Leave of Absence (LOA)

Updated 8/20/2021

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Eligibility Requirements

If you are an F-1 or J-1 student and (1) need to take a temporary break from your degree program, (2) will not be enrolled in courses at USC for one or more semesters, (3) are in good academic standing, and (4) intend to resume your program in a future semester to finish your degree, you may be eligible to file for a Leave of Absence (LOA).

Unless approved for a medical LOA, you must be outside of the U.S. for the duration of the LOA. Prior to your semester(s) of leave, you must receive approval from your academic department and OIS.

Your LOA must be filed by the add/drop deadline of the semester. Refer to the USC Registration Calendar to confirm that last date to add or drop classes. Failure to file an LOA in a timely manner will result in termination of your SEVIS record and you will be required to file a reinstatement of your F-1/ J-1 status.

Ineligible LOA Reasons:
  • If you are admitted into multiple degree programs or majors you are not eligible to file an LOA to pursue another degree program or major at USC.
  • If you withdraw from all classes in your first semester you are not eligible for an LOA and must consult with OIS immediately to discuss next steps. If you withdraw in your first semester must either depart the U.S. within 15 days of the withdrawal or request the transfer of your SEVIS record to another school in the U.S.
  • You cannot take a leave of absence to pursue employment opportunities within the U.S. You are not authorized to be employed on- or off-campus while on an official school leave.

Medical LOA

If you have temporary illness or medical condition and need to take a break from your studies, you may be eligible for a medical LOA. To qualify, you must (1) remain in the U.S. for treatment, (2) be in treatment with a qualified provider, (3) submit a letter of support from the provider to OIS, and (4) not exceed three academic semesters (12-month aggregate total) of medical LOAs and/or Reduced Course Loads (RCLs) throughout your program and per degree level.  If you remain in the U.S. without obtaining advance approval for medical LOA from OIS you will be considered out of status.

If you began your degree program at USC from abroad (i.e., never entered the U.S. in F-1/J-1 status) and will remain outside of the U.S. for the duration of your leave, you are not eligible for a medical LOA. You may, however, still file a Voluntary Health Leave (VHLA) with Campus Support and Intervention (CSI).

  • Required documentation: The medical letter of support must be from a licensed medical doctor (MD), doctor of osteopathy (OD), licensed clinical psychologist (Ph.D.), or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) and:
    • Must be on official letterhead, dated, and have a wet (i.e., ink) signature
    • Specify the semester(s) you are being recommended for leave
    • State you will remain in U.S. to receive treatment – see below for COVID-19 exception; if outside the U.S., must specify you will remain in your home country for treatment
  • Temporary exception allowed through spring 2022 due to COVID-19 pandemic: You may seek treatment outside of the U.S. and file for a medical LOA with documentation from a non-U.S. provider that is a licensed medical doctor (MD), doctor of osteopathy (OD), licensed clinical psychologist (Ph.D.), or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). The letter of support must be translated to English and meet all other letter requirements specified below. After spring 2022, If you are returning to your home country for treatment, you do not qualify for a medical LOA within the U.S. You will need to take a standard LOA for F-1/ J-1 immigration purposes.
  • Voluntary Health Leave (VHLA): If the purpose of your LOA is to receive medical treatment, you are encouraged to file a Health Leave with Campus Support and Intervention (CSI) in addition to filing for an LOA with OIS. The purpose of the Health Leave is to ensure you connect with important campus resources and have a support system in place for your return. Contact Campus Support and Intervention (CSI) to schedule an appointment with a Health Leave Coordinator. The VHLA process and requirements are separate from OIS LOA requirements.

If you are approved for a medical LOA:

