OPT Travel Abroad Outside US: Travel During OPT Is Pending or Expired Visa

OPT Travel - Traveling While OPT is pending , opt travel risk

Students like to travel to new places or may travel home for a break before starting their work-life. They feel the need to start afresh and to freshen themselves, traveling happens to be the best idea. In the U.S.A, international students have a major share, and they also like to travel not often but sometimes. OPT students are permitted to travel abroad under certain conditions. As rightly suspected, it is indeed a risky situation to travel due to rules and regulations the government has imposed. Travel on OPT risk has consequences while returning U.S. at Port of entry due to pending OPT, expired visas, etc. But is it okay to risk and travel before OPT start date?

Travel During OPT

The decision for OPT travel abroad should be made keeping in mind all the eligibility criteria, rules, and regulations as well as the procedure that has to be followed by the OPT students before moving out. If you travel during OPT or plan to travel while OPT is pending, you need to be aware of all the federal regulations and official policies of the USA government for international students.

We will discuss all the rules and eligibility criteria,  an international candidate must fit in and what are the risks of traveling during OPT Travel.

The original federal regulation states that “An F-1 student who has an unexpired EAD issued for post-completion practical training and who is otherwise admissible may return to the United States to resume employment after a period of temporary absence.”

In general, an F-1 student on OPT travel outside U.S. temporarily and are allowed to return to the USA. They can resume F-1 status and employment for the rest of the period authorized on his or her E.A.D card.

So, OPT students can travel while on OPT abroad but will require additional documents and paper-work to be done to be able to come back to the USA. While traveling back to USA international students need to carry documents like valid OPT card (EAD), valid passport, valid f1 visa, I-20 with a travel signature signed within the last six months, employer or job offer letter (not required but recommended), to make sure that they meet the immigration admission requirements for F-1 status. They also need to make sure that they have not been out of the U.S. for more than five months. Only then can you allowed in the USA and resume your work back in the USA.

Travel While on OPT

Travel During OPT is Approved

With an approved OPT or post-completion OPT and EAD card, you can travel internationally outside the USA, and request re-entry into the U.S in F-1 status to start/resume employment before the program end date or both before or after the start date on your EAD card.

For re-entering the US without problems, make sure you carry the following documents:

  • Unexpired Passport – valid for at least 6 months from the date you plan to re-enter the US
  • Unexpired F-1 visa
  • OPT Approval Notice
  • Unexpired EAD Card

Note: EAD card states “NOT VALID FOR REENTRY TO THE US.” This means that the EAD card alone will not suffice for reentry to the US.

  • Most importantly, I-20 signed for travel and with employment details – travel signature valid for six months when on OPT
  • SEVIS fee payment receipt
  • Proof Of Employment
    • Job Offer Letter/Employment Letter
    • Work Contract
    • Proof of Payment or Letter from Employer
    • If no proof of employment, bring evidence of your job search
  • Recent bank statements – to show that you have funding to support yourself in the US

Travel While STEM OPT Extension Application is Approved

If your STEM OPT Extension has been approved (EAD card has been issued by USCIS) and you have a job or a job offer, you may leave and re-enter the U.S. in order to begin or resume employment.

For the difficulty-free re-enter to the United States, keep all the documents ready mentioned above. For OPT Stem extension students, in addition to the above documents, carry EAD issued for the STEM extension and a copy of your I-983 training plan(suggested).

Travel While OPT is Pending

If your post-completion OPT is pending, has not been approved or you do not have a job offer, you can travel and then re-enter the U.S. to continue to look for employment. But in case international students have their OPT pending, the travel is very risky. It is advisable to wait for your OPT travel till the OPT request is approved, and you have received the EAD before traveling abroad. If you have an emergency traveling or in need to travel with OPT application pending, please contact and get advice from your DSO adviser or any designated professional.

To avoid any problems at the time of your re-entry to the US, you should travel with the following documents:
  • Unexpired Passport (valid for six months after you plan to re-enter the U.S)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (this requirement does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • I-20 (with a travel signature no older than six months)
  • I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) – showing your application is in the review in USCIS
  • Proof Of Employment
    • Job Offer Letter/Employment Letter
    • Work Contract
    • Proof of Payment or Letter from Employer
    • If no proof of employment, bring evidence of your job search
  • Recent bank statements – to show that you have funding to support yourself in the US

Here are some pointers if you are thinking to Travel while opt is pending:

  • Carrying an employment letter, job offer letter, or invitation to career fair will be beneficial as proof of employment or seeking employment while traveling.
  • Every EAD card mentions at the bottom “Not valid for re-entry to the U.S.,” and so OPT students need to carry the above mention documents with them during travel.
  • Arrange any reliable source (friend, family, relative, professor, etc.) of you, to check your status in USCIS, help with your paperwork if need when you outside USCIS.
  • Have continuous monitoring of your case status update from USCIS when you are outside U.S.A.
  • If you receive RFE or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), you need to send documents within the deadline whether you are in the USA or outside. So it is better you should be there in the USA at that time and avoid travel.
  • If your OPT gets approved while you are outside USA, you need to ask someone to send your EAD to you in order to re-enter the USA. Rather than sending the EAD card to you, ask for a scanned copy of both sides of the EAD card.
  • If your OPT gets denied while you are outside the US, you will not be able to re-enter the US or reapply for F-1 OPT. Your F-1 status will end. The same will be the case in OPT STEM extension. You may need to apply for a new visa category to re-enter the USA.

