STEM OPT Travel

As you make your travel plans, please remember to keep travel restrictions, quarantines, negative test/vaccine documentation, airline obligations, and visa requirements in mind. You should also note the visa appointment availability due to consulate backlogs and closings prior to making any travel decision (if your visa is expiring soon/expired).

Whether traveling within the U.S. or outside, there are certain considerations you need to make before leaving UMass. While you can make plans to depart at any time, you need to make certain that you have the appropriate documentation to return to the U.S.

Inside the U.S.

NOTE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the right to check all documents of any person within 100 miles of the U.S. border. You should carry originals of your documents if you are within these zones.

Beginning in May 2023, you will need to use your passport to fly within the U.S. unless you have a REAL ID from Massachusetts.

Outside the U.S. while on STEM OPT

If you plan to leave the U.S. to visit another country, all F-1 students on OPT and their dependents must have certain documentation to return to the US. If the F-2 dependent is traveling without the F-1 student, the dependent should also carry copies of the F-1 student's documents mentioned below.

F-1 Students on STEM OPT should keep the information below in mind while planning their travels. Any student who wishes to enter the U.S. must have the following documents:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa (unless you are Canadian) (for exceptions read Automatic Visa Revalidation)
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 2 (signed within the last 6 months)
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if on approved STEM OPT (this is technically not a travel document but is helpful to have with you)
  • Job offer letter or job confirmation letter

There are numerous scenarios for students pending STEM OPT and on approved STEM OPT with regards to travel. Please read below to determine which scenario fits you best.

Remember: You may leave the U.S. without an updated travel signature. Failure to acquire a travel signature prior to departing the U.S. is NOT an emergency. Do NOT call UMPD. Request a reprint of your document and we can email it to you wherever you are.

Travel while my STEM Extension is pending

Yes, however as with most international travel there is risk. Please make sure you have a copy of your STEM Receipt Notice (I-797) from USCIS, updated I-20 with valid travel signature (travel signatures are only valid for 6 months on STEM OPT), offer letter or paystub from employer, valid visa stamp, and valid passport. Request a reprint of your I-20 for travel using the STEM OPT I-20 Reprint Request.

 

Travel while on my approved STEM Extension

Yes, however as with most international travel there is risk. If you travel, be sure all your documents are in order (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with travel signature—on STEM OPT these are valid for 6 months only).  Some ports of entry may request your EAD card, your approval notice, or confirmation of employment—lack of these documents may cause issues but are not technically required for travel. Request a reprint of your I-20 for travel using the STEM OPT I-20 Reprint Request.

 

Travel while on STEM OPT (pending or approved) and needing to renew my visa:

Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk involved. Students should be prepared to present a valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with STEM OPT extension signed within the last 6 months, and your I-797 receipt indicating you filed your STEM OPT before your 12-month OPT expired. You should also have confirmation of employment in case it is requested. Additionally, delays in visa issuance can happen and expediting is not a possibility. Confirm with your chosen Consulate as to additional documents required to renew your visa. Request a reprint of your I-20 for travel using the STEM OPT I-20 Reprint Request.

 

Cap-gap and applying for an H-1b: You should confirm with your immigration attorney that you can leave the U.S. while your H-1b (or other immigration status) is pending. Leaving the U.S. is often considered an abandonment of your application so you will need to make alternative arrangements.

Requesting a New Travel Signature

While on OPT, travel signatures are valid for 6 months and must be renewed if it will expire before re-entry to the U.S. Check the travel signature date on page 2 of your most recently issued I-20. You may leave the U.S. without an updated travel signature.

You may request a reprint of your I-20 through the STEM OPT I-20 Reprint E-Form for an emailed I-20 that you will need to print. The approval emails occasionally go into your Spam/Junk folder. Please check this folder if 2-3 business days have passed and you have not received the approval email yet.
 

Renewing Your Visa Stamp

If your U.S. F-1 visa in your passport has expired or will expire prior to your next re-entry to the U.S., you will need to renew your visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad before you can re-enter the US.  There is no option to renew a U.S. visa while inside the U.S. Visit this website for updated visa renewal information and procedures at your nearest U.S. consulate in your home country.

Note: If you are currently in the U.S. and your U.S. visa has expired, or will expire, please remember that you do not need to renew your U.S. visa if you do not have actual travel plans.  Your U.S. immigration status remains valid as long as you are maintaining proper F-1 status at UMass. While on OPT, this means you have remained employed, reported personal information changes in SPIRE, and not accumulated more than 90 days of unemployment.  A U.S. visa is only necessary for travel and re-entry to the U.S., but is not necessary if you do not have immediate travel plans.

Passports

Anyone planning to depart from the U.S. and return after a temporary absence must have a valid passport in order to exit the U.S. The passport must also be valid for a minimum of six months into the future at the time of re-entry to the U.S. Some countries have an agreement with the U.S. that automatically extends passport validity for 6 months, for U.S. entry purposes only.

Automatic Visa Revalidation

For a visit of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (except Cuba), you are allowed to re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa. This process is known as Automatic Visa Revalidation.

You will need your:

  • Valid Passport
  • Most recent Visa Stamp
  • Current I-20 with a valid travel signature

Please note if you apply for an F-1 visa in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and are denied, you will not be able to return to the U.S. using Automatic Revalidation.

Nationals of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria are not eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa.

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