International Student Services

Leave of Absence

COVID-19 Visa & Travel Restrictions: Updates and FAQs

Leave of Absence Eligibility during COVID

The information on this page is specific to an immigration leave of absence for F-1 students. We understand that during the COVID-19 pandemic, more students have taken a break from their studies and thus have found this Leave of Absence page to answer their questions. We know this process can be confusing. Students who do not have active F-1 status, cannot request an Immigration Leave of Absence. Here’s a quick check for if you should apply for a leave of absence during the COVID-era: 

  • If you have been studying at UW since before the pandemic and would like to take a break from your studies outside the U.S., you may want to apply for a Leave of Absence
  • If you began your studies in the U.S. autumn 2020 and are planning to leave the U.S. and NOT take courses, you may want to apply for a leave of absence.
  • If you began your studies during the pandemic and have not entered the U.S., you should not apply for a leave of absence. Please respond to the outreach message you received from ISS. If you need additional help, please let us know via the Contact ISS form.

What is an F-1 Leave of Absence?

U.S. laws require F-1 students to enroll full-time at their sponsoring university every quarter.

Sometimes students need time off from school. You might call this:

  • A gap quarter
  • Taking a quarter off
  • Taking a break

Common reasons include:

  • Home country mandatory military service
  • Family emergency
  • Work opportunity outside the U.S.
  • Financial challenges
  • Other

There are some F-1 exceptions that allow you to remain in the U.S. (or take time off abroad) and maintain an active F-1 SEVIS record and I-20. Examples include:

You should first check if you might qualify for one of these exceptions to the F-1 full-time enrollment rules. Or, you might need to consider an F-1 Leave of Absence.

The U.S. government requires an F-1 “Leave of Absence” for the following different situations:

  • You need to take time off from studies and you do not qualify for any of the exceptions to the F-1 full-time rules.
  • You need to take more time off than would be allowed by the exceptions to the F-1 full-time rules.
  • You are permanently withdrawing from UW.

This Leave of Absence (LOA) will affect your F-1 status and I-20.

During the Leave of Absence quarter(s):

  1. You must notify ISS before dropping classes/not enrolling.
  2. You must leave the U.S.
  3. You will not enroll full-time in the LOA quarter (and you must withdraw if requesting the LOA for the current quarter)
  4. ISS will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record for Authorized Early Withdrawal; this notifies the U.S. government of your leave of absence.
    If you fail to separately notify ISS about your complete withdrawal or approved leave (even after approval from your academic department), your immigration record will be terminated for “Failure to Enroll” and this could have serious consequences on future study, work, or travel in the U.S.
  5. Your I-20 is cancelled and is not valid for travel to the U.S.
  6. You might lose benefit eligibility like CPT and OPT, depending on the length of your Leave of Absence.
  7. The F-1 Leave of Absence process is a U.S. immigration-only process. You may need to separately complete academic department/university processes to withdraw and/or apply for graduate school on-leave. We strongly recommend that you also consult with your academic department to discuss the effect of your absence on course sequences and length of your program.

Departure Deadline:
Students physically present in the U.S. must depart the U.S. within 15 days of one of the following dates:

  1. If NOT ENROLLED for the quarter, within 15 days of the last day of enrollment
  2. If ENROLLED for the quarter, within 15 days of the withdrawal date

Students must also stop participating in any F-1 work programs (examples: on-campus employment, CPT, OPT) from this date. These deadlines are enforced by the U.S. government; students who do not depart on time may be directly contacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Students who want to visit the U.S. during their leave of absence are not eligible to use their UW I-20 to enter the U.S. Students would need to enter under a different visa type (such as B-2 visitor or visa-waiver), and later, reenter with a new SEVIS record.

Information About Returning to UW After a Leave of Absence

There are two different processes to return to UW after a Leave of Absence. We call the processes “Pathway A” and “Pathway B.”

The appropriate pathway depends on your situation.

