How does taking a health leave of absence affect student health insurance and immigration status?

Date: September 2020



It is my understanding that Cornell grads who fall ill and are unable to perform their assistantship duties may be asked to take a health leave of absence (HLOA). I’m not familiar with how this works, and would love to learn more given that we are currently in the middle of a pandemic and many of us may be asked to apply for HLOA. Specifically, I’m wondering:

  1. How does my student health insurance get affected by this event? Presumably, I will have greater need than ever of health insurance, and I’m unable to find specific information on what this means for graduate students on the SHP. 
  2. How is my immigration status affected by this event? As an international student, do I have to leave the U.S. if I take HLOA? That seems unsafe if I am diagnosed with COVID-19. The website states that students are not enrolled in the university for the HLOA duration, and I’d appreciate clarity on what this specifically means for international students, especially those who do not have the option of returning to their home countries currently.


Exploring All Options


Dear Exploring All Options,

I am happy to answer your question about the health leave of absence and understand fully that there are many questions about this status, especially now in relationship to the pandemic. 

First, I want to be clear that taking a health leave of absence is a decision that you, the student, needs to initiate. No one can make you take a health leave. What happens is that students typically explore other options when they are no longer able to fulfill their academic requirements. Since we are talking about the pandemic, I would encourage that if a student becomes ill and needs some support in managing their academics that they reach out to Student Disability Services office to seek accommodations that may be available to address some of the barriers associated with managing health and academics. That is often the first step. If one is ill at a magnitude that they cannot perform academically, the student may elect to take a health leave of absence. The support to make this decision comes from the Health Leave of Absence Coordinator, Andrea Kiely, who will be able to provide individual case management and help sort out the different options. Andrea can be reached at Of course, I am always happy to chat about this as well. 

To answer your questions directly….

Good news is that you have the student health insurance plan for the entire plan year – until July 31, 2021. If you end up taking a health leave at any time during this year, you will still have your health insurance. When a student goes on a health leave of absence, typically the cost of the premium is the responsibility of the student but, for students who were admitted with full funding, sometimes the funding source can cover the cost of SHP even while on a health leave.

You are correct in that immigration status is impacted by taking a health leave of absence. We recommend that every international student talk directly with the Office of Global Learning to confirm the impact this will have on them and the requirements that are needed. Generally speaking, international students who are in the country on a F visa are allowed to stay in the country for up to 12 months. More information is found on the Global Learning website.

I hope this information is helpful to you and if you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out.

All the best,


Janna Lamey
Senior Assistant Director for Graduate Student Life