  • Check your current I-20 program end date: If your I-20 will expire prior to your intended return semester, please contact OIS immediately to request a program extension. Failure to file a program extension before your I-20 program end date will required you to file for a reinstatement of your F-1/ J-1 status, which will impact the return process and off-campus employment eligibility.
  • Voluntary Health Leave (VHLA): If you have filed a VHLA with Campus Support and Intervention (CSI), you must first be approved for return by CSI. If you are not approved for return you must either file an extension of your medical LOA or file a standard LOA – you will not be eligible to resume your studies until approved by CSI.
  • I-20/DS-2019: If you are on an approved medical LOA and you have not exceeded the maximum three (3) academic semesters (12-month aggregate total), you do not need a new I-20/DS-2019 to remain in or return to the U.S. If your I-20/DS-2019 program end date is later than your intended return semester and you will be outside of the U.S. for treatment, check that you have a travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 that will be valid the date you plan to re-enter the U.S. A valid travel endorsement is required for re-entry into the U.S. Signatures are valid up to one year and are eligible for multiple entries to the U.S.
  • F-1/J-1 visa: You may remain in the U.S. on an expired F-1/J-1 visa if you have a valid I-20/DS-2019. If you are in treatment outside of the U.S. and the F-1/J-1 visa stamp in your passport is valid on the date you re-enter the U.S., you do not need to apply for a new visa. If your F-1/J-1 visa is not valid on your return date, you will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate with your current I-20/DS-2019 and previous I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt. Canadian citizens are exempt from the F-1/J-1 visa requirement.
  • Special considerations: Your SEVIS record will remain active for the duration of your LOA. If you are outside of the U.S. for treatment, you may not return to the U.S. during your LOA for a temporary visit on a B1/B2 visa or ESTA, as this would be a violation of your F-1/J-1 status and will require you to re-enter the U.S. on a new, initial I-20/DS-2019 with a new SEVIS ID.
  • Course enrollment requirements upon return: You must enroll full-time in degree-required courses each semester following your medical LOA (except summer) to maintain F-1/J-1 status. Full-time is considered:
    • Undergraduate – 12 units
    • Graduate or graduate certificate – 8 units
    • Ph.D., doctorate, or graduate students with an assistantship – 6 units
  • Impact on off-campus work authorization for F-1 students: You must have been registered in degree-required courses for one full academic year in F-1 status (i.e., one spring semester and one fall semester) to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT)* or Optional Practical Training (OPT). Your eligibility to meet the one full academic year requirement for CPT or OPT is based on how many units you have completed or have remaining to complete degree requirements. Program extensions are for academic purposes only and are not for CPT or OPT work authorization.
    • If you studied full-time in F-1 status two semesters (fall and spring) prior to your medical LOA semester, you will be eligible for CPT during your first semester back at USC. If you will complete degree requirements by the end of the return semester, you will be eligible to file for OPT.
    • If you studied full-time in F-1 status for one semester (fall or spring) prior to your medical LOA semester, you will be eligible for CPT and OPT after completing one semester (fall or spring).

*Degree programs with internship or practicum requirements are exempt from the one academic year requirement for CPT eligibility. There is no exception for the one academic year requirement for OPT eligibility.

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5-Month Rule

The 5-month rule refers to the termination of the student’s SEVIS record based on the student being away from classes or not in status for more than 5 months. This rule applies to students who have spent more than 5 months outside of the U.S. during an absence from school (excluding those in school authorized study abroad programs).

If you file an LOA for more than 5 months in length you will need a new, initial I-20/DS-2019 to return to the U.S. and resume your studies USC.

  • If you are in the U.S. in active F-1/J-1 status at the time of your LOA request, the five-month clock will start from the the date you submit the LOA to OIS (latest date possible is the add/drop date of that semester) or the date you leave the U.S. – whichever date is earlier.
    • You are permitted to leave the U.S. within 15 days of the above-mentioned LOA start date. If you do not leave the U.S. within the 15-day grace period you will be in violation of your F-1 visa status, which will negatively affect your re-entry to the U.S. to resume your degree program.
  • If you are outside of the U.S. in non-F-1/J-1 or active F-1/J-1 status at the time of your LOA request, the five-month clock will start from the end date of last enrolled semester.
  • Students who began their USC degree program online from outside the U.S. – the 5-month rule does not apply to these students since they never entered the U.S. on F-1/J-1 status. A new initial I-20/DS-2019 will be required to resume the degree program
  • The 5-month rule does not apply if you file a medical LOA.

