Semesters Away from Cornell
There are several ways to be away from Cornell for a semester or more. If you are in an approved study abroad program through Cornell Abroad, you will remain registered. You may be a graduate student and need to do research somewhere else. You also might need to take a personal leave of absence. Sometimes, you may also need to take a leave of absence for reasons of health or well-being. There are different immigration procedures related to these types of leaves explained below.
Graduate and Professional Students: “In absentia” status is a type of registration that allows you to maintain student status at Cornell while completing research elsewhere. You must discuss your particular situation with your graduate student services representative or professional school advising office to find out if you are eligible and what procedures you need to follow.
Undergraduates: “In absentia” status is NOT generally available as an option for undergraduate students. You must check with your college advising office for details.
Immigration status while am registered “in absentia”: If you are approved for in absentia registration status, this DOES COUNT as full-time registration for immigration purposes, so you will be maintaining your F1 or J1 student status.
Returning to full time registration: If you have maintained your registration with the University, no immigration procedure is required following in absentia status. However, you will need to comply with the requirements and procedures of the graduate school (graduate students), your professional school (Law, JGSM, VetMed students) or your college (undergraduate students).
Students who must interrupt the regular academic program may be granted a one-year leave of absence by the graduate school, your professional school or your college advising office. While you are on a leave of absence, you will not have student status which may affect student loan deferment and access to campus facilities and services.
Graduate Students: Please check with your graduate student services representative in 143 Caldwell Hall for the details and procedures.
Professional School Students [MBA, Law, VetMed]: You need to check with the advising office of your specific professional school as policies vary by school.
Undergraduates: You should obtain information about leaves of absence from your individual college offices as policies vary by college.
Immigration status while on a Leave of Absence: Immigration regulations require that a student be registered in order to maintain F1 or J1 student status (if you remain in the US). If you take a leave of absence, you are no longer a registered student, so you must do something to maintain your status or you MUST LEAVE THE US while on leave. While there are options, each person’s situation is very specific and it is VERY IMPORTANT for you to speak to an ISSO advisor regarding your specific situation. Some of the options may include leaving the US, changing your immigration status (e.g. to B-2), transferring to another school for a semester (such as TC3), or going on F1 OPT if you are a graduate student in advanced standing.
Returning to full registration after a Leave of Absence: If you are outside of the US for more than 5 months while on leave, you will need to obtain new immigration documents (I-20 or DS-2019) in order to return to the US in F1 or J1 status. When you contact the ISSO to request a new document, you may need to re-verify funding by providing department support letters, bank statements. Before ISSO can issue the document, you will also need to contact your program (graduate school, professional program, or undergraduate college advising office to obtain permission to return.
Graduate and Professional Students: Contact your department AND graduate student services representative or the advising office of your professional school (JGSM, Law or VetMed). You will need to obtain permission/consent to return.
Undergraduates: Contact your college advising office and inform them of your plan to return. You will need to obtain permission/consent to return.
OPT eligibility: To be eligible for F1 Post-graduation OPT, you must have been enrolled for a full academic year. After a leave of absence, time counted towards the full academic year starts all over again from the time you return to full-time enrollment. Therefore, if you plan to apply for OPT, you should return for no less than 2 full semesters as a registered student before graduating.
Returning ONLY to defend my thesis/dissertation: If you plan to return from an approved leave of absence for the purpose of defending your thesis/dissertation, contact your graduate student services representatives to find out the correct procedures and requirements. Contact the ISSO about your visa options--you may be able to come into the US in tourist status.
As an F1 or J1 student, you may either drop below full time registration or go on leave of absence and remain in the US if you obtain a doctor's letter recommending the reduced course load or leave of absence for medical health or mental health reasons AND you bring that letter to the ISSO. You MUST receive approval for this leave from the ISSO before you go on leave.
Immigration Requirements / Limitations [please note: these are the requirements and limitations for immigration purposes, and do not necessarily coincide with the Cornell health leave requirements and limitations]:
— Not more than 12 months total are allowed per degree level
— Reduced course load and leave are both counted towards the 12 month total
— Must have letter from licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist recommending leave for a specific semester
— Must have PRIOR approval from ISSO before dropping courses or de-registering
— May NOT work off campus without prior authorization through the ISSO
— May discuss the possibility of on-campus work with the ISSO
Returning After Health Leave: Stay in touch with the ISSO when you are on leave to discuss your plans to return to full time enrollment or extend your health leave.
Traveling: While you are on an approved health leave authorized for immigration purposes through the ISSO, you may travel in and out of the US in F1 status.