Services for International Students and Scholars

Pre-Completion OPT

What is Pre-completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is 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 OGS and authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

Any Pre-OPT that is authorized by USCIS during a degree program will be subtracted from the time available for Post-completion OPT.  Part-time Pre-OPT is subtracted at the rate of part time (for example, 4 months of part-time pre-completion OPT would be equivalent to 2 months of full-time OPT, thus 2 months would be subtracted from the 12 months available for post-completion OPT).

If students want to work off-campus after the completion date on your I-20, you will need to apply for Post-Completion OPT separately. Pre-OPT will NOT automatically switch to Post-completion OPT period.

Who is Eligible?

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 program do not count toward one academic year.)
  • Student has completed fewer than 365 days of full-time 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 dates, unless Pre-OPT takes place during the annual vacation period

A student is eligible to take part in Pre-OPT 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-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.  Table below shows when you are allowed to request Full or Part time Pre-OPT

Special Consideration for Ph.D students (Pre-OPT vs Post-OPT)

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.

Please note that if you choose to apply for Post-Completion OPT while completing thesis/dissertation,

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

Note for students with SGAs: When determining your program end date, you must discuss with your department when your SGA will end.  Your SGA cannot go beyond the end date of your I-20.

Unemployment during Pre-OPT

There are no restrictions of unemployment during Pre-OPT. Students are not required to have a job offer to apply for Pre 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.

When am I eligible to engage in Pre-OPT

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

  • During the academic year
  • During the annual vacation
  • If all course work except for thesis or dissertation has been completed
  •         

Travel while on Pre-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 reentering:

  • Your passport valid for at least 6 months into the future
  • Unexpired F-1 visa

I-20 with a valid travel signature (travel signatures are valid for 1 year).

Processing Times

The OGS requires 10 business days to process a request to issue a new I-20 with Pre-OPT recommendation.

USCIS generally requires around 100 days to review the application and process an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.

How to Apply

Step 1 – Submit the Pre-OPT I-20 request e-form 

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

Step 2: Send the documents listed below to USCIS:

  • Original I-765
  • Original G-1145
  • Copy of new I-20 with 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 EAD 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 SEVIS ID on back of each photo; passport photo MUST be less than 30 days old and glasses should not be worn in photo)

What happens after you submit Pre-OPT Application to USCIS?

  • You should receive a receipt notice from USCIS. You can look up your case status online using the case number.
  • Once your Pre-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 EAD (note: the EAD card, not your approval notice, is your work authorization documentation)

Where to mail 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 depending on where you live (the address you put on Form I-765). It is recommended that you mail your OPT packet through certified mail which includes a tracking number and guaranteed delivery date.

If your mailing address on 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, U.S. Virgin Islands or West Virginia

You will be sending your application to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox:

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:
USCIS
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For courier service deliveries (non-USPS):
USCIS
Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121
Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

If your mailing address on 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 USCIS Phoenix Lockbox:

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:
USCIS
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For courier service deliveries (non-USPS):
USCIS
Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

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 USCIS offices. Students can choose their carrier (UPS, FedEx, or USPS), 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 OPT applications to USCIS for students. 

For More Information on how to use this service please see the instructions linked below:

eShipGlobal Instructions

Important Reminders and common application mistakes

  • USCIS must receive the Pre-OPT application within 30 days of the OPT recommendation by the OGS; if the application is not received by USCIS within 30 days after the issuance of 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-OPT application to USCIS prior to obtaining I-20 with OPT recommendation
  • Make sure that the address on your OPT application is valid for receiving mail at all times during OPT processing
  • If you are applying for Pre-OPT soon before applying for Post-OPT: if you have a pending Pre-OPT application and apply for Post-OPT, then OGS will deduct the amount of recommended Pre-OPT time from the 12 months of Post-OPT OPT recommendation

Suggestions for Completing I-765 for Pre-OPT

The numbers below correspond to the numbered items on Form I-765. This form may be downloaded from uscis.gov.  Please refer to USCIS 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.

Part 1. Reason for Applying

Field 1: I am applying for… – Unless you are applying for a replace of a lost EAD card, you should indicate that you are applying for “Initial permission to accept employment.”

Part 2. Information About You

Field 1: Your 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.

Fields 2-4: 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).

Fields 5-6: 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. If you are providing an address where you do no reside, please provide the name of the person who resides at that address in Field 5.a. In Care of Name.

Address errors (i.e. undeliverable address, moving before OPT is approved, etc.) are a common cause for delay of or failure to receive the OPT EAD.

Field 7: Physical Address – If different from mailing address, the address where you reside in the U.S.

Field 8: Alien Registration Number – If you have an A-Number, enter it here.

Field 9: USCIS Online Account Number – If you have created an online account with USCIS, enter your account number here.

Field 10: Gender – Check the appropriate box.

Field 11: Marital Status – Check the appropriate box.

Field 12: Previously filed I-765? – Check no if you have never applied to the USCIS for F-1 OPT or other work authorization.  If you have previously applied, check yes.

Field 13: Has the Social Security Administration (SSA) ever officially issued a Social Secuirty card to you? – Check the appropriate box.

  • If yes, skip to Item 13b.
  • If no, skip to Item 14.

Field 14: Do you want the SSA to issue you a Social Security card? – Check the appropriate box. If you check no, skip to Item 18.a. You will not receive a Social Security card.

Field 15: Consent for Disclosure – Only answer Item 15 if you checked yes in Item 14. Complete Fields 16-17.

Field 18: Your Country or Countries of Citizenship or Nationality – List all countries where you are currently a citizen or national. The country of citizenship should match what appears on the applicant’s I-20.

Field 19: Place of Birth – Provide city, state, and country of applicant’s birth.

