Services for International Students and Scholars

Leave of Absence

During your program of study, it may become necessary to take a leave of absence.  U.S. federal government regulations recognize two types of leaves of absence for international students.  Leaves of absence are classified as either medical leaves of absence or non-medical leaves of absence.  There are different procedures and different government regulations that apply to each type of leave.  These types of leaves of absence and instructions for taking and returning from the leaves are described below.

Medical Leave of Absence and Your F-1 Student Status

Students may apply for a medical leave of absence through the University Health and Counseling Service (UHCS).  Information on applying for a medical leave of absence can be found at http://www.northeastern.edu/uhcs/access-to-care/medical-leave-of-absence/.  If UHCS approves an official medical leave from the university, the Office of Global Services (OGS) will be notified by UHCS through email.  Please note that information regarding a student’s medical condition is not shared by UHCS with any other office.  This information is considered to be confidential.  The email notification simply states that a medical leave of absence has been approved by UHCS.

The OGS will authorize the student for a medical leave in SEVIS for government purposes after receiving notification of approval of a medical leave from UHCS and will email the student to notify them that the medical leave has been approved in SEVIS.  Following are important points for F-1 students be aware of regarding how a medical leave affects their F-1 status:

  • Students in F-1 status may remain in the U.S. or may leave the U.S. during a medical leave of absence. However, students who live on campus are not permitted to remain in the residence halls while on a leave of absence.
  • Students may not remain in the U.S. on a medical leave for more than one year. If a medical leave is needed for more than one year, the student will need to notify the OGS and make plans to leave the U.S.  A new initial I-20 will be needed to return to the U.S.  Please see instructions for obtaining a new initial I-20.
  • Students who leave the U.S. during their medical leave, but who are out of the U.S. for fewer than five months at a time may return to the U.S. on their current I-20. Please note that you will still need a valid travel signature on your I-20 to return to the U.S.  Additionally, if a student has an I-20 that will expire while on a medical leave (please see your program end date in Program of Study section of the I-20) and if they are in the U.S. or have been abroad for less than five months the student will need to apply to the OGS for a program extension prior to the end date of the I-20.  This should be done at least a month before the end date on the I-20.  The request for program extension can be found on the OGS website.

Students who are out of the U.S. continuously for five months or more during their medical leave will need to notify the OGS and must request a new initial I-20 to return to the U.S. at least a few months prior to their planned return to resume classes.  Please see the instructions for obtaining a new initial I-20 below.  Returning to the U.S. on a new initial I-20 may impact eligibility for Curricular Practical Training (Co-op) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Obtaining an Initial I-20 If you have Been Out of the U.S. Continuously for 5 + months

Step 1: Completing the OGS Application Form to Request a New Initial I-20

Fill out the electronic Request for SEVIS I-20/DS-2019 available at www.northeastern.edu/ogs (look under Forms & Guides and then under Current Students).   Instructions on supporting documents needed and options for having your new I-20 mailed to you are included within the form.  Please note that you must have your academic advisor (for undergraduate day students) or your SEVIS contact (for graduate students and all CPS students) sign the portion of the form that is included within the electronic form, for the purpose of confirming your academic eligibility to return to your program in the academic term that you have selected and your expected program completion date.

Step 2: Paying the SEVIS Fee

When you receive the new I-20, you will need to pay the SEVIS fee online. You may need to apply for a new F-1 visa so that you can return to the U.S. to resume your program.  Current information obtained from U.S. federal government officials indicates that if you are returning to the U.S. after a leave of absence that you may not need to apply for a new visa stamp if your current visa stamp is still valid and if it bears the name of Northeastern University, however; this is subject to change.  You may wish to check on this with the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to you.   Instructions will be included with your I-20.  Please note that you still need to pay the SEVIS fee even if you do not need to obtain a new F-1 visa stamp.

