While on OPT, you are still considered to be in F-1 status. Therefore, if you re-enter 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.
Documents You Need to Present when Re-entering the U.S. while on OPT:
- Valid passport: dated at least six months into the future at the time of re-entry
- Valid F-l visa stamp (see note in above section about renewing the F visa stamp at a U.S. embassy/consulate)
- Form 1-20 that has been authorized for travel on page 2 (travel signature only valid for 6 months on OPT)
- 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 re-entry.
Exiting and Re-entering the U.S. Before 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 re-entering, however, you are advised to have a copy of the 1-765 Receipt Notice with you.
Exiting and Re-entering the U.S. After the End Date on the Form I-20 has passed, and 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 ISSS prior to leaving. If you make a departure without your card and you do not have the card in hand when you attempt to re-enter 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?
A temporary absence from the U.S. is defined as 5 months or less. However, the 90-day unemployment clock is what governs how much time you have to spend outside of the U.S.
The 90-day unemployment clock while on OPT continues counting when you are outside of the U.S. unless you fall under the exception below:
- If a student travels while employed either during a period of leave authorized by an employer or as part of their employment, the time spent outside the United States will not count as unemployment.
If you remain outside of the U.S. for a period of time that exceeds 90 days without employment, you will lose your current F -1 status along with any period of OPT that was approved prior to your departure.
Travel Validation Signature
The travel validation signature on page 2 of your Form I-20 is only valid for 6 months while on a period of OPT from the date it was last signed.
Example: Student begins period of OPT on August 1, 2018. Student’s Form I-20 is signed for travel on August 15, 2018. The travel signature is valid until February 15, 2019. If student will be attempting to re-enter the U.S. after February 15, 2019, student will need to obtain a new travel signature prior to trip abroad.
If you need a validating signature while on OPT, please email email@example.com.
My F-1 Visa Stamp is expired, what should I do?
Your F-1 visa stamp can only be renewed at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate outside of the U.S.
- If you have no plans to travel outside of the U.S. during your period of OPT, you will not need to make a specific trip to renew your F visa stamp. It may remain expired during your period of OPT
- If you do have plans to travel during your period of OPT and your F-1 visa stamp is expired, you will need to make arrangements with the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest to your travel destination to have your F-1 stamp renewed prior to re-entering the U.S.
My F-1 visa stamp is expired, but I have a valid B-1 or B-2 visa stamp in my passport? Can’t I just use that to re-enter the U.S.?
No. If you exit and then re-enter 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 renew 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.
Note of Caution for Traveling during OPT for Extended Periods of Time
Please be aware of the fact that an Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer is probably going to be suspicious of a student applying for re-entry who is not employed and has spent an extended period of time outside of the U.S. When making a re-entry 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 re-entry, you will need to convince the Customs & Border Protection 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 re-entry.