LOA More than 5 Months

  • I-20/DS-2019: You will need a new, initial I-20/DS-2019 with a new SEVIS ID number to return to the U.S. You must request your new I-20/DS-2019 from OIS approximately three months before the return semester start date by submitting the Return to USC Form. Refer to the “Classes Begin” date on the USC Academic Calendar to confirm the return semester start date.
  • After receiving the new I-20/DS-2019: You will be required to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee since you will have a new SEVIS ID number/record for your return to USC.
  • F-1/J-1 visa: If you have an F-1/J-1 visa in your passport that is valid on the date you re-enter the U.S., you do not need to apply for a new visa. If your visa is not valid, you will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate with your new USC I-20/DS-2019 and I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt. Canadian citizens are exempt from the F-1/J-1 visa requirement.
  • Deadline to return to the U.S. in F-1/J-1 status: Immigration regulations allow F-1/J-1 students to enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start date of your return semester. Refer to the “Classes Begin” date on the USC Academic Calendar to confirm the return semester start date.
  • Course enrollment requirements upon return: You must enroll full-time in degree-required courses in your first semester back at USC, including summer, to maintain F-1/J-1 status. Full-time is considered:
    • Undergraduate – 12 units
    • Graduate or graduate certificate – 8 units
    • Ph.D., doctorate, or graduate students with an assistantship – 6 units
    • All students – Additionally, if returning in Fall 2021 or Spring 2022, DHS COVID-19 guidance mandates students must be enrolled in at least one hybrid or in-person course their first semester back in F-1/J-1 status.
  • OIS70 hold: Students who file an LOA will have an OIS70 hold placed on their record. This hold does not prevent course registration. The OIS70 hold will be removed once you return to the U.S. and validate your F-1/J-1 status with OIS.
  • Validate F-1/J-1 status: You will be required to submit copies of your immigration documents to OIS upon your return to ensure you have returned to the U.S. in valid F-1/J-1 status and are eligible to resume classes at USC. The OIS70 hold will be removed from your record after you validate your F-1/J-1 status. Failure to complete this step will result in the termination of your SEVIS record and immigration status.
  • Impact on off-campus work authorization for F-1 students: You must be registered in degree-required courses for one full academic year in F-1 status (i.e., one spring semester and one fall semester) after your return from an LOA to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT)* or Optional Practical Training (OPT). Your eligibility to meet the one full academic year requirement for CPT or OPT is based on how many units you have remaining to complete degree requirements. Program extensions are for academic purposes only and are not for CPT or OPT work authorization.

*Degree programs with internship or practicum requirements are exempt from the one academic year requirement for CPT eligibility. There is no exception for the one academic year requirement for OPT eligibility.

LOA Less than 5 Months

  • Check your current I-20/DS-2019 program end date: If your I-20/DS-2019 will expire prior to your intended return date to the U.S., please contact OIS immediately to request a program extension. Failure to file a program extension before your I-20/DS-2019 program end date could result in requiring an initial I-20/DS-2019 to return to the U.S., which will impact the return process and off-campus employment eligibility.
  • I-20/DS-2019: If you are on an LOA for less than 5 months you do not need a new initial I-20/DS-2019 to return to the U.S. and may return on your current USC I-20/DS-2019. If your I-20/DS-2019 program end date is later than your intended return date, check that you have a travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 that will be valid the date you plan to re-enter the U.S. A valid travel endorsement is required for re-entry into the U.S. Signatures are valid up to one year and are eligible for multiple entries to the U.S.
  • F-1/J-1 visa: If you have an F-1/J-1 visa stamp in your passport that is valid on the date you re-enter the U.S., you do not need to apply for a new F-1/J-1 visa. If your F-1/J-1 visa is not valid, you will need to apply for a new F-1/J-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate with your current I-20/DS-2019 and previous I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt. Canadian citizens are exempt from the F-1/J-1 visa requirement.
  • Special considerations: You may not return to the U.S. during your LOA for a temporary visit on a B1/B2 visa or ESTA, as this would be a violation of your F-1/J-1 status and will require you to re-enter the U.S. on a new, initial I-20/DS-2019 with a new SEVIS ID.
  • Course enrollment requirements upon return: You must enroll full-time in degree-required courses in your first semester back at USC, including summer, to maintain F-1/J-1 status. Full-time is considered:
    • Undergraduate – 12 units
    • Graduate or graduate certificate – 8 units
    • Ph.D., doctorate, or graduate students with an assistantship – 6 units
  • STU55 hold: Students who file an LOA less than 5 months will have an STU55 hold placed on their record. This hold does prevent course registration. The STU55 hold will be removed once you return to the U.S. and validate your F-1/J-1 status with OIS. This is to ensure you have re-entered the U.S. less than 5 months after your LOA start date and do not need to complete a reinstatement of your F-1 status.
  • Validate F-1/J-1 status: You will be required to submit copies of your immigration documents to OIS upon your return to ensure you have returned to the U.S. in valid F-1/J-1 status within 5 months and are eligible to resume classes at USC. The STU55 hold will be removed from your record after you validate your F-1/J-1 status. Failure to complete this step will result in the termination of your SEVIS record and immigration status.
  • Impact on off-campus work authorization for F-1 students: You must have been registered in degree-required courses for one full academic year in F-1 status (i.e., one spring semester and one fall semester) to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT)* or Optional Practical Training (OPT). Your eligibility to meet the one full academic year requirement for CPT or OPT is based on how many units you have completed or have remaining to complete degree requirements. Program extensions are for academic purposes only and are not for CPT or OPT work authorization.
    • If you studied full-time in F-1 status two semesters (fall and spring) prior to your LOA, you will be eligible for CPT during your first semester back at USC. If you will complete degree requirements by the end of the return semester, you will be eligible to file for OPT.
    • If you studied full-time in F-1 status for one semester (fall or spring) prior to your LOA, you will be eligible for CPT and OPT after completing one semester (fall or spring).

