Immigration regulations allow F-1 students to take a temporary Leave of Absence (LOA) of less than 5 months. All departing international students are required to notify ISS prior to a period of extended absence from the University of Florida.
Taking a LOA has a direct impact on the legal status of the student and the ability to apply for off-campus work permission. There are four basic categories for the LOA process and they are explained in detail below.
LOA for less than 5 months
The LOA for less than 5 months is appropriate for students who will be absent for only one semester and will either not register at all or will register less than full time during the absence. In most cases, the student wants to take a temporary leave for personal reasons. Other instances include students conducting research abroad with no registration or students participating in an internship abroad. When taking a LOA for less than 5 months the student will need to take the following steps:
- Apply for the LOA: To apply for the LOA, the student completes the LOA form (linked below). It is important to discuss the LOA plan with the academic unit to ensure that the student is made aware of all departmental policies and any possible impact on the student status within the department. Once the LOA form is completed, an appointment with the International Student Advisor (ISA) is needed to get the LOA approved. An updated I-20 will be given to the student to be used for re-entry when returning to the U.S. to resume studies.
- Depart the U.S. in a timely manner: The SEVIS/I-20 record will be in terminated status for the duration of the LOA. The student must depart the U.S. within 15 days from the day the LOA is approved and remain outside the U.S. for the duration of the LOA (for the entire semester). The student may not return to the U.S. prior to the last day of classes for the semester of the leave.
- Initiate the SEVIS reactivation process: If returning to resume studies in the semester immediately following the leave, the student must contact the ISA 60 days prior to the start of the semester in which s/he plans to return. The ISA will then submit a reactivation request to SEVP to have the SEVIS/I-20 record returned to Active status. While the reactivation request is in process, the student should clear all registration holds and register because SEVP may request confirmation from the ISA that the student is enrolled for the upcoming semester. Since UFIC may only submit a reactivation request up to 60 days before the start of classes for the semester the student will return, it is advisable to schedule the return trip after the reactivation occurs. However, if the return flight is already scheduled, the student should provide the ISA with a copy of the flight itinerary. It can then be used to request that SEVP expedite the reactivation. We cannot guarantee that the expedite request will be successful. If the reactivation is not approved by the time of the flight, the student will need to postpone the travel date.
- Return to the U.S. to resume studies: It is critical that the student only returns to the United States upon receiving confirmation that the SEVIS/I-20 record has been reactivated. Attempting to re-enter with a SEVIS/I-20 record that is still in terminated status will lead to a long delay and secondary inspection at the port of entry or possibly being denied entry to the U.S. Since the student will be returning under the same SEVIS/I-20 record, it is not necessary to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee again. Upon arrival in Gainesville, the student needs to check-in with UFIC. For re-entry to the U.S., the student needs to have the following documentation in hand:
- Valid I-20 with a current travel signature (travel signature should be less than one year old)
- Valid F-1 visa in passport (may be expired upon exit, but must be renewed prior to re-entry)
- Valid passport (should be valid for at least 6 months from date of re-entry)
LOA for 5 months or more for personal reasons
A leave of absence for five months or more will cause the current I-20 and visa to become invalid, regardless of the expiration date listed on the document. Returning to the United States to resume studies will involve readmission to the University of Florida, receipt of a new I-20, and a new visa application. When taking a LOA for more than 5 months the student will need to take the following steps:
- Apply for the LOA: To apply for the LOA, the student completes the LOA form (linked below). It is important to discuss the LOA plan with the academic unit to get complete information about the readmission process. When absent from the University of Florida for two consecutive semesters, a student will need to apply for readmission to be able to re-enroll in the program. Once the LOA form is completed, an appointment with the International Student Advisor (ISA) is needed to get the LOA approved.
- Depart the U.S. in a timely manner: The SEVIS/I-20 record will be in terminated status when the LOA is approved. The student needs to depart the U.S. within 15 days from the day the LOA is approved.
