4 important tips you need know before you travel internationally while holding OPT status

 

With the new restrictive administration under Trump, international students on OPT must know how to prepare for readmission into the United States.

Students who are in transition between visa statuses are often uncertain and concerned about their readmission to the United States. Here are the general travel tips for students who are in the transition of status between OPT, STEM OPT, and H-1B.

You will be able to travel oversea If you submitted post-completion OPT application and your I-20 is still in effect, or your EAD card is approved and you have a job offer letter with job details and specific dates.

Although visa issuance and re-entry to the U.S. is at the discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration officer, you are unlikely to be denied entry if you are in one of these two categories. Moreover, you can minimize any kind of re-entry problems by planning to re-enter the U.S. a few weeks prior the expiration date of your I-20.

 

You are likely to successfully re-enter the U.S. if you have submitted your post-completion OPT application to USCIS and your I-20 is still in effect. Your F-1 student status will be valid until the program end date of your I-20. One thing to note is that if your visa is close to its expiration date, you might want to consider reviewing it before your trip. Renewing a visa while on OPT is risky. Travelers are required to have the following documents prior their trips:

 

  • Valid I-20 endorsed by DSO for travel
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Valid passport
  • Proof of enrollment
  • EAD card, if received

 

You are also likely to successfully re-enter the U.S. if you have an approved EAD card and have a job offer with an Employment Offer Letter stating the job details and specific dates. You have all the necessary conditions to travel, as an F-1 OPT student status. But entry to the U.S. will still be decided by the CBP. Travelers are required to have the following documents prior their trips:

 

  • EAD card
  • Valid I-20 signed for travel
  • Employment Offer Letter on company letterhead

 

You may have problems upon re-entry if your I-20 program has ended and not yet has a job offer, or you are currently employed but will need to review your F-1 visa while abroad, or you have an OPT STEM application pending.

People in these three categories need to be very cautious when making travel plans, since re-entry may be an issue upon your return. In order to avoid problems at the border, you are advised to consult your immigration attorney before making travel plans.

 

If you have an approved EAD card, your I-20 program has ended, and you have not yet received a job offer, you are in an extension of your F-1 student status. This means that your re-entry may be denied at the CBP because you do not have a job to return to in the States. You are highly advised to consult your immigration attorney on your situation. If your immigration attorney confirms that traveling abroad would not cause any issue for you, you are required to have the following documents ready prior your trip:

 

  • EAD card
  • Valid I-20 signed for travel
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Valid passport

 

If you are employed with an approved EAD card but need to renew F-1 visa while abroad, you are in F-1 OPT student status. People under this category are technically no longer students; they may not be able to successfully renew their F-1 visa while abroad. You are highly advised to consult your immigration attorney on your situation. If your immigration attorney confirms that traveling abroad would not cause any issue for you, you are required to have the following documents ready prior your trip:

 

  • EAD card
  • Valid I-20 signed for travel
  • Valid passport
  • Employment Offer Letter on company letterhead
  • Additional documents required for renewing the F-1 visa

 

If you are employed on post-completion OPT, have an OPT STEM extension application pending,  and have an approved EAD, you are in F-1 OPT student status, as long as your post-completion OPT has not yet expired. People in this category need to be cautious because USCIS may cancel your pending OPT STEM application. You are highly advised to consult your immigration attorney on your situation. If your immigration attorney confirms that traveling abroand would not cause any issue for you, you are required to have the following documents ready prior your trip:

 

  • EAD card
  • Valid I-20 signed for travel
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Valid passport
  • Employment Offer Letter on company letterhead

 

Travel during Cap-Gap extension period will likely result in readmission.

Cap-Gap period is an extended period of stay for F-1 visa holders whose F-1 visa expires before their petitioned H-1B visa comes in effect. Although there is no guarantee, an F-1 student may gain readmission to the U.S. during a Cap-Gap period if the following requirements are met:

 

  • The student’s H-1B petition and request for change of status has been approved;
  • The student seeks readmission before his or her H-1B employment begins; and
  • The student is otherwise admissible.

 

You are advised NOT to travel abroad if you have a pending OPT post-completion application with unapproved EAD and expired I-20, or if you have a pending application for STEM OPT extension and your post-completion OPT expired.

People in these two categories are highly advised not to travel abroad until his or her status has changed.

 

If you have mailed OPT post-completion application to USCIS, have an expired I-20 and an unapproved EAD card, you are in F-1 OPT pending student status. You are advised to delay your travel plans until your EAD card is approved. Departure from the U.S. prior the approval of EAD will result in withdrawal of the traveler’s OPT application. Returning to the U.S. in F-1 student visa status is not an option.

 

If you have an approved EAD card and are employed on post-completion OPT, your STEM OPT extension application is pending, and have an expired post-completion OPT, you are in F-1 OPT student status. You are advised to delay your travel until your STEM OPT application is approved. Traveling while your STEM OPT application is pending may result in withdrawal of the application.  

 

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