Travel While STEM OPT Extension is Pending

If you want to travel while STEM OPT application is pending, but before the Post-Completion OPT EAD expires and your post-completion OPT is not yet expired, you can travel on your approved OPT as usual.

If you want to travel while STEM OPT application is pending, but after the Post-Completion OPT EAD expires and your OPT is expired then your STEM extension application remains under review, so we would recommend you do not travel outside the US. You will not be able to return to the USA if the visa gets expired in F-1 status.

If you are traveling while STEM OPT Extension is pending and want to re-enter the USA with all needed documents, you should take all documents mentioned above with you with proof of employment and a copy of your I-983 training plan (suggested).

Traveling on OPT with Expired F1 visa:

If your F-1 visa is expired when you are outside the U.S, you need to apply for a new f-1 visa with your EAD card and proof of employment at the U.S. embassy abroad before you can return to the USA. You cannot return to the USA after traveling with an expired visa. So before you step out of the country, either make sure your visa won’t expire during that period or step out only after renewing your visa status.

It is very difficult to renew your F-1 visa while your OPT is pending. So we recommend you to wait until your OPT gets approved and you have the new EAD in hand before you apply for a new F-1 visa.

If you need to apply for a new F-1 visa when your post-completion OPT application is pending, you should also be sure to have your I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) in addition to the usual documents required for a visa application. You can ask someone to send EAD if approved when you are not in the USA as it can be additional evidence for entry but not mandatory.

Before traveling on OPT with expired F1 visa, consult the official attorney or legal official handling your processing about the visa application process and possible risks.

Automatic Visa revalidation for OPT Students

For those F1 students who are traveling to Canada, Caribbean (except Cuba), and Mexico for less than 30 days are eligible to enter the U.S with an expired F1 Visa as long as they are qualified for Automatic Visa revalidation.

Traveling on expired EAD:

If your OPT is already expired and you are still in the USA with the 60 days grace period, then it is advised not to step out of the USA as you will need a different visa to return back to the USA. You can return with a travel visa, approved H-1B work visa, etc.


Can I Renew My F1 Visa in the USA? – F1 Visa Renewal On OPT

How Long Does It Take To Get OPT Card? – OPT EAD Processing Time

Travel during Change of Status or Cap-Gap Extension Period:

If you have already filed a change of F-1 visa status OPT to H-1B or Green Card and the approval is still pending you need to rethink your idea of traveling or any other part of the world as your absence might nullify the chances of getting the approval and make you ineligible for the cap-gap extension. Traveling, in this case, can also make you ineligible to return to the USA on OPT status.  And it is advisable for the students to not travel abroad if in case they are utilizing the Cap-gap extension.

So talk to the legal counsel before traveling outside the USA.

In May 2016, DHS implemented new rules regarding OPT. One of them was the possibility of traveling during a Cap-Gap extension of OPT when certain conditions are met.

An F-1 student may normally OPT travel abroad and seek re-entry to the US in F-1 status during a cap-gap period if:

  1. The student has approved H-1B petition and an approved request for change of status ;
  2. The student seeks readmission before their H-1B employment begins (usually at the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1) i.e. You return in F-1 status before your H-1B start date; and
  3. The student is otherwise admissible.

USCIS states “if an F-1 student travels outside the United States while the H-1B petition and the change of status request remain pending the request for change of status will be considered abandoned.”

Documents you must require for F-1 readmission:

  • Unexpired Passport, valid at least six months beyond the date of re-entering the U.S.
  • Unexpired F-1 visa.
  • Cap-gap I-20 reflecting OPT extension with valid travel signature
  • EAD card
  • I-797 Approval Notice of the H-1B change of status – showing your application is in the review in USCIS
  • Proof of employment that you will resume upon return from your trip, such as
    • Job offer letter/ Employment Letter
    • Work contract
    • Proof of payment (pay stubs) or letter from the employer regarding continued employment
  • Recent bank statements – to show that you have funding to support yourself in the US

Do not travel if your F-1 visa is expired during the cap-gap period!  It would be highly problematic to apply for a new F-1 with an approved H-1B (Canadians are exempt from the visa requirement)

Candidates who have to apply for a change of status to permanent residency or H-1B status or any other kind of immigration status, must go forward and have a word with their employer or immigration lawyer/legal counsel before making any kind of travel plans.

