Opt Travel Abroad: Can You?

can you travel abroad during opt immigration foroum

Travelling abroad during OPT can be risky due to stricter immigration policies. It is generally permitted to leave and re-enter the US while on OPT, but there are specific risks of travel outside the US which are unique to travelling with a pending OPT application. If your OPT application is rejected or denied while you are outside the US, you will not be able to re-enter the US in F-1 status. If you have exceeded the maximum OPT unemployment time or have been absent from the US for more than 5 months, you may be denied re-entry. Re-entering the US in a status other than F-1 (such as a tourist) will invalidate your F-1 status and OPT authorization.

Characteristics Values
Travel during OPT application process Allowed, but not recommended due to specific risks
OPT application is denied while outside the US Cannot re-enter or reapply in the US
OPT application is approved while outside the US Need to arrange for EAD card to be sent to you in order to re-enter the US
F-1 visa is expired Need to reapply for an F-1 visa with EAD card and proof of employment
OPT/STEM I-20 Updates & Travel Endorsements I-20 should be up-to-date with current information, and the travel endorsement is only valid for 6 months
Documents required for re-entry to the US Passport, F-1 visa stamp, I-20 with valid travel signature, EAD card, proof of employment or job offer
Cap-Gap Extension Period May be able to travel during this period when certain conditions are met

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Travel outside the US and re-entry

Pending OPT Application

International travel is not recommended before OPT approval and before you have received your EAD card. If your OPT application is rejected or denied while you are outside the US, you will not be able to re-enter the country in F-1 status.

If you decide to travel while your OPT application is pending, and you plan to re-enter the US in F-1 status, it is recommended that you carry the following documents upon re-entry:

  • I-20 with OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • I-797 Notice of Action Receipt (indicates USCIS has received your application)
  • If you have a future job offer, bring a letter as proof you will pursue OPT once your EAD card is approved.

Approved OPT Application

If your OPT has been approved, and you have your EAD card, you can travel internationally. You can re-enter the US in F-1 status before the start date or after the start date of your EAD card.

You will need the following documents with you to return to the US in F-1 status:

  • I-20 with OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • Proof of Employment During OPT: Letter from Employer. If you do not have employment, evidence of your active job search.

Pending STEM OPT Extension Application

If your current EAD has expired, it is not recommended that you travel while your STEM OPT Extension is pending. You will not be able to return in F-1 status to resume employment.

If your current (Post-Completion OPT) EAD card has a future expiration date, and your STEM OPT application is pending, you will need to prepare the following documents to return to the US:

  • I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • EAD Card (not expired)
  • Proof of Employment During OPT: Letter from Employer. If you do not have employment, evidence of your active job search.

Approved STEM OPT Extension

If your STEM OPT has been approved and you travel internationally, you will need to prepare the following documents to return to the US:

  • I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • Proof of Employment During OPT: Letter from Employer. If you do not have employment, evidence of your active job search.

General Notes

  • Re-entering the United States in a status other than F-1 (such as a tourist) will invalidate F-1 status and OPT authorization.
  • If your OPT or STEM OPT is approved, your I-20 should reflect the approval and your current employer on page 2.
  • The travel signature on your I-20 should be no older than six months.

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Documents required for re-entry

Travelling on OPT can be risky due to stricter immigration policies. Here is a list of documents you will need to re-enter the US during OPT:

Pending OPT Application:

  • Passport (valid for six months after you plan to re-enter the US)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (this does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • I-20 with OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • I-797 Notice of Action Receipt (indicates USCIS has received your application)
  • If you have a future job offer, bring a letter as proof you will pursue OPT once your EAD card is approved

Approved OPT Application:

  • Passport (valid for six months after you plan to re-enter the US)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (this does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • I-20 with OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • EAD card
  • Proof of Employment During OPT: Letter from Employer. If there is no employment, evidence of your active job search

Pending STEM OPT Extension Application:

  • I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • EAD Card (not expired)
  • Proof of Employment During OPT: Letter from Employer. If there is no employment, evidence of your active job search

Approved STEM OPT Extension:

  • I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • Proof of Employment During OPT: Letter from Employer. If there is no employment, evidence of your active job search

During Cap-Gap Extension Period:

  • I-20 with Cap-Gap Extension from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • I-797 Approval Notice of the H-1B Change of Status
  • Proof of Employment During OPT/Cap-Gap Extension: Letter from Employer

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Risks of travelling with a pending OPT application

While it is generally permitted to travel abroad with a pending OPT application, there are several risks that you should be aware of before making any travel plans.

Firstly, if you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS while you are outside the US, you will need to respond by a specific deadline, which could be difficult if you are abroad. If your OPT application is denied while you are outside the US, you will not be able to re-enter or reapply, and your F-1 status will end.

