F-1/J-1 international students who wish to take a semester off during the academic year (fall and spring semesters) and not enroll in courses must receive authorization for a Leave of Absence (LOA) from OIS and their academic department.
- Student must be in good academic standing when requesting an LOA from OIS
- Student must be outside the U.S. during the LOA
- If student has multiple degree programs or majors, an LOA will not be granted from one degree program or major at USC in order to pursue another
- Students with a graduate assistantship should consult their department when considering taking an LOA to discuss whether the assistantship will be available upon returning to USC
- Students who withdraw from all of their classes in their first semester are NOT eligible for a LOA. They must either depart the US within 15 days of the withdrawal or request the transfer of their SEVIS record to another school in the US. Students who need to withdraw from their courses in their first semester must schedule an appointment with an OIS advisor immediately to discuss next steps.
- Student attends the OIS Group Zoom Session: Reduced Course Load (RCL) and Leave of Absence (LOA) Information Session for International Students (click on link to view session dates/times)
- Download and complete the OIS LOA Form
- Schedule appointment with academic advisor* to discuss eligibility to return to academic program
- Get approval signature on OIS LOA form
- Additional requirements:
- Undergraduate students: In addition to the OIS LOA form, undergraduate students must file an online LOA form with the university. Review the LOA instructions online.
- Graduate students: Check with academic department* for any additional requirements.
- Email completed OIS LOA form to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the body of the email, include:
- Acknowledgement that you have read and understand the information provided
- Clarify if you were last enrolled in spring 2020 or summer 2020
- Confirm that you would like to proceed with your fall 2020 LOA. If so, OIS will finalize the LOA for you for both academic and immigration purposes.
*Engineering Master’s and Ph.D. students must receive approval from their Viterbi Admission & Student Engagement (VASE) advisor instead of their academic department’s academic advisor.
F-1/J-1 students are eligible to take an LOA due to medical reasons. Students have the option to return to their home country or remain in the U.S. to receive medical treatment if recommended by a doctor. Students who wish to remain in the U.S. must obtain a doctor’s letter recommending the LOA for medical reasons. Students who remain in the U.S. without obtaining advance approval for medical LOA from OIS will be considered out of status.
Requirements and Limitations of Medical LOA:
- Must have a letter from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist recommending leave for a specific semester
- Doctor’s note should specify if the student should remain in U.S. to receive treatment
- Must have PRIOR approval from OIS and academic department before withdrawing from courses
- No more than 12 months total leave are allowed per degree level. The 12 month aggregate maximum includes all Reduced Course Load approved for medical reasons
- Students considering an LOA due to medical reasons must meet with an OIS counselor
LOA Exceeding Five Months
The current I-20/DS-2019 will be invalid after being outside of the U.S. for more than five months. Students who will be outside the U.S. for longer than five months for an LOA must obtain a new USC I-20 with a new SEVIS ID number in order to re-enter the U.S. and return to USC. Students will need to use the new I-20/DS-2019 to pay the SEVIS fee and apply for a new F-1/J-1 visa if their visa has expired. If the visa is valid at the time of re-entry, then students can use the new I-20/DS-2019 and their existing visa stamp to re-enter the U.S. It is the student’s responsibility to email the OIS advisor at least two months prior to returning to USC to request the new I-20/DS-2019.
Due to the changing SEVP guidance there have been updates to the Leave of Absence (LOA) policy. If you plan to take a LOA for the fall 2020 semester, OIS was informed that the 5-month clock would start from the date of last enrollment. Therefore, please be advised of the following:
If you were last enrolled for classes in spring 2020:
- Your 5-month clock will start from May 15. (Study abroad does count towards USC enrollment for spring 2020 and your 5-month clock will start from May 15.)
- Students are only able to return to the US within a 30-day timeframe from the start of spring 2021, which is January 11, 2021. Therefore, you can enter the US to begin spring classes at the earliest on December 13, 2020. OIS does not recommend returning to the US during your LOA for a temporary visit on a B1/B2 visa or ESTA.
- You will need a new I-20 to return to the US when you resume classes for spring 2021 and be required pay a SEVIS fee on the new I-20. You can request a new I-20 in October by providing OIS a completed Return to USC I-20 Request in addition to the required items listed on the form.
