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Travel Risks: Student & Post-Completion Employment

International travel after completing your degree requirements is permitted, provided you can demonstrate that you are still eligible for the F-1 or J-1 category.

Prior to the completion date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019, you are able to travel normally, even if you have submitted an application for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Academic Training (AT). After the completion date has passed, your ability to reenter the United States is based on demonstrating that you are still eligible for entry in your requested category. 

In addition to the standard travel documents—including a valid travel endorsement on your I-20 or DS-2019—students on post-completion employment must show that they have a pending or approved application for work authorization and their eligibility for F-1 or J-1 status is extended.

If you are traveling during your work authorization period, you may also be asked to demonstrate that you are satisfying AT or OPT employment requirements. This is generally satisfied by a letter or pay stub from your current employer or an offer letter from an intended employer. Without these documents, travel is NOT advised.

If you have any questions or concerns about traveling after your program completion date please contact us.

Expired Visa Stamp  

If your F-1 or J-1 visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new visa stamp, for which you must show that you plan to return to your home country upon completion of your employment or training activities (i.e., nonimmigrant intent). This can be hard to prove once you have work authorization and are successfully employed in the United States.

Consider your travel plans carefully and plan ahead for the possibility of a delay or denial. Be sure to discuss your travel plans and potential risks with your employer as well. Automatic revalidation is still available during this time for short trips of 30 days or less to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands.

If you have any questions or concerns about applying for a US visa stamp after your program completion date please contact us.

Additional F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) Considerations

Travel Endorsements

During your OPT period, your I-20 must be signed on the second page once every 6 months (rather than once every year). Please check the signature on your I-20 before you travel and contact ISO if it will be expired at the time of your intended reentry.

Cap Gap Extensions

During a valid Cap Gap Extension, the employment authorization document (EAD) will have already expired and the ability to document and prove eligibility for continued F-1 status could be more difficult.

Besides the risks associated with re-entry in the F-1 category, travel considerations should also be based on the type and status of the H-1B petition. Applications filed for a “Change of Status” are considered abandoned when the beneficiary travels while it is still pending.

After the Approval Notice is issued, travel prior to the H-1B start date should not impact the Change of Status (provided you are able to return in valid F-1 status). Applications filed for “Consular Notification” require that the beneficiary obtain an H-1B visa stamp and enter the United States in that category, not more than 10 days prior to the authorized start date. Travel during the application period is possible, but the same issues remain in terms of documenting F-1 eligibility upon re-entry at a US Port of Entry. Additionally, the F-1 Cap Gap Extension only covers the remainder of the current fiscal year (September 30), meaning that travel and re-entry with a valid H-1B visa will then be required to maintain work permission.

If you wish to travel during the Cap Gap Extension of your optional practical training (OPT), please discuss your individual circumstances, timing, and documentation with your employer and ISO before leaving the United States.

STEM Extensions

If you plan to travel while the STEM Extension is pending, you may use your initial employment authorization document (EAD), authorizing the 12-month optional practical training (OPT) period, to help demonstrate F-1 eligibility until the expiration of your work authorization. After that time, you would need to also show an I-797A Receipt Notice for your STEM Extension application.

Please contact ISO if you have any questions about traveling on your OPT STEM extension.