Pre-Completion 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. Students may engage in Pre-OPT during their academic program. Pre-OPT is recommended by the Office of Global Services (OGS) and authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Any Pre-OPT that is authorized by the USCIS during a degree program will be subtracted from the time available for Post-Completion OPT. If you want to work off-campus after the completion date on your I-20, you will need to apply for a Post-Completion OPT separately. Pre-OPT will NOT automatically switch to the Post-Completion OPT period.
Pre-Optional Practical Training eligibility
A student may apply for Pre-OPT only if all of the following criteria have been met:
- Student has maintained valid F-1 student status
- Student has studied full-time in the U.S. for at least 1 academic year (NOTE: Language training and non-degree programs do not count toward one academic year)
- Student has completed fewer than 365 days of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at current degree level
- Student has not engaged in 12 months of full-time OPT (Pre or Post) at current degree level
- Student has registered for on-ground course(s) during the entire period of requested Pre-OPT, unless Pre-OPT takes place during the annual vacation period
Am I eligible to engage in Pre-Completion OPT?
A student is eligible to take part in Pre-Completion OPT prior to completion of studies under any of the following circumstances
- During the academic year
- During the annual vacation
- PhD Students – Any time during the program if all course work except for thesis or dissertation has been completed
Full-time vs. Part-time Pre-Completion 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. The table below shows when you are allowed to request either full-time or part-time Pre-OPT.
Special consideration for PhD students
If a PhD student has completed all his/her 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 his/her 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.
NOTE: If you choose to apply for Post-Completion OPT while completing thesis/dissertation:
- you must fulfill the reporting requirements of Post-Completion 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-Completion 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 go beyond the end date of your I-20.
Unemployment during Pre-Completion OPT
There are no restrictions of unemployment during Pre-Completion OPT. Students are not required to have a job offer to apply for Pre-Completion OPT; however, it is usually advantageous to at least have prospective employment opportunities since any time authorized for Pre-OPT is subtracted from the time available for Post-Completion OPT, whether the student obtains employment or not.
Travel while on Pre-Completion OPT
During Pre-Completion OPT, travel restrictions remain the same as they are during normal F-1 study. You should carry the following documents when re-entering:
- 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)
Processing times: OGS requires 10 business days to process a request to issue a new I-20 with Pre-Completion OPT recommendation. USCIS generally requires around 3-5 months to review the application and process an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
1 Submit the Pre-Completion OPT e-form
2 Send the documents listed below to the USCIS
- Original I-765 (See ‘Suggestions for Completing I-765’ below)
- Original G-1145
- Copy of new I-20 with Pre-Completion 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 I-94
- Copy of previous Employment Authorization Document cards (front and back), if applicable
- $410 check, money order or bank check made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Two passport photos with white background (lightly print name and your SEVIS number (shown on your I-20) on back of each photo; passport photo MUST be less than 30 days old and glasses should not be worn in photo)
Where to mail your documents
Once you have your documents and I-20 for Pre-Completion OPT and you have copied all documentation and assembled the packet, you must send it to one of the following addresses listed below depending on where you live (the address you put on Form I-765). It is recommended you mail your OPT packet through certified mail which includes a tracking number and guaranteed delivery date.
Please see the USCIS Phoenix and Dallas Lockbox facilities website to details instructions on where to send your applications.
eShipGlobal mailing option
eShipGlobal offers a shipping service for international students sending their OPT application to USCIS. eShipGlobal allows students to send OPT applications to the USCIS offices. Students can choose their carrier (UPS, FedEx, or United States Postal Service), what type of delivery (next day, 2-day, etc.) and ship at discounted rates. This service is not a Northeastern service. All inquiries should be directed to eShipGlobal directly.
Please note: Northeastern does not ship OPT applications to USCIS for students.
For more information on how to use this service, please see the instructions linked below: eShipGlobal Instructions
After you submit
- You should receive a receipt notice from USCIS a few weeks after your application is received. (You can look up your case status online using the case number)
- Once your Pre-Completion OPT is approved, expect to first receive an approval notice and then an EAD card
- You may not work until you receive your EAD card and you may only work within the dates specified on the card (NOTE: The EAD card, not your approval notice, is your work authorization documentation)
- USCIS must receive the Pre-Completion OPT application within 30 days of the OPT recommendation by OGS; if the application is not received by the USCIS within 30 days after the issuance of the OPT I-20, the application will be denied. (THIS IS THE MOST COMMON REASON FOR OPT DENIAL)
- If your entire application is returned to you (in plastic), 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 Pre-OPT recommendation
- Do not submit Pre-Completion OPT application to the USCIS prior to obtaining I-20 with an OPT recommendation
- Make sure the address on your OPT application is valid for receiving mail at all times during the OPT processing period
- If you are applying for Pre-Completion OPT soon before applying for Post-OPT: if you have a pending Pre-Completion OPT application and apply for Post-OPT, then OGS will deduct the amount of recommended Pre-OPT time from the 12 months of Post-Completion OPT recommendation
Suggestions for completing I-765
The numbers below correspond to the numbered items on Form I-765. This form may be downloaded from uscis.gov. Please refer to Citizenship and Immigration Services I-765 Instructions. Below are some general guidelines for completing Form I-765 for Pre-Completion OPT. Please read the instructions for each item and write the information on the form, printing clearly, and legibly or you may type the form online and print it.
