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Leave of Absence

You need to be registered as a full-time student to maintain your F-1 or J-1 status. If you take a leave of absence from Cornell, you will no longer be a registered student. In some instances, however, there are steps you can take to maintain your legal status while on leave. 

How to Arrange a Leave of Absence

  1. See Advising
  2. Type of Leave
  3. Plan Return

1 Start with your advising office.

If you’re considering a leave of absence from Cornell, speak with the advising office in your college, professional school, or graduate program to determine how it will affect your student status and employment eligibility.

2 Determine the type of leave.

Your circumstances and student status will determine the type of leave you are eligible to take. Your advising office will help you determine which leave classification meets your needs. There are three different types of approved student leave:

  • In absentia
  • Leave of absence
  • Health leave or reduced course load

Each leave classification comes with a set of rules that must be followed to maintain your status, so that you can return to Cornell after your leave. Find out more below about the leave classifications.

3 Develop a plan for returning to Cornell.

Depending on the type of leave you take, there are different rules for reentering the United States. Your advising office at Cornell can help you determine the steps you need to take for reentry.

Can I travel outside the United States?

Yes, if you have maintained your status with the university. Students with in-absentia status, on approved health leave, or taking a reduced course load are legally allowed to travel outside the United States.

If you’re taking a leave of absence, you might be required to leave the country after your leave is approved by the university. Speak to an advisor at the Office of Global Learning about your specific situation.

What if I need to return for my defense?

If you plan to return from an approved leave of absence to defend your thesis or dissertation, contact your graduate student services representative to find out the procedures and requirements.

Contact the Office of Global Learning to learn more about your visa options. You may be able to come into the United States as a tourist.

Types of International Student Leave

In Absentia

If you are a graduate or professional student, in absentia status is a type of registration that allows you to maintain your F-1 or J-1 student status at Cornell while completing research elsewhere. In most cases, undergraduate students are not eligible to take this type of leave.

You should discuss your particular situation with your graduate student services representative or professional school advising office to find out if you are eligible for in absentia and what procedures you need to follow.

Does in absentia count as full-time registration?

Yes, in absentia registration counts as full-time registration for immigration purposes. If you are approved for in absentia registration, you will be maintaining your F-1 or J-1 student status.

How do I return to full-time registration?

If you have maintained your status with Cornell, no special immigration steps are required to return. However, you’ll need to comply with the requirements and procedures of the graduate school, your professional school, or your college at Cornell.

Leave of Absence

If you need to interrupt your regular academic program, the advising office in your college, professional school, or graduate program may grant you a leave of absence.

While on a leave of absence, you will not have student status, which may affect your student loan deferment and your access to campus facilities and services. You will need to obtain permission to return to Cornell from your college, professional school, or graduate program.

How can I stay in the United States?

According to immigration rules, you must be registered as a student to maintain your F-1 or J-1 student status. If you take a leave of absence, you are no longer a registered student, so you must do something to maintain your status if you wish to remain in the United States.

Some options include changing your immigration status (for example, to B-2), transferring to another school for a semester (such as TC3), or going on F-1 OPT if you are a graduate student with advanced standing. Speak to an advisor at the Office of Global Learning about your specific situation.

What if I leave the United States?

You may have to leave the United States, if you cannot maintain your F-1 or J-1 status.

If you are outside of the United States for more than five months while on leave, you’ll need to obtain new immigration documents (I-20 or DS-2019) from the Office of Global Learning to return to the country in F-1 or J-1 status. You may need to re-verify your funding by providing department letters of support and bank statements.

Before we can issue your new I-20 or DS-2019, you will also need to contact the advising office in your college, professional school, or graduate program to obtain permission to return.

How do I return to full-time registration?

You should contact your college, professional school, or graduate program to obtain permission to return to full registration after a leave of absence.

  • If you are an undergraduate, contact your college advising office and inform them of your plan to return.
  • If you are a graduate or professional student, contact your department and your graduate student services representative or the advising office of your professional school.

Will my leave affect my OPT eligibility?

It might. To be eligible for F-1 OPT after you graduate, you need to be enrolled for a full academic year. After a leave of absence, time counted toward the full academic year starts over again at the time you return to full-time enrollment. If you plan to apply for OPT, you should return for no less than two full semesters as a registered student before graduating.

Health Leave or Reduced Course Load

Talk with us first! As an F-1 or J-1 student, you need to get approval from the Office of Global Learning before you take a leave of absence or reduce your course load for health reasons. You’ll need to show us a doctor’s note recommending a leave of absence or reduced course load for medical health or mental health reasons.

Health leave or reduced course load is approved one semester at a time and requires providing a letter from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist recommending leave for a specific semester.

Before you go on leave, inform the advising office in your college, professional school, or graduate program. Make sure to stay in touch with the Office of Global Learning about your plans to return to full-time enrollment or extend your leave.

Will a health leave affect my immigration status?

Be aware of the following immigration rules for a health leave of absence or reduced course load:

  • The maximum time away from full-time registration is 12 months total. Reduced course load and leave of absence both count toward the 12-month total.
  • You must have a letter from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist recommending leave for a specific semester.
  • You must have prior approval from the Office of Global Learning before dropping courses or unregistering.
  • You may not work off-campus without prior authorization from the Office of Global Learning. On-campus work is a possibility. Talk with the Office of Global Learning.

These are the requirements and limitations for immigration purposes, and do not necessarily coincide with Cornell’s health leave requirements and limitations.

Can I work while on health leave?

Off-campus work requires authorization in advance from the Office of Global Learning. It’s often possible to work on campus. Talk with the Office of Global Learning before accepting a position.

Can I travel outside the United States?

While you are on an approved health leave, you may travel in and out of the United States in F-1 status. J-1 students on a leave of absence should discuss any planned travel with one of our advisors.


Return from Leave of Absence

F-1 or J-1 students who have not enrolled at Cornell University for a semester or more due and had their immigration record closed because of authorized Leave of Absence must obtain documents to return to the U.S. Students must have a valid I-20/DS-2019, passport, and visa to enter the U.S. to participate in an academic program at Cornell University. Complete the Return from Leave of Absence Request form to obtain a new I-20/DS2019 for your return.

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