Step 3: Obtaining a New Visa If Needed

Once you have received your I-20 and paid the SEVIS fee, you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp in the following circumstances:

  • if your current F-1 student visa has expired or if it will expire before you return to the U.S.
  • If your current visa bears the name of another educational institution in the U.S. rather than Northeastern University,
  • if you have changed your name and if your visa stamp bears your former name.

If your visa stamp will still be valid at the time that you plan to return to the U.S. and if “Northeastern University” is noted on the visa and if your name on the visa stamp is correct, recent information obtained from U.S. federal government officials indicates that if you are returning to the U.S. after a leave of absence that you may not need to apply for a new visa stamp , but you may wish to check on this with the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to you to confirm this.  Contact or view the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you would apply for a visa for the most current information on procedures for obtaining an F-1 student visa.

Step 4: Completing OGS Online Check In After Arrival in the U.S.

Since you will be entering the U.S. on an initial I-20, even though you are not a new student, please note that you will need to complete Online Check In with the OGS.  You will be able to do this by completing the online OGS Check In form.  You will receive an email before classes begin directing you to the link you will need to complete this online form.   This is necessary to confirm your arrival in the U.S. for government purposes and so that our office can register your arrival in the SEVIS system.

Step 5: Entering the U.S. on a New Initial I-20 and Impact Upon Eligibility for Co-op (Curricular Practical Training – CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Additionally, it is important that you realize that returning to the U.S. with an initial I-20 may have an impact upon your eligibility to do Co-op (curricular practical training) in the U.S. or Optional Practical Training.  U.S. federal government regulations require that students must have been enrolled for at least one academic year (two semesters or three quarters) in order to be eligible to do Co-op after entering the U.S. on an initial I-20.  All students must have been enrolled for at least an academic year in order to be eligible to begin Optional Practical Training after entering the U.S. on an initial I-20.

Non-Medical Leave of Absence and Your F-1 Student Status

Students who need a non-medical leave of absence, which includes any reason that is not medical, will need to apply to the OGS as well as to their College/Graduate School for a leave of absence.  Please note that the medical condition of a relative does not constitute a medical leave of absence; a medical leave can be granted only if the student has a medical condition.  Additionally, if a student applies for an Emergency Leave from the We Care Office at Northeastern University (www.northeastern.edu/wecare) they must also apply for a non-medical leave of absence from the OGS since federal government regulations recognize only medical and non-medical leaves.

Instructions for Requesting a Non-Medical Leave of Absence

Step 1: Make an appointment with an OGS advisor to request the leave prior to dropping classes or prior to the start of the academic term during which the leave of absence will occur. If you are already abroad for a period of vacation when you discover that you need a leave, please email the OGS prior to the start the term in which you plan to take the leave.

Step 2: Complete the OGS Non-Medical Leave of Absence Request Form. This form will need to be signed by the student’s academic advisor (undergraduate day students) or by the SEVIS Contact (graduate students and CPS students) and then submitted to the OGS.  The form is available at northeastern.edu/OGS under Forms and Guides and under Current Students.

Step 3: The OGS is required by federal government regulations to terminate the student’s SEVIS record for a leave of absence. The record will be terminated for authorized reasons if the procedures above are followed and if the student is maintaining their status at the time of requesting the leave.

Step 4: Students who take a non-medical leave of absence are required by U.S. federal government regulations to depart the U.S. within 15 days after termination of the SEVIS record.

Step 5: In addition to these procedures, the student must complete any university leave of absence forms required. A leave of absence may be requested through a student’s myNEU thus students should fill out the form on their myNEU in addition to the OGS form.

Eligibility Requirements for Reactivation (Leaves of Absences Less than 5 months)

 

To return to the U.S. after a non-medical leave of absence if the following circumstances are true:

  • the student will be out of the U.S. less than five months from the end of their last date of attendance until the start of the term when they will resume classes (or less than eight months if the student requests the leave during the summer vacation and if there the time between the student’s date of departure from the U.S. and the start of classes for the next term is less than eight months*),
  • if the student requested the leave from the OGS prior to ceasing to attend classes or prior to the start of the term in which the leave will occur
  • if the student will not be missing more than one academic term
  • if the student is returning to the same academic program
  • if the student was in status prior to the leave of absence, the student should do the following

(if a student did not request a leave prior to attending classes or prior to the start of the term in which the leave is to occur or if the student is out of status at the time of requesting the leave, they will need a new initial I-20 to return).

