Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment authorization benefit for F-1 students for the purpose of gaining practical experience directly related to their major field of study. It is the responsibility of the student to determine if the accepted employment is related to his/her program of study. Students may engage in Pre-Completion OPT (or Pre-OPT) while actively enrolled in an academic program. To request Pre-OPT work authorization, students must:

  1. Request a Pre-OPT Recommendation in their SEVIS record from the Office of Global Services
  2. Submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for review and adjudication

Students are eligible for a total of 12-months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) at each degree level. This means that any time for which a student receives Pre-OPT authorization will be subtracted from the time available for Post-Completion OPT.

Note: Pre-OPT work authorization is only available to students when they are actively enrolled at Northeastern. In order to request work authorization post-graduation, students must submit an application for Post-Completion OPT. 


A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree student may be eligible to apply for Pre-OPT prior to completion of studies both during the academic year and during the annual vacation period.

PhD students may be eligible to apply for Pre-OPT any time during the program of study if all course work other than the thesis/dissertation has been completed.

To apply for Pre-OPT, all of the following criteria must be met:

  • Student has maintained valid F-1 student status
  • Student has studied full-time in the U.S. for at least 1 academic year
    • Time spent in language training and non-degree programs does not count toward the one academic year requirement
  • Student has not exceeded 364 days of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the current degree level
  • Student has not previously engaged in 12 months of full-time Pre- or Post-OPT at the current degree level
  • Student has registered for a full-time courseload with appropriate on-ground presence during the entire period of requested Pre-OPT
    • This does not apply if the requested Pre-OPT will take place during the annual vacation period

Full-time vs. Part-time Pre-OPT

A student may be eligible to apply for part-time (less than 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) Pre-OPT. Please see below for eligibility requirements for both options:

Part-Time Pre-OPT (20 or less hours/week):

  • During an academic term
  • During annual vacation and other official school breaks

Full-Time Pre-OPT (more than 20 hours/week):

  • During annual vacation and other official school breaks
  • For PhD students who have completed all coursework except thesis/dissertation
  • NOTE: full-time pre-OPT is NOT allowed during required academic terms except for certain PhD students as mentioned in the bullet above

Special Considerations for PhD students

If a PhD student has completed all coursework but is in the final stages of thesis/dissertation, immigration regulations allow the student to apply for either Pre-Completion OPT or Post-Completion OPT while completing the thesis/dissertation.

In this case, the PhD student and his/her college need to determine the program completion date, which will be reflected on the I-20.

If you choose to apply for Post-Completion OPT while completing your thesis/dissertation:

  • You must fulfill the reporting requirements of Post-OPT
  • The days you do not have a job count towards your 90 days of unemployment time
  • You cannot request a program extension even if your thesis/dissertation is not completed after Post-OPT is expired

Note: If you are a student with Stipended Graduate Assistantship (SGA), you must discuss with your department to determine when your SGA will end. The SGA cannot extend beyond the end date as listed on your I-20.

Application Process

(For more information, click each step below)

Students can apply for their Pre-OPT I-20 up to 100 days prior to their requested Pre-OPT start date and should submit their application to USCIS no more than 90 days prior to their requested start date.

Submit the Pre-Completion OPT Application e-form to OGS.

You must upload the following documents to the e-form:

OGS requires 15 business days to process a request for Pre-OPT recommendation.

Applying Online: You may create an account with USCIS and file the Form I-765 online. Follow the instructions to File a form online, then Select the form you want to file online (I-765, Application for Employment Authorization). You do not need to upload a PDF version of the Form I-765. Follow the online instructions to prepare to submit the following documents:

  • Copy of Form I-20 with Pre-OPT recommendation on page two
  • Copies of all previous I-20s for the current degree level (may be optional)
  • Copy of passport identity page — include all correction and extension pages
  • Copy of most current F-1 student visa stamp or change of status approval notice
  • Copy of most recent electronic I-94 printout or copy of I-94 card (front and back)
  • Copy of previous Employment Authorization Document (front and back) – if applicable
  • Two passport photos with white background (photos MUST be less than 30 days old and glasses should not be worn in photo)
  • $470 OPT application fee (Payment may be made via a credit card, debit card, or bank transfer. If a credit card is used, it must be issued by a U.S. bank)

Applying by Mail: Submit the documents listed below to USCIS

  • Original paper Form I-765 – please refer to OGS’s supplemental I-765 guide for assistance
  • Original G-1145
  • Copy of new I-20 with Pre-OPT recommendation on page 2
  • Copies of all previous I-20s for the current degree level
  • Copy of passport identity page — include all correction and extension pages
  • Copy of most current F-1 student visa stamp or change of status approval notice
  • Copy of most recent electronic I-94 printout or copy of I-94 card (front and back)
  • Copy of previous Employment Authorization Document (front and back) – if applicable
  • Two passport photos with white background (lightly write your name and SEVIS ID number with a pencil on the back of each photo; photos MUST be less than 30 days old and glasses should not be worn in photo)
  • $520 check, money order or bank check made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Mailing Your Application to USCIS (If not filing Online)

USCIS recommends filing online. However, if you choose to file your application with USCIS via a mail service, please review these instructions.

