While on Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Read important tips about international travel during Optional Practical Training (including the 24-Month OPT STEM Extension).

Presidential Proclamation Travel Ban

On December 4, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a temporary hold on the Presidential Proclamation issued by President Trump on September 24, 2017.  This action allows the Trump Administration to enforce its travel restrictions on certain nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. 

For more information, please read the December 12, 2017 Travel Advisory posted here.

View this info as a PDF

My OPT application (Post-Completion or 24-Month OPT STEM Extension) has been approved by the USCIS and I am in possession of my EAD card. What documents do I need to re-enter the U.S.?

  • A letter from your employer on official letterhead verifying that you are employed on OPT or a letter from an employer offering you a job
  • If you have not yet found employment, we advise you not to travel as you may have difficulty re-entering the U.S.
  • Your I-20 with OPT recommendation and a valid signature on page 2.  The signature must not be more than six months old when you re-enter the U.S.
  • Your valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card).
  • Your valid passport        
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp (except for re-entry from Canada, Mexico and contiguous territories after short trips of less than 30 days).  Note:  Please read the Travel Outside of the U.S. section to be sure you meet all conditions for re-entry. 
    • Note:  If you have dependents, they must also carry a copy of your EAD card and employment letter.

I submitted my Post-Completion OPT application to the USCIS and it is not yet approved. Can I travel outside the U.S. while I wait for my EAD card to arrive?

If you travel outside the U.S. while your application for Post-Completion OPT is pending at the USCIS Service Center, it is best to re-enter the U.S. to search for employment BEFORE your I-20 expires (Refer to the Program End Date on your I-20).  Please consider the following:

  • If there are any problems with your OPT application, and you are outside the U.S., it may be difficult for you to respond.
  • If you are outside the U.S. and your OPT application is rejected or denied, it may not be possible for you to return to the U.S.
  • If your OPT application is approved while you are outside the U.S., you must have your EAD card in your possession to re-enter the U.S.  (Keep in mind that the USCIS will only mail EAD cards to a U.S. address.)
  • If your OPT is approved while you are outside the U.S., you may also be asked to show proof of employment to re-enter the U.S.

Since there is no way to predict when your OPT will be approved or if the USCIS will find a problem with your application, we recommend that you think carefully before you plan to travel while your OPT application is pending.

I submitted my application for a 24-Month OPT STEM Extension to the USCIS and it is not yet approved, but my Post-Completion OPT EAD is still valid. Can I travel outside the U.S. while I wait for my OPT STEM EAD card to arrive?

We recommend that you think carefully before planning to travel outside the U.S. while your OPT STEM Extension application is pending.  If there are any problems with your OPT application, and you are outside the U.S., it may be difficult for your to respond.  If you are outside the U.S. and your OPT application is rejected or denied, it may not be possible for you to return to the U.S.

I submitted my application for a 24-Month OPT STEM Extension to the USCIS, it is not yet approved and my Post-Completion OPT EAD has expired. Can I travel outside the U.S. and re-enter?

We do not recommend traveling outside the U.S. after your EAD Card has expired and while your OPT STEM Extension application is pending.  

I have a tourist visa (B-1/2) that is valid for 10 years. Can I re-enter the U.S. on my tourist visa while waiting for the EAD card and then start to work once I receive my EAD card?

NO!!!  If you leave the U.S. and re-enter on a tourist visa (B-1/2), you will not be in F-1 student status or eligible for F-1 benefits. Therefore, your OPT application and EAD card will no longer be valid, and you will not be eligible to work.

My EAD card says “Not Valid for Re-entry to the U.S.” What does that mean?

It only means that your EAD card is not a U.S. visa stamp.

The Program End Date on my I-20 is my graduation date and that date has passed. Will this cause problems for me when I travel if I have a valid EAD Card?

NO.  When you have an EAD card, the validity of your I-20 is automatically extended until the end date of your OPT.  Therefore, with proof of employment and your EAD card, you can travel even if the Program End Date on your I-20 has passed.

Do I still need to get my I-20 signed by ISSS during my OPT?

YES!  During OPT, you need to have your I-20 signed every six months for travel outside the U.S.  For more information on how to get your I-20 signed, please read the “Maintaining F-1 Status While on Post-Completion OPT” or “Maintaining F-1 Status While on the 24-Month OPT STEM Extension” pages.

The F-1 visa stamp in my passport has expired, but I want to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT. Do I need to get a new visa stamp to return to the U.S.?

If you are visiting Canada, Mexico or some Caribbean Islands and staying less than 30 days (and you are not a citizen of Cuba, Iran, Sudan or Syria):  NO.  You do not need a new F-1 visa stamp.  You may re-enter the U.S. with your expired F-1 visa stamp, letter from your employer verifying your employment, valid passport, valid EAD card and valid I-20 (which must have a DSO signature on page 2 signed within the past 6 months).

If you will travel elsewhere:  YES.  You will need a new F-1 visa stamp.  You should go to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and apply for a new F-1 visa stamp so that you can re-enter the U.S. to resume your OPT.

In preparation for a submitting a visa application, we recommend that you review these tips on applying for a visa.

In what ways is my application for a new F-1 visa stamp affected by my being on OPT?

While on OPT, you are still considered to be in F-1 student status and can apply for an F-1 visa stamp.  However, while you are on OPT, the risk of denial of your application may be higher than when you were a student.  This is because you must prove non-immigrant intent to qualify for an F-1 visa and the Consular Officer may think that your OPT is an avenue for you to immigrate to the U.S.  If the Consular Officer is not convinced of your intent to return home after your OPT ends, your F-1 visa application may be denied

What documents do I need to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate while on OPT?

  • Your employment letter (Note:  It should include employment details such as salary (if it is a paid position), location, job duties and beginning date.)
  • Your valid passport
  • Your I-20 with OPT recommendation and unexpired signature on page 2
  • Your valid EAD card

Note:  You should also be prepared to discuss how this job experience will help you find a job in your home country.          

We also recommend that you review the “Applying for a U.S. Visa” page on our website here.

Does travel outside the U.S. affect the way periods of unemployment during OPT are counted?

Time spent outside the U.S. while on OPT still counts as unemployment if you do not have a job.  If you have a job, time spent outside the U.S. does not count as unemployment.

Can I travel outside the U.S. if my EAD card has expired, but I am eligible for the Cap Gap Extension because my H-1B is pending or has been approved?

We do not recommend traveling outside the U.S. and seeking readmission to the U.S. as an F-1 student during the Cap Gap Extension.

Page Updated 11/17