Instructions for Returning to the U.S. after Reactivation

Step 1: Complete the OGS form to Request Return from a Leave of Absence of Less than 5 Months available at northeastern.edu/OGS under Forms and Guides and under Current Students.

Step 2: Email this form to the OGS 70 days prior to the start date of the academic term in which the student will resume classes.

Step 3: Approximately 60 days prior to the start date of the academic term in which the student will resume classes, the OGS will request that SEVIS reactivate the student’s SEVIS record. The OGS will email the student when SEVIS reactivates the record.  Please note that reactivation is not guaranteed.  Also, please note that SEVIS is part of a government agency, so the OGS does not reactivate the SEVIS record.  We can only request that SEVIS reactivate it.  Then it is the decision of SEVIS to either reactivate or deny the reactivation.  Also, it is important to note that SEVIS will need time to do this, which is the reason that we ask that you submit your request for reactivation 70 days prior to the start of the term.

Step 4: After successful reactivation, the student may return to the U.S. as early as 30 days prior to the term in which they will resume classes and will be able to use their current I-20 and current visa if still valid (if the current F-1 visa has expired, the student should apply for a new visa once the current SEVIS record has been reactivated).

*Please note that if your leave of absence will start at the beginning of the Fall term and if you request the leave of absence during the summer vacation period and if the time that you will have been abroad upon the start date of the Spring Semester when you will return to class (or Winter Quarter for CPS graduate students) will be less than 8 months, you may still qualify for this procedure.  Please consult with the OGS.

Obtaining a New Initial I-20 after a Non-Medical Leave of Absence of 5 Months or more

Step 1: Completing the OGS Application Form to Request a New Initial I-20

Fill out the electronic Request for SEVIS I-20/DS-2019 available at www.northeastern.edu/ogs (look under Forms & Guides and then under Current Students).   Instructions on supporting documents needed and options for having your new I-20 mailed to you are included within the form.  Please note that you must have your academic advisor (for undergraduate day students) or your SEVIS contact (for graduate students and all CPS students) sign the portion of the form that is included within the electronic form, for the purpose of confirming your academic eligibility to return to your program in the academic term that you have selected and your expected program completion date.

Step 2: Paying the SEVIS Fee

When you receive the new I-20, you will need to pay the SEVIS fee online. You may need to apply for a new F-1 visa so that you can return to the U.S. to resume your program.  Current information obtained from U.S. federal government officials indicates that if you are returning to the U.S. after a leave of absence that you may not need to apply for a new visa stamp if your current visa stamp is still valid and if it bears the name of Northeastern University, however; this is subject to change.  You may wish to check on this with the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to you.   Instructions will be included with your I-20.  Please note that you still need to pay the SEVIS fee even if you do not need to obtain a new F-1 visa stamp.

Step 3: Obtaining a New Visa If Needed

Once you have received your I-20 and paid the SEVIS fee, you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp in the following circumstances:

  • if your current F-1 student visa has expired or if it will expire before you return to the U.S.
  • If your current visa bears the name of another educational institution in the U.S. rather than Northeastern University,
  • if you have changed your name and if your visa stamp bears your former name.

 

If your visa stamp will still be valid at the time that you plan to return to the U.S. and if “Northeastern University” is noted on the visa and if your name on the visa stamp is correct, recent information obtained from U.S. federal government officials indicates that if you are returning to the U.S. after a leave of absence that you may not need to apply for a new visa stamp, but you may wish to check on this with the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to you to confirm this.  Contact or view the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you would apply for a visa for the most current information on procedures for obtaining an F-1 student visa.