- Initiate readmission, I-20, and visa application process upon deciding to return: The first step will be to contact the academic department about re-enrolling in the program. A readmission application (with applicable fee) needs to be submitted to the University of Florida Admissions Office. Each departmental unit may also require additional documentation from the student. Once the readmission application has been approved, the academic department should notify UFIC by emailing the ISA to confirm the semester in which the student will return and when the student is expected to graduate. The ISA will then work with the student to issue the Form I-20 needed for the visa application process. The next step is to obtain the new I-20. The ISA will provide detailed information about what is needed for the I-20 process; the student should be prepared to provide proof of financial support for up to one year. The Form I-20 issued will indicate "Initial Attendance" at the University of Florida, with a new program start date and a new SEVIS number. This means that the student will need to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee for the new I-20. Finally, the student makes the necessary arrangements for the visa appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to their location. Similar to previous times, the student needs to complete a visa application (with applicable fee) and submit proof of the I-901 SEVIS fee payment along with any other documentation the embassy or consulate requires to process the visa application.
- Return to the U.S. to resume studies: Once the visa is approved, the student will be able to re-enter the United States up to 30 days prior to the program start date listed on the I-20. And upon arrival in Gainesville, the student needs to check-in with UFIC as we will need to review the entry documents to ensure the student entered in proper F1 status. For re-entry to the U.S., the student needs to have the following documentation in hand:
- Form I-20 indicating "Initial Attendance" at the University of Florida
- Proof of payment of the I-901 SEVIS Fee (receipt)
- Letter of readmission from the department
- Proof of financial support
- Valid F-1 visa in passport
- Valid passport (should be valid for at least 6 months from date of re-entry)
Additional matters to consider about previous I-20s and practical training eligibility:
Even though the student is returning with a new SEVIS/I-20 record, it is important that the student keeps all previous I-20s for their records as they may be needed for future immigration applications. Upon returning to the program, the student will need to first maintain full-time student status for one academic year (fall and spring semesters) in the United States prior to being able to do CPT/OPT. Time spent studying before the LOA in this instance will NOT be counted towards the full academic year requirement.
LOA for 5 months or more for research abroad (no registration)
In the instance the student has been authorized to conduct research abroad for a period of 5 months or more but will not be required to maintain registration, the LOA process is the same as that of a leave for more than 5 months for personal reasons. Please refer to section above for full details (LOA for 5 months or more for personal reasons).
LOA for 5 months or more for research abroad (with registration)
In the instance the student has been authorized to conduct research abroad for a period of 5 months or more and will register for research credits while abroad, an LOA is not required. However, the student should email their International Student Advisor (ISA) to advise they will be travelling for research and will remain registered while conducting research abroad. The student will maintain an Active SEVIS/I-20 record. Since the student will return with the same SEVIS/I-20 record, it is not necessary to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again.
Upon re-entry, the student needs to have the following documentation available:
- Valid I-20 with a current travel signature (less than one year old)
- Valid F-1 visa (may be expired upon exit, but must be renewed prior to re-entry)
- Valid passport (for at least 6 months from date of re-entry into the United States)
Applicable to all LOA instances
If the student is returning to the University of Florida after a temporary absence, "check-in" at UFIC upon arriving in Gainesville is mandatory. Failing to do so will impact SEVIS reporting requirements. The student’s enrollment status will not be reported in SEVIS and the student will be considered out of status. To avoid the status violation, the check-in is needed. To complete the check-in, the student needs to bring the I-20, passport, and visa to UFIC.
If the student intends to withdraw from the University of Florida permanently, the student should inform the academic department as well as International Student Services. The student should complete both the UF Withdrawal Process and the ISS Withdrawal Process (linked below), making sure to upload the flight itinerary showing departure and submit the request. The SEVIS/I-20 record will then be terminated. The student must depart the U.S. within 15 days of the withdrawal from UF and SEVIS record termination. If in the future the student wants to return to study, the student will need to apply for readmission.
To make a Leave of Absence Request, please click the button that applies to your situation and use your GatorLink credentials to login (please make sure you only create one request):
To return to your request, please use the ISSS login button from the top of the side menu.