuming your studies after your withdrawal; agree on the timeline for continuing studies.
  5. After receiving your academic department's approval, submit any required documents as mandated by your College and the Registrar’s Office.
  6. Notify Student Accounts to inform them of your Leave of Absence.
  7. Prepare for departure by paying all TJU and personal bills, notifying Housing Office or landlord, leaving a forwarding address with the Post Office.
  8. Leave the U.S. within 15 days.

Students must take action to request a return to active status and re-enter the U.S. Methods of return will vary based on whether the student has been outside the U.S. for more or less than five months. After five months outside the U.S. on a terminated I-20 or DS-2019, your visa will no longer be active for travel, regardless of the stated expiration date on the form.

Returning with Less Than Five Months Absence:

Note: Students may only enter the U.S. 30 days before the beginning of the term that has been confirmed with their College. Students must enroll full-time upon return. 

  1. Verify that your visa is unexpired.
  2. Contact OIA up to 60 days before return with a copy of their returning flight itinerary.
  3. OIA submits a correction request to SEVP to return the suspended record to Active status.  This process may take 2-3 weeks, so students should not delay contacting their International Student Advisor.
  4. The International Student Advisor will notify you when the SEVIS record is back to Active status. Students will receive an updated version of their previous I-20, retaining the same SEVIS number.
  5. Report to OIA with immigration documents and new I-94 (available at cbp.gov). OIA will not activate the SEVIS record without proof of entry (I-94).

Returning After Five Months Absence: 

Note: Students must contact OIA in the manner described below. Attempted re-entry without following these directions may result in denial at entry and further complications if admitted to the United States.

  1. Contact OIA at least 60 days before returning to obtain a new SEVIS record and submit recent financial statements with other required documents.
  2. If eligible, the International Student Advisor will create a new SEVIS record and mail an original I-20.
  3. Once you receive a new I-20 or DS-2019, pay a new I-901 SEVIS fee.
  4. Apply for and receive a new visa if the current visa has expired.
  5. Report to OIA with immigration documents and new I-94 (available at cbp.gov). OIA will not activate the SEVIS record without proof of entry (I-94).

Follow steps in the order presented:

  1. Fill out a Leave of Absence/Withdrawal Request Form for OIA
  2. Contact oia@jefferson.edu to request counseling from OIA and attach a completed Leave of Absence/Withdrawal Request Form. Warning!  If you do not contact OIA first, you will not qualify for an additional 15-day period for departure. Also, the DSO will be obligated to terminate your SEVIS record for “Unauthorized Early Withdrawal,” which could have severe consequences for future study, work, or travel in the U.S.
  3. Wait for approval from OIA.
  4. Notify your College and submit any required documents required by your College and the Registrar’s Office.
  5. Notify Student Accounts to inform them of your withdrawal.
  6. Prepare for departure by paying all TJU and personal bills, notifying Housing Office or landlord, leaving a forwarding address with the Post Office.
  7. Leave the U.S. within 15 days.