* Degree programs with internship or practicum requirements are exempt from the one academic year requirement for CPT eligibility. There is no exception for the one academic year requirement for OPT eligibility.

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How to File an LOA

Click here for OIS LOA Request Form for F-1 Students
Click here for OIS LOA Request Form for J-1 Students

DEADLINE: Add/Drop Deadline of the Semester
You must complete Steps 1-4 by the add/drop deadline of the semester you will take your LOA. Refer to the USC Registration Calendar to confirm the last date to add or drop classes. Failure to file an LOA in a timely manner will result in termination of your SEVIS record and you will be required to file a reinstatement of your F-1/J-1 status.

STEP 1: All Students
Contact academic department to ensure you are eligible to file an LOA.

  • Undergraduate students: Review USC Leave of Absence webpage and submit LOA request to academic department via myUSC.
  • Graduate students: Contact academic department directly; Viterbi graduate students must consult with your Viterbi Admission & Student Engagement (VASE) Students with an assistantship should discuss whether your assistantship will be available upon returning to USC. Students filing for their fourth semester of LOA must also receive approval from the USC Graduate School (contact gradsch@usc.edu).
  • Students in their first semester: May not be eligible to file an LOA and must contact their academic department (VASE, for Viterbi graduate students) and OIS before withdrawing from classes.

STEP 2: Undergraduate Students
In the OIS LOA Request Form, enter your name as it appears on your passport, your @usc.edu email, and your Academic Advisor’s name and email.

OR

STEP 2: Graduate Students (Except Viterbi Graduate Students or PDP Students)
In the OIS LOA Request Form, enter your name as it appears on your passport, your @usc.edu email, and your Academic Advisor’s name and email.

OR

STEP 2: Viterbi Graduate Students
In the OIS LOA Request Form, enter your name as it appears on your passport, your @usc.edu email and “VASE” as your Advisor’s name, and MASTERS@vase.usc.edu or PHD@vase.usc.edu as your Advisor’s email.

OR

STEP 2: Progressive Degree (PDP) Students
In the OIS LOA Request Form, enter your name as it appears on your passport, your @usc.edu email and your graduate degree Academic Advisor’s name and email. If you are pursuing a graduate degree in Viterbi, enter “VASE” as the advisor’s name and MASTERS@vase.usc.edu for the advisor’s email.

STEP 3: Complete Form & Attach Required Documents

Medical Documentation

As Needed

If you are filing an LOA due to medical reasons, attach a letter of support that meets all requirements.

STEP 4: Processing

After completing the form and, if applicable, attaching required medical documentation, click “Finish”. Your Academic (or VASE) Advisor, and then OIS, will automatically receive your completed form. Once OIS receives the form, the processing time is 7 business days. You will receive a confirmation email from OIS when your LOA has been processed.