We strongly recommend that you make copies of your complete application for your records before mailing your application to USCIS.

Once you have assembled your Pre-OPT I-20 and all other required documents into a packet, you must send it to the USCIS address below. However, it is always best practice to confirm the most up to date USCIS Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765 directly on the USCIS website. It is recommended you mail your OPT packet through certified mail which includes a tracking number and guaranteed delivery date.

Effective 01/08/2021, you will mail your application to the USCIS Chicago lockbox:

For U.S. Postal Service deliveries:

Attn: I-765 C03

P.O. Box 805373

Chicago, IL 60680-5374

For courier service deliveries (non-U.S. Postal Service: FedEx, UPS, and DHL):


Attn: I-765 C03 (Box 805373)

131 South Dearborn – 3rd Floor

Chicago, IL 60603-5517

eShipGlobal Mailing Option

eShipGlobal offers a shipping service for international students sending their OPT applications to USCIS. Students can choose their carrier (UPS, FedEx, or USPS) and type of delivery (next day, 2-day, etc.) and ship at discounted rates. This service is not a Northeastern University service. All inquiries should be directed to eShipGlobal directly.

USCIS Processing Times

After the documentation leaves the respective Lockbox, it is forwarded to the USCIS Service Center. About fifteen days after USCIS receives your application for Pre-OPT, you should receive a receipt notice (Form I-797) from USCIS.

What Happens After I Submit my Application to USCIS?

  • You should receive a receipt notice (Form I-797) from USCIS. You can look up your case status online using the case number.
    • If you file online you will receive this receipt notice electronically within a day or two. If you file by mail you should receive this notice within 2-weeks.
    • If you submitted the G1145 form with your application, you will be informed electronically by email and/or text
    • If you paid for your Pre-OPT fee by personal check, the back of the cashed check will have the number. You may obtain a copy of this check from your bank.
    • You may contact the USCIS call center at 800-375-5283.
  • Once USCIS adjudicates your application and your Pre-OPT is approved, expect to first receive an approval notice and then an EAD.
  • You must not work until you receive your EAD card and you may only work within the dates specified on the EAD card.
    • The EAD card, not your approval notice, is your work authorization documentation.

Note: Your application will remain in “pending” status until a decision has been made on your application (this may be a few months). Adjudication of your application is completed by USCIS. Therefore, USCIS will inform you directly of the official receipt, request for additional information, and the decision on your application. Please be aware that this is a normal processing timeframe, and regrettably, OGS is unable to assist in expediting any requests.

OGS is here to guide you if you receive any communication from USCIS that requires response (request for additional information, denial, etc.).

Unemployment During Pre-OPT

There are no restrictions on unemployment during Pre-OPT.

Students are not required to have a job offer to apply for Pre-Completion OPT; however, it is advantageous to have prospective employment opportunities since any time authorized for Pre-OPT is subtracted from the time available for Post-OPT, whether the student obtains employment or not.

Important Reminders

  • USCIS must receive the Pre-OPT application within 30 days of the issued OPT recommendation by OGS; if the application is not received by USCIS within 30 days after the issuance of the OPT I-20, the application will be denied (this is the most common reason for the denial of Pre-OPT)
  • If your entire application is returned to you, consult with an OGS Advisor before resubmitting the application; your application may not be considered “received” and you may need a new I-20 with OPT recommendation
  • Do not submit a Pre-OPT application to USCIS prior to obtaining an I-20 with the OPT recommendation
  • Make sure that the address on your OPT application is valid for receiving mail at all times during OPT processing
  • If you have a pending Pre-OPT application and are simultaneously applying for Post-OPT, OGS will not issue a Post-Completion OPT Recommendation I-20 until:
    • Your Pre-Completion OPT application has been approved by USCIS and you have received your EAD, or
    • OGS receives confirmation that your application has been withdrawn by USCIS (or was never submitted to USCIS).

Travel While on Pre-OPT

During Pre-OPT, travel restrictions remain the same as they are during normal F-1 study. You should carry the following documents when re-entering the U.S.:

  • A passport which should be valid for at least six months from the date you return to the U.S.
  • Unexpired F-1 visa
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature (travel signatures are valid for 1 year)

You can review more information about traveling internationally here.

Key Resources

Pre-Completion OPT Application Form »

This e-form is to request authorization to apply for Pre-OPT.

Pre-OPT Verification Form »

This form must be completed by you and your academic advisor or authorized secondary approver and uploaded in your pre-OPT request e-form.