Leave of Absence (LOA)

Updated 6/16/2021

A leave of absence (LOA) is a temporary break from your academic degree program with no enrollment in courses. Student’s intention is to resume their program at a future semester to finish the degree.

Options for Students Who Took an LOA During the Fall 2020 Semester: Learn what options students have since USC has announced the spring 2021 semester will likely begin online.

Students Returning from an LOA– Currently Outside the U.S.: Are you ready to return for fall 2021? Click on the link for instructions on how to request an I-20 and register for classes.


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Eligibility Requirements

  • A student must be in good academic standing when requesting an LOA from OIS
  • A student must get approvals in advance from the academic department and OIS
  • Must be outside the U.S. during the LOA unless for medical treatment (see medical LOA section)
  • If a student has multiple degree programs or majors, an LOA will not be granted from a 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 an LOA. 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. Students who need to withdraw from their courses in their first semester must schedule an appointment with an OIS advisor immediately to discuss the next steps.
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5-Month Rule

Refers to the termination of a student’s F-1 I-20 based on the student being away from classes and out of the U.S. for more than five months.

Students outside the U.S. for more than five months and not enrolled (by taking a LOA from the degree program) must:
  • Obtain a new USC I-20 with a new SEVIS ID number
  • Pay the SEVIS fee
  • If F-1/J-1 visa is expired, apply for a new visa at U.S. Embassy or consulate
  • If F-1/J-1 visa is valid, can use the current valid visa to re-enter with the new I-20 and SEVIS fee payment
  • Since students will be returning to the U.S. on a new I-20 and F-1 status, they will need to accrue one academic year of full-time enrollment before being eligible for CPT and OPT. Exception: programs that require an internship to meet degree requirements are exempt from the one academic year requirement for CPT eligibility)
Students outside the U.S. for less than five months will be able to return on the current USC I-20 and same SEVIS ID number with the following travel documents:
  • Recent travel endorsement on the I-20
  • If F-1/J-1 visa is expired, apply for a new visa at U.S. Embassy or consulate
  • If F-1/J-1 visa is valid, can use the current valid visa to re-enter the U.S.
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How Does This Rule Apply To Me?

  • The five-month clock will start from the date of last enrollment (last day of the fall or spring semester)
  • Students are only able to return to the U.S. within a 30-day timeframe from the start of the next semester of enrollment
  • If the next semester of enrollment will be the summer semester, the student is required to enter for the first summer session beginning in May
F-1 students returning from a leave of absence of less than five months (last enrollment was fall 2020 and returning summer 2021)
  • The 5-month clock will start from the date of last enrollment: December 17, 2020
  • Start of summer 2021 – May 19, 2021
  • 30-day timeframe to resume classes for summer 2021: April 20 – May 16 (to ensure you are not out of U.S. for 5+ months)
  • Enrollment requirement: MUST BE FULL-TIME ENROLLED
    • Undergraduate Students:               12 units
    • Masters Degree Students:               8 units
    • Doctoral Degree Students:              6 units
  • CPT: If a student maintained one academic year of enrollment prior to LOA, the student is eligible starting summer 2021. Full-time CPT with full-time course enrollment is possible
  • OPT: If graduating in summer 2021, the student will be eligible to apply for OPT during the regular summer 2021 OPT application cycle that opens around mid-May 2021
  • OIS does not recommend returning to the U.S. during your LOA for a temporary visit on a B1/B2 or ESTA
F-1 students returning from a leave of absence of more than five months (last enrollment was fall 2020 and returning fall 2021)
  • The 5-month clock will start from the date of last enrollment: December 17, 2020
  • Start of fall 2021 – August 23, 2021
  • 30-day timeframe to resume classes for fall 2021: July 24 – August 23, 2021
  • Enrollment requirement: MUST BE FULL-TIME ENROLLED
    • Undergraduate Students:               12 units
    • Masters Degree Students:               8 units
    • Doctoral Degree Students:              6 units
  • Need to accrue one academic year of full-time enrollment before being eligible for CPT and OPT
  • CPT: The first time you will be eligible for CPT will be in summer 2022
  • OPT: If graduating in spring 2022, you will be eligible to apply for OPT during the regular spring 2022 OPT application cycle that opens around mid-February 2022
  • Students who have one semester left to graduate: Since the student must return on a new I-20, the student will not be eligible for OPT if graduating in fall 2021. Therefore, OIS does not recommend taking the LOA
  • OIS does not recommend returning to the U.S. during your LOA for a temporary visit on a B1/B2 or ESTA
Fall 2020 Admits Enrolled in Coursework from Abroad: 
  • The 5-month clock does not apply since students do not have active F-1 status
  • USC will issue you a new I-20 with a future semester start date
  • F-1 status will activate once a student enters the U.S. on an I-20
  • Full-time enrollment required during the first semester
  • Need to accrue one academic year of full-time enrollment before being eligible for CPT and OPT
  • OIS LOA form must be submitted to OIS, see application instructions
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Medical LOA

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 (MD) , doctor of osteopathy (OD), or licensed clinical psychologist (Ph.D.) or doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) 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 Advisor
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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 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.

Additionally, you cannot be authorized for work authorization while you are on an official school leave.

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Application Instructions

Deadline: End of the second week of the fall or spring semester

Form and Instructions: Will be available soon

OIS70 Hold

An OIS70 hold will be added to the student account that requires the student to check in with OIS upon return to USC and the U.S. The OIS70 hold does not restrict course registration; therefore, students can register for classes during open registration for their future semester return.

*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.

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Students Returning from LOA– Currently Outside the U.S.

How to Request an Initial Attendance I-20 and Enroll for Fall 2021

STEP 1

Student completes Return to USC: Initial I-20 Request Form

Click here for Return to USC: Initial I-20 Request Form

In the Return to USC: Initial I-20 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 remaining cost of tuition and living expenses
    • Living expenses = $1,000 USD per month
    • Dependents, if applicable = $7,200 USD for spouse; $3,600 USD per child
  • 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.

STEP 2

OIS processes return to USC I-20

Once OIS receives the Return to USC: Initial I-20 Request Form via DocuSign, processing time is 7 business days. Your return I-20 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.

STEP 3

Student registers for classes

Register for fall 2021 classes via Web Registration during your scheduled appointment time.

  • If you are returning from a leave of absence to resume classes for fall 2021, 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 5.

STEP 4

Student travels to the U.S.

Prior to travel, remember to:

  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee online (required)
  • Apply for an F-1 visa if your visa has already expired or will expire prior to your entry into the U.S.
  • If your F-1 visa is still valid, you can use your current F-1 visa along with the fall 2021 I-20 to enter the U.S.*

STEP 5

Student submits proof of F-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:

  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/J-1 visa in a passport

The 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.

* On December 9, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) clarified that for the spring 2021 semester F-1 students should abide by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance originally issued in March 2020, which was also applied to the fall 2020 semester. This guidance allows distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19. The guidance also states that students with Initial Attendance I-20s cannot enter the U.S. if classes are 100% online. These students may only enter the U.S. if they are able to obtain an F-1 visa and can confirm enrollment in at least one hybrid or in-person course for the spring 2021 semester.

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