Unless you are applying for a replacement of a lost EAD card, you should indicate that you are applying for “Permission to accept employment.”
Field 1: Name: Print clearly or type your family name in capital letters, followed by the first or given and middle name(s) if any. Write your name as it appears in your passport.
Field 2: Other Names Used: Fill this out only if you have used other names on official documents or if you have a maiden name (name used prior to marriage, usually applies to women who have married).
Field 3: U.S. Mailing Address: The address you enter here should be the address to which correspondence can be sent for the next 3-4 months during the OPT application period. Address errors (i.e. undeliverable address, moving before OPT is approved, etc.) are a common cause of delay or failure to receive Optional Practical Training Employment Authorization Document.
- The post office will not deliver government mail if the name of the person on the mail is not on the post box as well. If you are using someone else’s address, put “c/o…person’s name.” For example, “c/o John Smith” – “care of John Smith”
Field 4: Country of Citizenship or Nationality: The country of citizenship should match what appears on the applicant’s I-20.
Field 5: Place of Birth: Enter the city, state, and country in which the applicant was born.
Field 6: Date of Birth: Enter the numerical date of birth as month, day, and year (4 digit) e.g., June 29, 1988 should be entered as 06/29/1988.
Field 7: Gender: Check the appropriate box.
Field 8: Marital status: Check the appropriate box.
Field 9a: Has the Social Security Administration official ever issued a Social Security card to you?: Check the appropriate box.
- If Yes then jump to 9b
- If No then jump to 10
Field 9b: Provide your Social Security number: Fill in appropriately with your Social Security Number.
Field 10: Do you want the Social Security Administration to issue you a Social Security card?: Check the appropriate box.
- If Yes then jump to 11
- If No then jump to 14
Field 11: Consent for Disclosure: Check the appropriate box. If you check “No” then you will not receive a Social Security Number.
Field 12a: Father’s Name (Family Name): Enter your father’s last name or surname.
Field 12b: Father’s Name (First Name): Enter your father’s first name or given name.
Field 13a: Mother’s Name (Family Name): Enter your mother’s last name or surname at birth (not her married name).
Field 13b: Mother’s Name (First Name): Enter your mother’s first name or given name.
Field 14: I-94 Number: Enter the 11-digit I-94 number, which can be found on the electronic I-94. It is called “Admission (I-94) Record Number.” If you still have the older version of the I-94, which is a small white card, you can find the I-94 number at the top left side of the card. If there is a handwritten number, enter this one instead of the pre-printed one.
Field 15: Previous Employment Authorization: Check “no” if you have never applied to the USCIS for F-1 Optional Practical Training or other employment. If you have previously applied, check “yes.”
Which USCIS Office: Check your EAD for the number and note the three letter prefix (Most OPT applications are processed at the “Potomac Service Center”)
- EAC – Vermont Service Center
- WAC – California Service Center
- LIN – Nebraska Service Center
- SRC – Texas Service Center
- YSC – Potomac Service Center
Dates: Enter the dates of employment listed on your EAD card.
Results: Enter “Granted” or “Denied” and if granted, attach a photocopy of your (EAD). If the application is still pending, put “pending.”
Field 16: Date of Last Entry into U.S.: The date of last entry into the U.S.
Field 17: Place of Last Entry into the U.S.: Enter the place and date of last entry. The place of entry is often written in three letter abbreviations such as “BOS” for Boston and “SFR” for San Francisco.
Field 18: Status of Last Entry: If “F-1” appears on your I-94, enter “student.”If you entered in another status and changed your non-immigrant status in the U.S. and have not travelled outside of the U.S. since receiving your change of status, please indicate the status you held upon entering the U.S…
Field 19: Current Immigration Status: Enter “student.”
Field 20: Eligibility Categories: For Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training, enter the following codes in the three consecutive parentheses: (c) (3) (A)
NOTE: Post-Completion OPT and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have different codes.
Certification: Be sure to sign your name by hand (it cannot be typed), enter your telephone number, and enter the date on which you have signed the form. If you forget to sign the I-765, USCIS will reject your application and it will be returned to you.
Signature of person preparing form, if other than applicant: This section should only be completed if you have another person complete the form on your behalf. You should not complete this section if you are filing on your own, without the help of another person.