Western Kentucky University

International Student Office - Travel Guide

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Travel on OPT

Travel while on OPT is a complicated issue! First ask, "Is my visa valid?" It is extremely difficult for a student on OPT to convince the Dept. of State to extend or renew an F-1 visa while on OPT. ISO suggests students with expired visas DO NOT travel outside the U.S. while on OPT.

There are 3 scenarios in which a student might travel. Two of these scenarios are advisable and one is NOT!

Travel BEFORE graduation and BEFORE OPT is approved:
Travel prior to graduation while I-765 is pending does not cancel the OPT application. It is reasonable a student would be allowed to re-enter U.S. prior to end date on their I-20 to complete their course work. In order to re-enter U.S. in this scenario, a student will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa stamp
  • Valid I-20 (that has been signed less than six months prior to the day you plan to re-enter U.S.)
  • Proof of enrollment at WKU
  • I-797 (SRC Receipt Notice) to show proof that you have filed for OPT

Travel outside the U.S. AFTER graduation but BEFORE OPT has been approved:
While this scenario is allowable under the law, it is NOT advisable! The Immigration & Customs Enforcement web-site states: "If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, your OPT ends and you cannot reenter unless you have a written job offer." (Travel FAQ's)

Once OPT has been approved, the port of entry officer will expect you to have the documents listed below and OPT/EAD card AND proof of employment. Think about these questions: How will you know if and when the application is approved? What if something goes wrong with the application process while you are outside the U.S.? What if there is a significant delay in processing? What if your application is approved while you are outside of the U.S. and you do not have the card in hand when re-entering? If it is approved, how will you get the OPT card and job offer before you return to the U.S.? What if it is lost in the mail between U.S. and your home country? As you can see, there are many things that can go wrong in this scenario! That is why it is UNADVISABLE!

Travel outside the U.S. AFTER graduation and AFTER OPT has been approved and AFTER EAD card has been received (**Most Advisable**):

In order to re-enter U.S. in this scenario, a student will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa stamp
  • Valid I-20 (that has been signed less than six months prior to the day you plan to enter U.S.)
  • EAD/OPT card
  • Proof of employment in the U.S. (job offer letter from employer, pay stub, etc.)

If you know you need to travel soon after graduation, apply for OPT early enough to have a chance of having your EAD/OPT card and job offer by graduation.

 Last Modified 7/2/14