In January 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidance on F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) and travel. This guidance is different from previous practices regarding travel.
Now, both the DHS and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) agree that an F-1 student who has timely filed an application for OPT post-completion of study may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending, provided that the F-1 student can present the USCIS Processing Center Receipt, proving that the application has been filed.
However, once the EAD card for OPT is issued to the F-1 student, and the student decides to travel abroad, the student can only re-enter the United States to resume employment. DHS has clarified that the F-1 student does not need to have already begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer to which to return.
The best general advice to an F-1 student on OPT, who has received the EAD card and has to travel abroad, is make sure that there is documentation from your employer confirming the employment or job offer. Obtain a letter from your employer stating your job title, job description, begin and end dates (must fall within the practical training period), and verifying that your employer knows you are traveling and expects you to return to complete your job. If you do not have a job, you are advised not to travel as you may not be permitted to re-enter the U.S.
Someone traveling while on OPT must also have a valid passport, a valid visa, and a signed I-20 form. If your F-1 visa has expired, speak to a CIP advisor BEFORE making travel plans. It is more difficult to obtain an F-1 visa while on practical training, as the issue of intent to return to your home country is harder to prove once you have finished your degree and are working in the U.S.