Traveling on OPT: Navigating Re-entry

Student’s working in the United States under the optional practical training (OPT) program understand just how extensive the regulations are that accompany the post graduate opportunity. Therefore, if an F-1 student working in the U.S. must travel while on OPT for any reason, they should organize their documentation in advance to avoid inadmissibility upon return. Additionally, students should prepare to be questioned by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents upon return to the United States. Below, we outline what to bring with you at the border and what you should expect from your re-entry interview.


OPT students must present their recent (last six months) form I-20, endorsed by their designated school official (DSO). The I-20 forms should include the recommendation for OPT, the instructional program code for the primary majors of the student’s last degree program, and the name of the student’s employer. In addition to the I-20, students will present either an unexpired EAD or I-765 (application for employment authorization) receipt. Students who have received an EAD must present the card upon entry; students may only be re-admitted without an EAD if their form I-765 is still pending, as long as the student applied for OPT in a timely manner. However, without an EAD, some students may face further scrutiny at the border. Students must also provide CBP officers with evidence that the student is returning to the United States to resume employment related to their degree program (as required by OPT regulation).


Regardless if students present all necessary documentation when they travel on OPT, CBP officers often ask questions to determine whether a student truly holds eligible status under OPT. CBP officers may ask questions about a student’s employment and may require the student to explain how their current employment matches their most recent field of study. In addition to a verbal explanation, students may provide CBP officers with a signed letter, written by their supervisor, that explains how the student’s current employment relates to their most recent graduate program. Students may also want to keep documentation related to their employment in the U.S. (e.g. proof of contract duration, a job title and description, a list supervisor information). Students should practice clearly and concisely explaining how their OPT relates to their most recent study program, especially if their field of study is uncommon or difficult to relate to employment. To prepare for you re-entry interview, or to ask any other questions regarding you optional practical training, contact our office for a consultation.