Step 4: Completing OGS Online Check In After Arrival in the U.S.

Since you will be entering the U.S. on an initial I-20, even though you are not a new student, please note that you will need to complete Online Check In with the OGS.  You will be able to do this by completing the online OGS Check In form.  You will receive an email before classes begin directing you to the link you will need to complete this online form.   This is necessary to confirm your arrival in the U.S. for government purposes and so that our office can register your arrival in the SEVIS system.

Step 5: Entering the U.S. on a New Initial I-20 and Impact Upon Eligibility for Co-op (Curricular Practical Training – CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Additionally, it is important that you realize that returning to the U.S. with an initial I-20 may have an impact upon your eligibility to do Co-op (curricular practical training) in the U.S. or Optional Practical Training.  U.S. federal government regulations require that students must have been enrolled for at least one academic year (two semesters or three quarters) in order to be eligible to do Co-op after entering the U.S. on an initial I-20.  All students must have been enrolled for at least an academic year in order to be eligible to begin Optional Practical Training after entering the U.S. on an initial I-20.

Can I stay in the United States if I take a non-medical leave of absence?

No.  U.S. federal government regulations require that the OGS terminate your SEVIS record and that you leave the U.S. within 15 days of termination of the SEVIS record.

Can I stay in the United States if I am granted a medical leave of absence by UHCS?

You may either stay in the U.S. or travel abroad while on an official, approved medical leave of absence.  Some students stay in the U.S. for part of their time on a medical leave and travel outside of the U.S. for part of the time.  If you decide to remain in the U.S., remember that you cannot stay in the U.S. on a medical leave for longer than one year.  If you leave the U.S., if you are abroad continuously for five months or more, you will need to contact the OGS to notify us so that we can terminate your SEVIS record and you will need a new initial I-20 to return to resume classes.  Also follow UHCS procedures regarding resuming your classes.

If I stop attending classes before I request a non-medical leave of absence from the OGS, can I still return to the U.S.?

Yes, however, you will not be eligible for the “Reactivation” procedure, since officially asking the OGS for a leave by appointment or by email is required prior to when you stop attending classes.  You would need a new initial I-20 to return in this case.

What are the criteria for being eligible for “Reactivation” of my SEVIS record?

Please review the description and procedures for Non-Medical Leave of Absence in this section of our website.  Criteria are listed in the description.

I am taking a medical leave of absence. The program end date in Program of Study section will occur while I am on my medical leave. What should I do?

You should apply to the OGS for a program extension.  You will find the Request for Program Extension form on our website under Forms & Guides and then under Current Students.  You should do this at least a month before your I-20 expires, but sooner is preferable.

I am on an official medical leave of absence granted by the University Health and Counseling Service and the OGS has issued me an updated I-20 that notes my medical leave. I have now been abroad for 5 months. What should I do?

You should contact the OGS to tell then that you have been out of the U.S. for 5 months or more.  The OGS will terminate your current SEVIS record and you will need to apply for a new initial I-20 to return from a leave of absence of 5 months or more.  Instructions are included in the section on Medical Leaves of Absence.

I am on a medical leave of absence. I have been out of the U.S. for 4 months. I want to return to the U.S. next week to continue my medical treatment. My I-20 is valid and I have a travel signature which will be less than one year old when I return to the U.S. Also, my F-1 visa is valid. Can I return?

Yes.

I am trying to decide whether a medical leave or non-medical leave would best fit my situation. How can I decide?

Please read the information regarding medical and non-medical leaves on our website.  You will see that there are different federal government regulations for each of these leaves.  Then make an appointment with an advisor at the OGS to discuss your plans and options.

I have been out of the U.S. for more than 5 months on a medical leave. I applied for and obtained a new initial I-20 to return. I have only one semester left to complete my degree program. Can I apply for OPT after this degree program?

No.  U.S. federal government regulations require that a student start accruing an academic year (two semesters or 3 quarters) all over again when they enter the U.S. on a new initial I-20 in order to be eligible for OPT.