Travel During F-1 OPT

In this section, we’ll cover the things you need to be aware of and the documents you need to carry if you’re planning to travel abroad after you have applied for post-completion OPT, including STEM OPT extension and the Cap-Gap extension.

Orange Divider
Need to know

Need to Know

Post-Completion OPT is an extension of your F-1 status. If you return to the U.S. in another status such as tourist, it will invalidate your F-1 status and your OPT authorization.

Orange Divider
Plane in flight

Since you are currently enrolled and will return to the U.S. before the program end date of your program, your re-entry will be based on your return as a current student. Your OPT application has no impact on your travel, regardless of  whether it’s pending or approved.

We recommend that you avoid international travel before your OPT is approved. If there is a problem with your application USCIS will mail you a Request for Evidence (RFE) to your U.S. address. Even if a friend is checking your mail, you may have difficulty responding to the RFE in time. If you have to travel, you will need the following items when you return to the U.S.:

  • Unexpired passport
     
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (except for Canadians)
     
  • I-20 with OPT recommendation and an unexpired travel signature (signature valid for six months when on OPT)
     
  • I-797 USCIS receipt notice of your OPT application
     
  • If you have a job offer or interview appointments set up, bring a job offer letter or communication about interviews with you
  • Unexpired passport

  • Unexpired F-1 visa (except for Canadians)

  • I-20 with OPT recommendation and an unexpired travel signature (signature valid for six months when on OPT)

  • Unexpired EAD card (Employment Authorization Document)

  • Proof of employment that you will begin or resume upon return from your trip, such as:

    • Job offer letter

    • Work contract

    • Proof of payment or letter from employer

    • If no proof of employment, bring evidence of your job search

If your current EAD has expired , don’t travel while your STEM OPT extension is pending, You will not be able to return in F-1 status to resume employment.

If you are returning to the U.S. while your OPT EAD is still valid, you  will need the following items.

  • Unexpired passport

  • Unexpired F-1 visa (except for Canadians)

  • I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation and an unexpired travel signature (signature is valid for six months when on OPT)

  • Unexpired EAD

  • Proof of employment that you will resume upon return from your trip, such as

    • Job offer letter

    • Work contract

    • Proof of payment (pay stubs) or letter from employer regarding continued employment

  • Unexpired passport

  • Unexpired F-1 visa (except for Canadians)

  • I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation and an unexpired travel signature (signature is valid for six months when on OPT)

  • Unexpired EAD for STEM OPT extension

  • Proof of employment that you will resume upon return from your trip, such as

    • Job offer letter

    • Work contract

    • Proof of payment (pay stub, automatic deposit of salary) or letter from employer

On May 10, 2016, DHS implemented new rules regarding OPT. One of the changes is the possibility of traveling during a Cap-Gap extension of OPT when certain conditions are met.

Do not leave the US while the H-1B change of status is pending! It will nullify the change of status and make you ineligible for the cap gap extension.

Generally, you may travel abroad and return to the US in F-1 status during a Cap-Gap period if:

  • Your change of status to H-1B has been approved

  • You return in F-1 status before your H-1B start date

  • You have other documents required for F-1 readmission:

    • Unexpired passport, valid at least six months beyond the date of re-entering the U.S.

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

    • Cap-gap I-20 reflecting OPT extension through September 30 with an unexpired travel signature (signature is valid for six months when on OPT)

  •  EAD

  • I-797 Approval Notice of the H-1B change of status

  • Proof of employment that you will resume upon return from your trip, such as

    • Job offer letter

    • Work contract

    • Proof of payment (pay stubs) or letter from employer regarding continued employment
       

Because this is fairly new guidance, we recommend you travel with a printed copy of this USCIS page which addresses F-1 travel during a Cap-Gap extension.