Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training

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-Optional Practical Training is recommended by the Office of Global Services and authorized by the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Any Pre-Optional Practical Training that is authorized by the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services during a degree program will be subtracted from the time available for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training. If you want to work off-campus after the completion date on your I-20, you will need to apply for a Post-Completion Optional Practical Training separately. Pre-Optional Practical Training will NOT automatically switch to the Post-Completion Optional Practical Training period.

Pre-Optional Practical Training eligibility

A student may apply for Pre-Optional Practical Training 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 USA 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 at current degree level
  • Student has not engaged in 12 months of full-time Optional Practical Training (Pre or Post) at current degree level
  • Student has registered for on-ground course(s) during the entire period of requested Pre-Optional Practical Training dates, unless Pre-Optional Practical Training takes place during the annual vacation period

A student is eligible to take part in Pre-Optional Practical Training prior to completion of studies under the following circumstances:

  • During the academic year
  • During the annual vacation
  • Any time during the program if all course work except for thesis or dissertation has been completed

Full-time vs. Part-time Pre-Optional Practical Training

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-Optional Practical Training. Table below shows when you are allowed to request full-time or part-time Pre-Optional Practical Training.

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 Optional Practical Training or Post-Completion Optional Practical Training 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 Optional Practical Training while completing thesis/dissertation:

  • you must fulfill the reporting requirements of Post-Optional Practical Training
  • 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-Optional Practical Training is expired

NOTE: If you are a student with Stipended Graduate Assistantships (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-Optional Practical Training

There are no restrictions of unemployment during Pre-Optional Practical Training. Students are not required to have a job offer to apply for Pre-Optional Practical Training; however, it is usually advantageous to at least have prospective employment opportunities since any time authorized for Pre-Optional Practical Training is subtracted from the time available for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training, whether the student obtains employment or not.

Am I eligible to engage in Pre-Optional Practical Training?

A student is eligible to take part in Pre-Optional Practical Training 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

Travel while on Pre-Optional Practical Training

During Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training, 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 USA
  • Unexpired F-1 visa
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature (travel signatures are valid for 1 year)

Application process

Processing times: The Office of Global Services requires 10 business days to process a request to issue a new I-20 with Pre-Optional Practical Training recommendation. The USA Citizenship and Immigration Services generally requires around 100 days to review the application and process an Employment Authorization Document card.

1 Submit the Pre-Optional Practical Training I-20 request e-form.

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

2 Send the documents listed below to the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services:

  • Original I-765
  • Original G-1145
  • Copy of new I-20 with Optional Practical Training 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 USA Department of Homeland Security
  • Two passport photos with white background (lightly print name and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System identification on back of each photo; passport photo MUST be less than 30 days old and glasses should not be worn in photo)

After you submit

  • You should receive a receipt notice from the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services. (You can look up your case status online using the case number)
  • Once your Pre-Optional Practical Training is approved, expect to first receive an approval notice and then an Employment Authorization Document card
  • You may not work until you receive your Employment Authorization Document card and you may only work within the dates specified on the Employment Authorization Document (NOTE: The Employment Authorization Document card, not your approval notice, is your work authorization documentation)

Where to mail your documents

Once you have your documents and I-20 for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training 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 Optional Practical Training packet through certified mail which includes a tracking number and guaranteed delivery date.

If your mailing address on the I-765 is in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, USA Virgin Islands or West Virginia

You will be sending your application to the the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services Dallas lockbox:

For USA Postal Service deliveries:
USA Citizenship and Immigration Services
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For courier service deliveries (non-USA Postal Services):
USA Citizenship and Immigration Services
Attention: Adjustment of Status
2501 S. State Hwy. 121
Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

If your mailing address on the I-765 is in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

You will be sending your application to the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services Phoenix lockbox:

For USA Postal Service deliveries:
USA Citizenship and Immigration Services
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For courier service deliveries:
USA Citizenship and Immigration Services
Attention: Adjustment of Status
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

eShipGlobal mailing option

eShipGlobal offers a shipping service for international students sending their Optional Practical Training application to the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services. eShipGlobal allows students to send Optional Practical Training applications to the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services offices. Students can choose their carrier (United Parcel Service, 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.

Northeastern does not ship Optional Practical Training applications to the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services for students.

For more information on how to use this service, please see the instructions linked below:

eShipGlobal Instructions

Important reminders

  • USA Citizenship and Immigration Services must receive the Pre-Optional Practical Training application within 30 days of the Optional Practical Training recommendation by the Office of Global Services; if the application is not received by the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services within 30 days after the issuance of Optional Practical Training PT 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 Office of Global Services Advisor before resubmitting the application; your application may not be considered “received” and you may need a new I-20 with Pre-Optional Practical Training recommendation
  • Do not submit Pre-Optional Practical Training application to the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services prior to obtaining I-20 with Optional Practical Training recommendation
  • Make sure the address on your Optional Practical Training application is valid for receiving mail at all times during Optional Practical Training processing
  • If you are applying for Pre-Optional Practical Training soon before applying for Post-Optional Practical Training: if you have a pending Pre-Optional Practical Training application and apply for Post-Optional Practical Training, then the Office of Global Services will deduct the amount of recommended Pre-Optional Practical Training time from the 12 months of Post-Optional Practical Training 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 Optional Practical Training. 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 Employment Authorization Document 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: USA 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 Optional Practical Training application period. Address errors (i.e. undeliverable address, moving before Optional Practical Training 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 USA Citizenship and Immigration Services for F-1 Optional Practical Training or other employment. If you have previously applied, check “yes.”

Which USA Citizenship and Immigration Services Office: Check your Employment Authorization Document for the number and note the three letter prefix (Most Optional Practical Training 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 Employment Authorization Document card.

Results: Enter “Granted” or “Denied” and if granted, attach a photocopy of your (Employment Authorization Document). If the application is still pending, put “pending.”

Field 16: Date of Last Entry into USA.: The date of last entry into the USA.

Field 17: Place of Last Entry into the USA: 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 USA and have not travelled outside of the USA since receiving your change of status, please indicate the status you held upon entering the USA.

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-Optional Practical Training 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, USA Citizenship and Immigration Services 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.