Pathway A –  Reactivate Current SEVIS Record Pathway B – New / Different SEVIS Record
Quarters student has missed Only one quarter
Students who have missed only one quarter can also choose Pathway B.
2 or more quarters
  1. Complete the SEVIS Reactivation Request below. SEVIS reactivation is only necessary if you will travel to the U.S. for the upcoming quarter.
  2. ISS submits the request to reactivate your terminated SEVIS record (I-20) to the government. Please be aware that ISS does not control the reactivation process, and the SEVIS record might not be reactivated in time. You might have to delay your return or request an initial I-20 with a new SEVIS ID number.

It is not possible for ISS to contact the government for status or processing time updates after we file your reactivation request.

May have to submit a UW Returning Student application to the Office of the University Registrar and be approved before ISS can issue your new SEVIS record.

Must submit a Returning Student I-20 Request to ISS to get your new SEVIS record (initial I-20 with new SEVIS ID number) to return to UW. Required to provide a copy of your passport and new financial documents showing funding is available for one year of study.

You will also need to pay a new SEVIS fee to the government, and will need a new visa if your visa has expired.

Eligible for CPT or OPT after return Eligibility remains the same as it was prior to your Leave of Absence Ineligible until you have completed 3 quarters after your return
Next eligible for vacation After completing the next 3 quarters of full-time study (including summer quarter, when applicable) The first summer quarter after your return, unless your first quarter back is summer
Earliest date to return to the U.S. 30 days before the start of your next study quarter 30 days before the start of your next study quarter
Timeline of process Request reactivation 60 days before the start of the next quarter (or the date of a visa interview appointment) Begin process at least 3 months before planned return
In control of the process The U.S. government UW ISS

Request a Leave of Absence

  1. Carefully review the information above about the Leave of Absence process.
  2. Watch the Leave of Absence information session on our website. If you have additional questions after reviewing the video, you may consult with an advisor through the Virtual Front Desk or submitting an inquiry through the Contact ISS form. An advisor will respond to your questions via email and schedule an advising appointment if needed.
  3. Check if you must print / complete a UW Official Withdrawal Form: Is your Leave of Absence request for the current quarter? Are you registered for classes for the current quarter?
    If you answered “yes” to the questions above, print and complete a UW Official Withdrawal Form. You will need to upload a scan of this form when you submit the Leave of Absence request to ISS. ISS will sign and forward the withdrawal form to the Office of the University Registrar on your behalf.
  4. Request a Leave of Absence (LOA). If you need to submit the Official Withdrawal Form, you must upload a scan of this form as part of the Leave of Absence request to ISS. The LOA request will also ask you to report your last date of attendance at UW and your U.S. departure date:
    Request a Leave of Absence
  5. Drop / withdraw from all classes for your leave of absence quarter (if you are requesting a leave of absence for the next quarter).
  6. Depart the U.S. according to the departure deadline. You do not need to wait for the ISS email confirmation to depart. If you will only miss one quarter at UW, check that you have a valid travel signature before departure.
  7. Within 15 business days, you will receive an email confirmation from ISS when we have processed your Leave of Absence request and terminated your SEVIS immigration record for Authorized Early Withdrawal.

SEVIS Reactivation Request

The chart above describes two pathways for returning to the U.S. after an immigration leave of absence.

Students who meet the following conditions can request a reactivation of the current SEVIS record:

  • Your immigration leave of absence was only one quarter
  • You will travel to the U.S. for the upcoming quarter.
  • You reviewed the chart above and understand the advantages and disadvantages of a SEVIS reactivation.
    (Sometimes students choose Pathway B, a new I-20, even though they are also eligible to request the SEVIS reactivation).

To request a reactivation of your current SEVIS record, please complete this webform:
Request SEVIS Reactivation
Students who will use Pathway B to return to the U.S. (a new I-20 with new SEVIS ID), please follow the “Returning Student” instructions.