- If you have a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport that is valid on the date you re-enter the US, you do not need to apply for a new F-1 visa even if the SEVIS numbers are different. If your F-1 visa is not valid, you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa at the US Embassy or consulate with the new I-20 and new SEVIS fee payment.
- To be eligible for CPT or OPT after returning to USC in spring 2021, you will need to be full-time enrolled for one academic year. If you are graduating in fall 2021, you will be eligible to apply for OPT during the regular fall 2021 OPT application cycle which opens around mid-September 2021. If you are not graduating in fall 2021 but at a later semester, the first time you will be eligible for CPT is spring 2022. You can then apply for OPT during your graduating semester.
If you were last enrolled for classes in summer 2020:
- Your 5-month clock will start from August 11. (Study abroad does count towards USC enrollment for spring 2020 and your 5-month clock will start from August 11.)
- Students are only able to return to the US within a 30-day timeframe from the start of spring 2021, which is January 11, 2021. Therefore, you can enter the US to begin spring classes at the earliest on December 13, 2020. The latest date of entry will be January 10, 2021 to ensure your stay out of the US is for less than 5 months. OIS does not recommend returning to the US during your LOA for a temporary visit on a B1/B2 visa or ESTA.
- You can return to the US on your current I-20 when you resume classes for spring 2021. A travel endorsement is required if the current one will no longer be valid by your entry date. Note: Previously provided travel endorsements are valid up to one year for multiple entries to the US.
- If you have a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport that is valid on the date you re-enter the US, you do not need to apply for a new F-1 visa. If your F-1 visa is not valid, you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa at the US Embassy or consulate with your current I-20 and previous SEVIS fee payment receipt.
- If you maintained one academic year of enrollment prior to your fall 2020 LOA (meaning you were enrolled at USC during the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters), you will be eligible for CPT during the spring 2021 semester.
- If you did not maintain one academic year of enrollment prior to your LOA, you will be eligible for CPT during the summer 2021 semester after you are enrolled fulltime during the spring 2021 semester.
- If you are graduating in spring 2021, you will be eligible to apply for OPT during the regular spring 2021 OPT application cycle which begins around mid-February 2021.
Again, the above information only pertains to continuing students who take a LOA during the fall 2020 semester. Fall SEVP guidance has confirmed that students are able to maintain F-1 status while enrolled for the fall semester. Below is a quick recap of SEVP guidance for fall 2020:
- Continuing students in the U.S. or abroad can continue to take online classes from either location for the fall 2020 semester. As long as students enroll in a full course load and maintain their immigration status, USC will continue to keep their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record in active status.
- Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. but would like to return to the U.S. remain eligible to do so as long as they have a valid visa, an I-20 endorsed for travel and all other documents listed on the travel section of the OIS website. However, given the continuing public health crisis in Los Angeles, and the uncertain guidance from state and local authorities, the University is not recommending students travel back to campus at this time.
- For continuing students outside the U.S., fall 2020 semester enrollment will count towards the one academic year requirement for CPT/OPT eligibility.
- As long as continuing students enroll in a full course load and maintain their immigration status, USC will continue to keep their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records active even if they are outside of the U.S. for more than five months.
- Continuing students should not drop below the full course load requirement unless permitted to do so either through a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or Leave of Absence (LOA) approved by their academic advisor and OIS. No extra RCLs are available due to COVID-19, but a final semester RCL is still possible.
LOA and Off-Campus Work Authorization
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations state that an F-1 international student must be in status for a full academic year (nine months) in order to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training. This regulation is especially important to note for students who are considering an LOA of over five months in their final year of studies at USC.
Returning from LOA
Students returning from an LOA are required to register full-time in the semester they intend to return. They must also validate their return to USC by reporting to OIS within 21 days of the start of the new semester. Students must contact OIS upon their arrival to get their STU55 hold removed. Please contact OIS to schedule an appointment.
Students must submit the following documents to OIS:
- New International Student/Scholar Information Form
- Copy of USC I-20/DS-2019
- Copy of valid passport
- Print out of I-94 Arrival/Departure record
- Copy of F-1/J-1 visa in passport