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I am currently working in the US on H1B. I would like to take a sabbatical for ~6 months so that I can enroll in a school full time and get an advanced degree. I have credits already earned online so that's why I only need ~6 months.

  • The school says that there have been internationals like me who are on H1B who have done this.
  • They say that a letter needs to be provided by my employer confirming they will have me back once I finish with the program.
  • They said the employer would not be required to pay you, but they would need to authorize your leave of absence and provide documentation that you are maintaining your visa status while enrolled at the university.

Is this possible?

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    AFAIK the company which sponsors your H-1b cannot stop paying you (even if it's voluntary on your part). The LCA they filed with the DoL specifies your pay rate and they are not permitted to drop below that for any reason. – brhans Mar 26 '18 at 21:59
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    tbh this seems like it's defeating the entire premise behind the H-1b program. The company sponsoring you is supposed to be so desperate to hire someone to perform a particular job that they had to hire a foreigner because they couldn't find an American to do the work. If they can say "nah - just go do your own thing for 6 months" then this doesn't make any sense. I can't imagine the DoL or USCIS will be particularly impressed by this sort of thing ... – brhans Mar 27 '18 at 11:00
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    The sponsoring company has to attest that they tried but were unable to hire a local for the job when they file the LCA. I can't see how you could maintain your H-1b visa status if you're not continuously employed and paid by the sponsor of your visa. The visa is tied to the LCA, and the LCA documents what you'll be paid, the location where you'll be working, the nature of the work you'll be doing, etc. Taking a 6-month sabbatical means that none of this is true any more - so the premise supporting your visa falls away. – brhans Mar 29 '18 at 19:41
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    Maybe I'm wrong and there's a loophole which would allow what you're proposing, but I wouldn't even try it without the support of a competent immigration attorney. – brhans Mar 29 '18 at 19:42
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    See this article nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/… – qoba Mar 30 '18 at 16:57
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Tl;dr You should probably get advice from an immigration lawyer before trying this. Also you should probably check with your company's lawyer that filed your H-1B.

This Nolo.com article from @qoba's comment explains why it could become an issue if you take extended leave from an H-1B position while remaining in the US:

"If you will be remaining in the United States, it could be a bit more challenging. There is no clear guidance on whether you could maintain lawful H-1B status during a prolonged absence from work, even if your employer approved it. As mentioned above, the H-1B visa is a work visa and is not meant for sabbaticals. The challenge could arise when your employer files the next H-1B petition. USCIS could determine that you did not maintain H-1B status and therefore deny the request to extend your status. It then most likely would be an uphill battle to get back into lawful H-1B status."

One possible alternative might be to apply for change of status to F-1 when you begin the leave, and have your company apply to change your status back to H-1B in time for you to resume work. However, this may cause problems if the change of status takes too long. You could study full time while a change of status from H-1B to F-1 is in process, but if it's not approved before you finish studying you might have difficulty changing back to H-1B status as planned.

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