Leave of Absence

Leave of Absence

Students who are taking a gap semester or year should apply for the leave of absence based general leave of absence guidance below.

Any continuing student who decides to remain outside the U.S. but is maintaining full-time enrollment status online must complete the leave of absence form so that ISS can issue you a new I-20 with a notation about your online enrollment. The reason you should select for this situation is: full-time online enrollment and maintaining status outside the U.S.

ISS will begin to process leave of absence requests with this notation on September 3. Please be patient as this process will take a few weeks to complete.

General Leave of Absence Guidelines

A leave of absence refers to the time a student may take away from the University of Wisconsin-Madison during their academic career. It requires students to leave the U.S. and ISS must take action on their immigration records.

Requesting a Leave of Absence

Taking a leave of absence requires planning. ISS recommends you take the following steps:

  • Consult with your support network.
  • Complete a Leave of Absence Form in Terra Dotta.
    • The form requires you to upload information about your departure from the U.S. which must happen within 15 days of your request.
  • Withdraw from all courses.
  • Consult with your academic/major advisor to discuss next steps for your academics.
  • Make arrangements with housing and storing your belongings.

ISS will notify you when they have taken action on your immigration record.

Returning from a Leave of Absence

After you have taken time away from UW-Madison, you are usually able to return to the U.S. to continue your studies. The steps to return vary based on your situation. This document provides you an overview of the process.

If you were gone from the U.S. for a full semester and did not enroll in courses, you should apply for reentry admission.

  • Communicate with your admitting unit regarding whether you should have a new immigration document or if you would like your old document to be reactivated.
    • Note: Reactivation is done by ISS and can only be done if you left the U.S. within five months.

If you were enrolled in courses the semester before you returned to the U.S., work directly with ISS.

  • Complete the Return from Leave of Absence form in Terra Dotta.
  • ISS will reactivate your I-20 or create a new initial I-20 for you.

All returnees should do the following:

  • Contact your academic/major advisor to discuss your academic plans. It is important to know how close you are to graduation.
  • Travel to the U.S. on your NEW immigration document (this will either be your new initial document or a reactivated immigration document).
  • Complete ISS Check-In in Terra Dotta.


Common Questions about Leave of Absences

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If I fill out the leave of absence form in Terra Dotta, am I done?

No. At UW-Madison, different colleges and departments require you to notify them if you are taking a leave of absence. Usually, it is very important for Graduate Students to work directly with their departments when they are planning a leave of absence.

Will I need to apply for a new visa before my return?

This depends. If you have an expired visa, you will need a new visa to return to the U.S. If you are out of the U.S. for an extended period of time, you also may need a new visa. We recommend that you refer to the U.S. Embassy for more information.

Please read our page on travel for more guidance.

Can my immigration record remain open if I leave the U.S. for a leave of absence?

Under normal circumstances, no. ISS must take action on your immigration record. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ISS was allowed to keep immigration records active when students returned to their home countries.

More information about COVID-19 is available on our FAQ page.

Can I return to the U.S. with my old I-20/DS-2019?

No. You will want to have a valid I-20 for reentry to the United States. This will help you as you go through Customs and Border Protection.

Remember to consult with ISS about your immigration documents before you go and leading up to your return. You must have a valid travel signature.

Will I stay eligible for CPT/OPT?

It depends.

All eligibility requirements for CPT and OPT must be met before you can be authorized for work permission. One requirement is that you must be in valid F-1 status for 1 academic year.

If you enter the U.S. with a reactivation I-20, your earlier semesters will count toward the 1 academic year requirement.

When you enter the U.S. on a new Initial Attendance I-20, you have begun a new F-1 visa life and therefore must be enrolled for 2 semesters before you are eligible for off-campus work permission.