UCI International Center

Travel & Re-Entry During OPT

Section 1

Traveling on OPT can be risky due to stricter immigration policies. Review the situations below and plan accordingly to minimize risk of traveling during your OPT period.

Pending OPT Application

International Travel is NOT recommended before the OPT is approved and before you have received your EAD card.

If your OPT application is rejected or denied while you are outside of the U.S., you will not able to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status.

If you decide to travel while your OPT application is pending, and will plan to re-enter the U.S. if F-1 status, the International Center recommends carrying the following documents upon re-entry:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa
  • I-20 with OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • I-797 Notice of Action Receipt (indicates USCIS has received your application)
  • If you have a future job offer, bring a letter as proof you will pursue OPT once your EAD card is approved.

Approved OPT Application

If your OPT has been approved, and you have your EAD card, you can travel internationally. You can re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status before the start date or after the start date of your EAD card.

You will need the following documents with you to return to the U.S. in F-1 status:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa
  • I-20 with OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • EAD Card
  • Proof of Employment During OPT:
    • Job Offer Letter
    • Letter from Employer
    • If no employment, evidence of your active job search.

Pending STEM OPT Extension Application

If your current EAD has expired, the IC does NOT recommend travel while your STEM OPT Extension is pending. You will not be able to return in F-1 status to resume employment.

If your current (Post-Completion OPT) EAD card has a future expiration date, and your STEM OPT application is pending, you will need to prepare the following documents to return to the U.S.:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa
  • I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • EAD Card (not expired)
  • Proof of Employment During OPT:
    • Job Offer Letter
    • Letter from Employer
    • If no employment, evidence of your active job search.

Approved STEM OPT Extension

If your STEM OPT has been approved and you travel internationally, you will need to prepare the following documents to return to the U.S.

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa
  • I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • EAD Card
  • Proof of Employment During OPT:
    • Job Offer Letter
    • Letter from Employer
    • If no employment, evidence of your active job search.

During Cap-Gap Extension Period

You may travel during a Cap-Gap Extension of OPT when certain conditions are met but you should not leave the U.S. while your H-1B application is pending. If you have a pending H-1B or other immigration application; we strongly recommend you speak to your immigration representative/attorney for advice about your immigration status and the impact travel will have.

You may travel abroad and return to the U.S. in F-1 status during a Cap-Gap Extension period if:

  • Your Change of Status to H-1B has been approved
  • You return to the U.S. in F-1 status before the start date of your H-1B.
  • You have maintained for F-1 status

The documents you will need to travel during Cap-Gap Extension period include:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa
  • I-20 with Cap-Gap Extension from the International Center with a Travel Signature (signature is valid for 6 months only when on OPT)
  • EAD Card
  • I-797 Approval Notice of the H-1B Change of Status
  • Proof of Employment During OPT/Cap-Gap Extension:
    • Job Offer Letter
    • Letter from Employer