Optional Practical Training and Travel
After graduation the rules for re-entry for F-1 students are very different from the rules when you are a student entering the United States to begin or continue your program of study. To re-enter as F-1 after graduation you must have applied for OPT before you leave the United States.
Very important! If you go to your home country after graduation and do not plan to return to the United States for several weeks, you must have an official job offer letter from a U.S. employer to come back to the United States. Be sure you read this full article so you know all the other documentation you need to re-enter the United States.
It is critically important you learn the rules for re-entry before you leave the United States so you do not encounter problems at the port of entry upon your return. If you have questions, speak with one of the ISSS staff because they are trained in the regulations that govern your F-1 status.
Friends and senior classmates can help us with many things but you should not make the potential mistake of asking friends for immigration advice. You assume a real risk if you make decisions based on immigration advice from friends. Regulations change and in the past year the regulations for OPT changed significantly.
You will receive your EAD card approximately 12 weeks after you apply for OPT. Once you get your EAD card you also need to have your job offer letter to come back to the United States.
Documents you need to present at re-entry – Pending OPT Application:
If you have applied for OPT so you can work in the United States after graduation, you will need proof of your application for OPT when you return to the United States. If you recently applied for OPT within the last three to four weeks, you will need the following to re-enter the United States: (This is called a pending OPT application.)
2. F-1 visa inside your passport allowing re-entry
3. I-20 endorsed for OPT (ISSS staff signature on page 2 must be less than six months old)
4. Receipt Notice for your OPT application from a USCIS Processing Center (Vermont Service Center)
Documents you need to present at re-entry – Once Your OPT Application Is approved:
If you applied for OPT more than four weeks ago, you need to re-enter with care. If your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, your EAD card has been issued and you will need the following to re-enter the United States:
2. F-1 visa inside your passport allowing re-entry
3. I-20 endorsed for OPT (ISSS staff signature on page 2 must be less than 6 months old)
And you must also have:
4. Your EAD card
5. Recommended to have a letter from your employer stating you are re-entering the United States to resume (begin) employment with them
To check on the progress of your EAD card, go online.
Questions? Who to ask:
Friends or senior classmates may tell you all these documents are not necessary. They are not correct, the rules for re-entry after graduation state you must have these documents to re-enter the United States. Having these documents gives you the best chance of a successful re-entry. When you do not present the documents required by the regulations, you assume the risk you will not be allowed to re-enter the United States.
If you have questions, contact ISSS staff before you leave the United States.
Travel outside the United States and days of unemployment
If a student whose approved period of OPT (as indicated on the EAD card) has begun then travels outside of the United States while unemployed, the time spent outside the United States will count as unemployment against the 90 days for OPT and 150 days for 24-Month OPT extension period.
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.
Go online for more information on F-1 regulations regarding days of unemployment.
The best general advice is that an F-1 student on OPT who has received the EAD card and has to travel abroad should make sure there is documentation from his or her employer confirming the employment or their job offer. Otherwise the student assumes a risk that he/she may not be allowed to re-enter the United States.
OPT and applying for a new F-1 visa abroad
If you need to renew your F-1 visa, you must have your I-20 endorsed for OPT, an official transcript from Binghamton University (and proof of your degree if you have graduated), your EAD card (or receipt notice) and proof of a job or job offer as minimum documentation requirements. If the EAD application is still pending, some consular officials will accept the receipt notice in lieu of the EAD card, but this can be risky.
Travel abroad when a petition for a different visa has been filed
Students on OPT who have a pending or approved petition for a different non-immigrant or immigrant visa (for example, H-1B) are urged to consult with the individual filing their petition (such as an attorney) for advice on travel. A pending application for H-1B that has not yet been approved will be considered to have been abandoned if the beneficiary travels abroad. A pending application for permanent residency will also be considered to have been abandoned unless the beneficiary has a valid advance parole document. If a petition has been approved, it is essential to consult with the individual who has filed the petition for advice on travel and documentation.