Employment Status:

While you are traveling on F1 OPT status as you step out of the country, you need to make sure that you have a valid employment proof like an offer letter. The officer can legally refuse your entry to the USA if you do not carry any such employment proof. If you do not have employment ready and are still looking for a job you should always carry interview offers, registration to attend a career fair, etc. International students who have exceeded 90 days of unemployment are not considered to maintain F1 OPT status and are not allowed to re-enter the USA.

Port of Entry Questions for OPT Students

What is the Port of entry?

Port of entry also known as POE is simply the place you enter into the USA. It could be an airport, seaport, or land-border checkpoint.  And as a rule, the CBP officer might ask you some questions to verify the details provided by you and to check your eligibility.

As a reference for Port of entry questions for F1 OPT students, CBP officer might ask questions like:

  1. Where do you stay in the USA?
  2. What was your reason to travel to the USA?
  3. How long do you plan to stay in the USA?
  4. When did you last visited the USA?
  5. What was the reason behind visiting the USA last time?
  6. Give me a copy of your hostel reservation.
  7. What are you going to do in the USA?
  8. Give the EAD card or offer letter?
  9. What is your job or occupation?
  10. What is the reason to travel back to the USA?

Please note that even if an F-1 student meets all of the requirements to re-enter the USA, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer always makes the final determination on whether to admit an applicant for admission after inspection at a port-of-entry.

Travel Signature:

A travel signature is for F-1 or J-1 students (and their dependents) who are planning to travel abroad and return to the U.S. in F or J status. international student adviser signs and issues the Travel signature on I-20. It is valid for 6 months for F-1 OPT students. For enrolled F-1 and J-1 students, it is valid for 12 months. Get your I-20 signed and issued before traveling outside the USA because it is necessary to return to the USA.  The travel signature is required when you are returning to the US and not when you depart the U.S.

This is a common process to apply for a travel signature on I-20:
  • File the travel signature request from your university
  • Fill the Travel Signature I-20/DS-2019 Request form
  • Choose your Delivery Preference
  • Submit your request
  • If not online, Email or drop of your form to your international student adviser or DSO
  • They will sign the I-20
  • Signed I-20 will be ready for pick-up in a few business days(depends on your college)
  • A confirmation email will be sent to you when your document is ready (depends on your college).
  • pick-up signed I-20/DS-2019
  • keep your previous I-20/DS-2019 for your records to maintain track records,

Please note, that the process can be different based on the university or college you are applying to.

Requesting a Travel Signature from Abroad:

In case of an emergency or due to some other reason if you are not able to produce the signed I-20 before or at the time of leaving the U.S, you can have these two options:

1: Request a Reprint of Your I-20/DS-2019

Email the Travel Signature and I-20/DS-2019 Request to the international student’s office/DSO. They will be giving you a copy of the valid signed I-20 in return. Your college/university will reprint your I-20/DS-2019, sign it for travel. Then mail it to you via any express mail at the students’ expense.

2: Enter the US on I-515A

If you do not have a valid travel signature (with a new I-20/DS-2019) before returning to the US, you will likely be issued a Form I-515A by the US Port of Entry officer or you can respectfully request the officer to allow you to enter with Form I-515A.

I-515A is a document issued by the US Port of Entry officer that allows students to re-enter the US on a temporary status. This gives you 30 days’ time to immediately report to the international student office of your college/university and produce valid documents with a travel signature to fix your status to F-1 or J-1 D/S. To qualify for the Form I-515A, you must have a valid passport, valid F-1 or J-1 visa, and your I-20 or DS-2019 (the officer may allow you to enter without your I-20 or DS-2019 at his/her discretion).

Traveling to India on OPT is it advisable?

Most international students who happen to come to the U.S are Indians. They would want to visit their home country whenever they get a chance, for a holiday or a break. Although it is always advisable not to travel during OPT pending we understand that it is sometimes not possible. At times for any reason, if you need to leave USA, you need not be afraid to do so. But make sure you are well equipped with all the legal documents needed for re-entry in the USA. And also be aware of all travel on OPT risks if you need to step out of the USA.

Final Words

Being international students, it becomes a huge responsibility to follow the rules and regulations of the U.S. While returning to the USA, the authorities need a valid reason to let you back in the USA. And so your re-entry travel on OPT risks increases with any document expired or pending. It’s always better not to travel out of USA till your OPT application is approved and you receive your EAD.

We have enlisted all the possible points for you to understand what you might have to face if you consider traveling to a place outside the U.S. You need to think wisely and act accordingly to avoid difficult situations that can cost you your career or livelihood in the U.S.

Travel! But Travel smart. That’s the advice that we have for you.

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