Travel and Re-entry to the U.S. While on OPT

COVID-19 UPDATES:  BIO encourages individuals to use caution when considering international travel due to COVID-19. For current travel updates (including vaccination, quarantine, and testing) see our COVID-19 FAQ page and Immigration Policy Updates for current immigration news. For current UC Berkeley policies and requirements see the UC Berkeley COVID-19 Resources page. 

Global travel conditions remain impacted by the pandemic. The Department of State has announced a phased resumption of routine visa services. Visit your local U.S. embassy or consulate website to confirm operating status and find information about appointment rescheduling and/or emergency services.

Current USCIS Processing Times for OPT Applications: 
Click here to view USCIS's estimated case processing times. USCIS is currently experiencing serious delays in issuing I-765 receipt notices. Travel outside the U.S. with a pending, unreceipted application could be very risky. Please review the risks of travel with pending OPT or STEM OPT.

ALERT: USCIS announced on 7/29/2021 and 2/26/2021
flexibilities for OPT/STEM OPT Extension applicants affected by delayed receipt notices for the Form I-765. These flexibilities apply only to applications received on or after October 1, 2020 through October 31, 2021. See more information on our COVID-19 FAQ webpage

1) For standard 12-month OPT I-765 applications received through October 31, 2021, applications can be filed up to 120 days before the program end date (instead of the normal 90 days). This does NOT apply to STEM OPT Extension I-765 applications.

2) If you applied for 12-month OPT during this period and received an EAD with less than 12 months of OPT, contact BIO regarding how to request a correction.

3) If your OPT/STEM OPT I-765 application was rejected, contact BIO immediately regarding your options to refile before November 30, 2021.

Traveling while on OPT or OPT STEM Extension

In general, an F-1 student on post-completion OPT may travel outside the United States temporarily and be readmitted to resume F-1 status and employment for the remainder of the period authorized on his or her EAD card. The student must not have exceeded the maximum OPT unemployment or OPT STEM Extension unemployment time.

Please also review all general travel and re-entry information on the main Travel and Re-Entry page. 

WARNING: Re-entering the United States in a status other than F-1 (such as a tourist) will invalidate F-1 status and OPT authorization.

DocumentsBefore Completing Academic Program & Before OPT EAD Approval*After Completing Academic Program & Before OPT or STEM EAD Approval*After Completing Program & After  OPT or STEM EAD Approval
Valid passport
Valid F-1 visa stamp (if applicable)
OPT I-20 with a valid travel endorsement signed within 6 months by a BIO Advisor (page 3)
Evidence of continued enrollment (e.g. Enrollment Verification from Cal Central)
Evidence of financial support strongly recommended strongly recommended strongly recommended
OPT receipt: I-797 Notice of Action
Job offer letter from employer OR current employment verification letter

OPT- strongly recommended

OPT STEM Extension- required

EAD (Employment Authorization Document) See "Travel While OPT or OPT STEM Extension is Pending" below.
COVID-19 Travel Requirements: Proof of Testing/Vaccines

Travel While OPT or OPT STEM Extension is Pending 

Travel during the OPT application process is allowed, but not recommended as it poses certain risks. Keep in mind the following:

  • You will need to have someone monitor your mail and let you know if you receive any communications from USCIS.
  • If you receive a Request for Evidence, you will need to respond by a specific deadline, which could be difficult from outside the U.S.
  • For post-completion OPT: If you are denied for OPT while outside the United States after your Program Completion Date, you will not be able to re-enter or reapply. Your F-1 status will end.
  • For OPT STEM Extension: If you are denied for OPT STEM Extension while outside the United States after your OPT EAD end date, you will not be able to re-enter or reapply. Your F-1 status will end.
  • If you are approved for OPT/STEM while outside the United States, you will need to arrange for your EAD card to be sent to you in order to re-enter the United States.
  • If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to reapply for an F-1 visa with your EAD card and proof of employment.
  •  If you choose to travel while your application is pending, be sure that you are monitoring your mail. Sign up for an account with USCIS Case Status online. Communicate with BIO about your travel plans. 

Getting an F-1 Visa Stamp During OPT/STEM 

If a student's F-1 visa has expired and the student wishes to travel outside the United States, a new F-1 visa must be obtained before re-entering the United States. Students who need to apply for a new visa should consult BIO prior to travel to discuss the visa application process and possible risks. General Visa information can be found on the Applying for a Visa webpage. If your F-1 visa has expired, and OPT or OPT STEM Extension application is pending, you will NOT be able to apply for a new F-1 visa until the application is approved and you have the EAD. 

If You Are on OPT & Have a Pending or Approved H-1B or OPT Cap-Gap I-20

Please first check with your employer and the legal counsel processing your H-1B about your travel plans. Berkeley International Office can only advise you on travel as an F-1, but we cannot advise on how your travel might impact a pending or future H-1B request. Students travelling using an OPT Cap-Gap I-20 should see the H-1B Cap Gap page for more information.