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What Should I Do If I Need to Leave the United States Due to a Personal Emergency?

March 14, 2013

If you have a personal emergency and need to leave your studies in the United States to return home, you should be aware of the relevant Department of Homeland Security rules and regulations so you can maintain your student status.

F Students:

If you are an F student, talk to your designated school official (DSO) to request a leave of absence before you leave school. (This rule does not apply to M students.) If the DSO allows you to withdraw from school or take a leave of absence, you will be allowed a 15-day period for departure from the United States and your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record will reflect Terminated status for authorized early withdrawal. This departure period only applies to a student who talks to a DSO about leaving school. If you do not tell your DSO, you will not qualify for an additional 15-day period for departure. Also, the DSO will terminate your SEVIS record for unauthorized early withdrawal. This may impede your re-entry into the United States.

When preparing to return to the United States, you can choose a date that meets two specific criteria:

  • Within five months from the date the DSO put your record in Terminated status
  • At a time when you can begin studying again, such as the beginning of a new semester

You must talk to a DSO before returning to the United States (perhaps more than a month before the date you hope to return) to get your SEVIS record set back to Active status. If you are away from classes and not in Active status in SEVIS for more than five months, your SEVIS record must remain in Terminated or Completed status. If this happens, you will need to obtain a new Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status" with a new SEVIS ID number from your DSO in order to continue your studies. After you receive your new Form I-20 you will have to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee (with the new SEVIS ID on your new Form I-20).

The need for a new I-20 with a new SEVIS ID applies to the following students:

  • Students who have been out of status for more than five months
  • Students who have spent more than five months outside the United States in an absence from school, while neither engaged in study abroad nor on a medical reduced course load

For more information on visa renewal, visit the Department of State’s website. To determine whether the five month deadline applies to you, contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you would renew your visa.

M Students:

If you are an M student, you may leave the United States and return to your program if your return to the United States meets the following conditions:

  • Your absence did not prevent you from maintaining status through enrollment in your program
  • Before the program end date on your Form I-20, except for a Form I-20 issued for one of the following reasons:
    • Pending M-1 extension Form I-20
    • Pending M-1 transfer Form I-20
    • Pending M-1 reinstatement Form I-20
  • Before the original admit-until date on your stamped Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record,” or the newly issued Form I-94 admit-until date stemming from an adjudication for one of the following:
    • M-1 extension
    • M-1 transfer
    • M-1 reinstatement of status
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