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Return to USC

STEP 1

Determine if You Need an Initial I-20/DS-2019

Do not request an initial attendance I-20/DS-2019 if you:
  • Are returning from an LOA less than 5 months or are returning from a medical LOA within the U.S. Ensure your current I-20 is still valid; refer to LOA Less than 5 Months or Medical LOA for further instructions. Proceed to STEP 2.
Do request an initial attendance I-20/DS-2019 if you:
  1. Are outside of the U.S. and returning from an LOA longer than 5 months, or
  2. Were enrolled online from abroad in non-F-1/J-1 status and need an updated I-20/DS-2019 to return to the U.S., or
  3. Need to reinstate your F-1/J-1 status by re-entering the U.S. on an initial I-20/DS-2019

F-1 Students: Click here for Return to USC: Initial I-20 Request Form
J-1 Students: Click here for the Return to USC: Initial DS-2019 Request Form

In the Return to USC Request Form:

All Students (Except Viterbi Graduate Students) – Enter your name as it appears on your passport and your @usc.edu email along with your Academic Advisor’s name and email.

Viterbi Graduate Students – Enter your name as it appears on your passport and your @usc.edu email along with “VASE” as your Advisor’s name and MASTERS@vase.usc.edu  or PHD@vase.usc.edu as your Advisor’s email.

Attach Proof of Financial Support – Bank statement, certified bank letter, scholarship letter, or funding letter from academic department (for PhD students) with:

  • Name of student and/or account holder or sponsor clearly printed in English
  • Date of issuance within the past three months
  • Currency in U.S. dollars (USD) or include conversion to USD
  • Final available balance of individual liquid accounts or solvency amount
  • Sufficient funding to cover the estimated remaining cost of tuition and living expenses:
    • Bachelors= $77,459 USD; Masters = $68,962 USD; Doctorate= $77,162 USD
    • If you have dependents, you must show proof of an additional $7,200 USD for spouse; $3,600 USD per child
    • Students with one semester remaining in their degree program must provide proof of funding for remaining tuition units, living expenses ($1,000 USD per month) and, if applicable, F-2/J-2 dependents
  • Certified, professional translations for all financial documents not issued in English
  • Letters on official letterhead with signature/stamp of an administrative official

Submit FormAfter completing the form and attaching proof of financial support, click “Finish”. Your Academic (or VASE) Advisor, and then OIS, will automatically receive your completed form.

OIS Processes Return to USC I-20/DS-2019 – Once OIS receives the Return to USC: Initial I-20/DS-2019 Request Form via DocuSign, processing time is 7 business days.

  • Electronic I-20s – F-1 student return I-20s will be signed electronically and sent to you via email. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has allowed Designated School Officials (DSOs) to electronically sign and email Form I-20 to students. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Department of State (DOS) have also confirmed they will accept electronically signed I-20s.
  • DS-2019s – DS-2019s will be returned to J-1 students via eShipGlobal.

STEP 2

Travel to the U.S.

If returning from an LOA less than 5 months:
If returning on an initial I-20:
  • Pay the required I-901 SEVIS Fee online
  • If your F-1/J-1 visa is still valid, you can use your current visa, otherwise, you must apply for a new  F-1/J-1 visa
  • Enter the U.S. no more than 30 days prior to the program start date on your I-20/DS-2019

STEP 3

Submit Proof of F-1/J-1 status to OIS after Arrival in the U.S.

Upon entry to the U.S., immediately email the following documents as PDF or image attachments to ois@usc.edu. In the email subject line write Return to USC Hold Removal – Last Name, First Name – SEVIS ID.

  1. New International Student/Scholar Information Form – download and complete via Adobe or Docusign
  2. Copy of USC I-20/DS-2019
  3. Copy of valid passport
  4. Copy of I-94 Arrival/Departure record
  5. Copy of F-1 visa in a passport

The STU55 or OIS70 hold will be removed once OIS reviews your documents. Failure to complete this step will result in the termination of your SEVIS record which jeopardizes your eligibility to remain in the U.S. legally.

STEP 4

Register for Classes

Register for classes via Web Registration during your scheduled appointment time.

  • If you are returning from a leave of absence more than 5 months in length, you will have an OIS70 hold on your account. This hold does not prevent course registration. The OIS70 hold will be removed once you complete STEP 4.
    • Additionally, if returning in Fall 2021 or Spring 2022, DHS COVID-19 guidance mandates students returning from an LOA more than 5 months in length on an initial I-20 must be enrolled in at least one hybrid or in-person course their first semester back in F-1/J-1 status.
  • If you are returning from an LOA less than 5 months in length, you will have an STU55 hold on your account. This hold does prevent course registration and will be removed once you complete STEP 4. This is to ensure you have re-entered the U.S. less than 5 months after your LOA start date and do not need to complete a reinstatement of your F-1 status.
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