Secondly, if your OPT application is approved while you are abroad, you will need to arrange for your EAD card to be sent to you in order to re-enter the US. This may cause delays in your travel plans. Additionally, if your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to reapply for a new one with your EAD card and proof of employment before you can re-enter the US.

Thirdly, there is a risk that you may face problems at the port of entry if you do not have your EAD work permit with you. While the I-797 receipt notice can serve as proof that you have submitted your OPT application, admission into the US is ultimately at the discretion of the CBP officer.

Furthermore, time spent outside the US during your post-completion OPT or STEM OPT extension may be considered as unemployment unless you are either employed during a period of authorised leave or travelling as part of your employment. If you exceed the maximum allowed number of unemployment days (90 days for post-completion OPT and 150 days for STEM OPT extension), you may face issues in returning to the US.

Finally, it is important to note that re-entering the US in a status other than F-1 (such as a tourist) will invalidate your F-1 status and OPT authorization. Therefore, it is crucial that you understand the risks involved and have all the necessary documentation before travelling internationally with a pending OPT application.

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Returning to the US with an approved OPT application

Firstly, it is important to note that re-entry to the US is never guaranteed. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are authorised to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis on all nonimmigrant admissions, and travelling with an approved OPT is no exception.

If your OPT application has been approved and you have a job or a job offer, you may leave and re-enter the US to begin or resume employment. To give yourself the best chance of re-entering the US without problems, ensure you have the following documents:

  • A valid passport (valid for six months after you plan to re-enter the US)
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (unless you are a Canadian citizen)
  • A valid Form I-20, signed by an advisor (the signature must not be more than six months old at the time of re-entry to the US)
  • Your EAD card (Employment Authorisation Document)
  • Evidence of a job offer or evidence of resumption of employment (not required but recommended)

If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to apply for a new one to re-enter the US.

Additional Considerations

  • Time spent outside the US during a period of post-completion OPT or STEM OPT extension may be considered as unemployment, unless you are either: employed during a period of authorised leave by an employer; or travelling as part of your employment.
  • If you are going to be outside of the US for extended periods of time but will still be considered employed, it is recommended that you have documentation from your employer to certify that you have remained employed during your absence.
  • Automatic visa revalidation allows F and J non-immigrant visa holders to visit Canada, Mexico and/or adjacent islands (excluding Cuba) for less than a total of 30 days and re-enter the US with an expired visa stamp. Upon returning to the US, you must present a valid passport, I-20 or DS-2019 form with a valid travel signature, and I-94 record.
  • Citizens of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation.

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Cap-Gap extension

The Cap-Gap extension is an automatic extension of F-1 status and, if applicable, post-completion OPT employment authorization from April 1 to September 30 for eligible F-1 students. This extension is designed to bridge the gap between the end of an individual's F-1 status and the beginning of their H-1B status.

Eligibility for Cap-Gap Extension

To be eligible for the Cap-Gap extension, the following criteria must be met:

  • The employer must file an H-1B petition with USCIS to change the student's status to H-1B.
  • The H-1B petition must request an October 1 start date.
  • The student's program end date or post-completion/STEM OPT end date must be after the petition filing date and between April 1 and September 30.
  • The student's program end date must be today's date or in the past.
  • A petition asking for consular processing is not eligible for a Cap-Gap extension.
  • Petitions submitted by cap-exempt employers, such as institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations, are not eligible for Cap-Gap extensions.

Travel During Cap-Gap Extension Period

An F-1 student may generally travel abroad and seek readmission to the United States during the Cap-Gap extension period if certain conditions are met. These conditions include:

  • The student's H-1B petition and request for a change of status have been approved.
  • The student seeks readmission before their H-1B employment begins (usually at the start of the fiscal year on October 1).
  • The student has all the required documentation, including a valid passport, F-1 visa, Cap-Gap I-20, and proof of employment.
  • The student is otherwise admissible and meets the requirements for F-1 status.

It is important to note that if an F-1 student travels outside the United States while the H-1B petition and change of status request are still pending, the request for a change of status will be considered abandoned. Therefore, it is recommended to stay in close communication with the petitioning employer during the Cap-Gap extension period for status updates on the H-1B petition processing.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, you can travel abroad during OPT, but there are a few additional documents you need to prepare for re-entry to the US. These include a valid passport, a valid F-1 visa, an I-20 form with your current employer information and a travel signature (no older than 6 months), proof of employment, and a valid EAD card.

While it is generally permitted to travel with a pending OPT application, it is not recommended due to certain risks. If you are denied OPT while outside the US, you will not be able to re-enter or reapply, and your F-1 status will end. If you choose to travel, you will need to monitor your mail and respond to any Requests for Evidence by the specified deadline.

In addition to the documents listed above, you will need evidence of a job in the US or a job offer. If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to reapply with your EAD card and proof of employment.

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