While on OPT, you are still considered to be in F-1 status. Therefore, if you reenter the U.S. after a temporary absence, you will need a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport. The EAD does not take the place of the F-l visa stamp.
Exiting and reentering the U.S. prior to the end date listed on Form 1-20
Travel during this period while you have an application for OPT pending with the USCIS should not pose a risk. When reentering, however, you are advised to have a copy of the 1-765 Receipt Notice with you.
Existing and reentering the U.S. after the program end date on the Form I-20 has passed, but the OPT application is still pending
Once you complete your program of study, it is advised that you do not leave the country until you have the EAD in hand. If an emergency or other situation dictates that you make a departure prior to receiving your card, please consult with the Center for Global Programs and Studies prior to leaving. If you make a departure without your card and you do not have the card in hand when you attempt to reenter the U.S., the Immigration Officer at the border may question your eligibility to reenter in F-1 student status since you have already completed your course of study and have no proof that you have been approved to engage in OPT.
How long can I remain outside of the U.S. and still successfully re-enter during my period of OPT?
When you take possession of your EAD, you may make a reentry to the U.S. after a temporary absence of less than 90 days as long as you have a valid visa stamp and an 1-20 that has been validated for travel by the Designated School Official. If you need a validating signature while on OPT, you may email the 1-20 to the Center for Global Programs and Studies. A revalidation of your F-1 visa stamp can only be done at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate outside of the U.S. Keep in mind, time spent outside of the U.S. counts towards the 90-day unemployment rule.
If you remain outside of the U.S. for a period of time that exceeds 90 days, you will lose your current F -1 status along with any period of OPT that was approved prior to your departure. Please be aware of the fact that an Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer is probably going to be suspicious of a student applying for reentry who is not employed and has spent an extended period of time outside of the U.S. When making a reentry to the U.S., it is strongly advised that you have a letter from your current employer that explains the details of your employment situation. If you are not employed when you make the reentry, you will need to convince the Immigration Officer that you are actively seeking employment (i.e. proof of pending job interviews, etc.).
USCIS has stated that being employed while on OPT is a requirement for reentry. At present, however, the Center for Global Programs and Studies has not heard of any students being denied entry due to the fact that they were unemployed at the time. This unwritten practice is, of course, always subject to change.
If you exit and then reenter the U.S. in another nonimmigrant visa category, your remaining period of OPT will be cancelled immediately upon receipt of the new visa classification. For example: An F-l student on OPT forgets to obtain a revalidation of his/her F-1 visa stamp while abroad. They enter the U.S. in B-2 Visitor visa status using the visa waiver program. This change in status to a B-2 Visitors visa effectively cancels the employment authorization.
Documents you will need to present when making a reentry to the U.S. while on OPT:
- Valid passport: it is strongly recommended that the passport be valid for at least six months into the future at the time of reentry
- Valid F-l visa stamp
- Form 1-20 that has been authorized for travel on page three by the International Student Advisor/Designated School Official
- Valid EAD
- Letter from employer that verifies current employment status. In the absence of such a letter, you may be required to prove that you are actively seeking employment in the U.S. (i.e. invitation for interview, etc.)
Note: It is advised that you refrain from traveling if the end date on your Form 1-20 has passed and you are waiting to receive your EAD from the USCIS. Anytime you travel outside of the U.S. while your OPT application is pending, you should have the 1-765 Receipt Notice with you when you apply for reentry.