Field 20: Date of Birth – Enter the numerical date of birth as month/day/year (4 digits). For example, June 29, 1988 should be entered as 06/29/1988.

Field 21: Information About Your Last Arrival in the U.S.  – Enter the 11-digit I-94 number that is found on the electronic I-94. It is called “Admission (I-94) Record Number.”

Field 22: Date of Your Last Arrival Into the U.S. – Enter the numerical date of latest entry as month/day/year (4 digits).

Field 23: Place of your Last Arrival Into the U.S. – Enter the place 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 24: Immigration Status at Your Last Arrival – 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 initial entry into the U.S.

Field 25: Current Immigration Status – Enter student.

Field 26: Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Number – Enter the 10-digit SEVIS ID starting with N that is found on the top left of your I-20.

Field 27: Eligibility Category – Enter the appropriate code for the work authorization category you are requesting.

  • Pre-OPT is (c) (3) (A)
  • Post-OPT is (c) (3) (B)
  • STEM OPT is (c) (3) (C)

Fields 28-31: Eligibility category specific questions. Skip to Part 3.

Part 3. Applicant’s Statement, Contact Information, Declaration, Certification, and Signature

Fields 1-2: Applicant’s Statement – Check Item 1.a. unless an interpreter translated the form for you or another person prepared the form on your behalf. You should not check Item 1.b. nor Item 2 if you are filing on your own without the help of an interpreter or another person.

Fields 3-5: Applicant’s Contact Information – Provide requested contact information.

Field 6: Select this box if you are a Salvadoran or Guatemalan national eligible for benefits under the AVC settlement agreement  – Check box if applicable.

Field 7: Applicant’s Signature – Acknowledge Applicant’s Declaration and Certification by providing your signature and date.

Parts 4-5 – These sections should only be completed if you have an interpreter translate the form for you or 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 an interpreter or another person.

Part 6. Additional Information – Use this extra space to provide any additional information required on the application.

Application and EAD

My application was rejected and returned to me because of a missing signature on I-765 or an issue with check/money order. What do I do?

Do NOT mail the application yet. Contact OGS and make an appointment with an OGS advisor. You will most likely need a new Pre-OPT recommendation and will need to reapply to USCIS.  You cannot resubmit your application if there is any chance your I-20 with Pre-OPT recommendation will be more than 30 days old when it is received by USCIS; this would result in a denial.  If your packet has been returned to you, it is not considered received.

I received a Request for Evidence from USCIS. What should I do?

You are required to respond to the RFE by the deadline specified on the letter. If you can prepare the document(s) they ask for, you may respond on your own. If you have any questions, you may make an appointment with an OGS advisor.

How do I change my address while my Pre-OPT application is pending?

While your application is still pending with USCIS, follow the instructions below to update your mailing address:

https://egov.uscis.gov/coa/displayCOAForm.do

If you are moving and not just updating the address to which your EAD card should be mailed, then you must also update your address on your myNortheastern account.

How do I withdraw my Pre-OPT application?

If your application is still pending with USCIS, and you decide not to pursue pre-OPT, you may withdraw your application. In this case, you will need to mail a letter to request withdrawal of your application to the USCIS address that is listed on your receipt notice, and a copy of your receipt notice.

The letter should include the following elements:

  • Note “Re: I-765 Withdrawal” on the letter
  • Include biographical information to identify the student, including name, date of birth, and SEVIS ID number
  • Reference the receipt number for the I-765 application (from the Form I-797 receipt notice); a copy of the receipt notice can also be helpful
  • Specific request that the Form I-765 application for Pre Completion Optional Practical Training be withdrawn
  • Student’s signature

Once your application is withdrawn, you should receive the withdrawal acknowledgement letter from USCIS. If you do not receive anything within 1 month, please contact OGS.

What happens if my EAD card has incorrect information on it?

If your EAD card was processed by the Potomac Service Center (PSC):

If your Form I-765 was approved by the PSC and your EAD contains incorrect information due to USCIS error, you must return the original card along with a detailed explanation of the error and supporting documentation to the PSC at:

Potomac Service Center
U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
2200 Potomac Center Drive, Stop 2425
Arlington, VA 20598-2425

In these cases, you do not need to submit a new Form I-765 and filing fee. The PSC will issue a corrected EAD within 30 days of receiving your EAD that contains incorrect information due to USCIS error.

If you return your PSC-approved EAD card and the PSC determines that your card contains incorrect information that is not due to USCIS error, the PSC will return the EAD card to you. In this case, you will have to follow the process detailed in the Replacement EAD section of the Employment Authorization Document page on order to have your card corrected.

If you do not find the information you need through our online services and need further assistance, you may contact our National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or 1-800-767-1833 (TDD for the hearing impaired).

If your EAD card was processed a Service Center other than Potomac: 

Call the USCIS customer service at 1-800-375-5283 or 1-800-767-1833 and ask for instructions.

https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/contact-us/national-customer-service-center

I did not get my EAD card in the mail after receiving the approval notice. What do I do?

Find your tracking number of your mail from USCIS case status, contact USPS to see if they can locate your EAD card if it already says “delivered” status.

If your card is not received within 2-3 weeks of receiving your approval notice or seeing that your case status shows that your card was “delivered”, then you can make an e-request through USCIS.  Please note that this e-request may result in a response from USCIS or it may result in the production of an EAD card; a new card is estimated to take approximately 120 days.

For questions about this e-request through USCIS, please contact USCIS Customer Service at:

1-800-375-5283 or 1-800-767-1833

If it is determined that your EAD is lost in the mail and you do not want to wait for a response from USCIS, you will have to apply for a replacement of EAD by submitting the following documents to the lockbox, as you did for your initial application. Processing times will be the same as processing times for the initial OPT approval.

  • Letter explaining what happened to previously issued card (include police report if applicable)
  • I-765 (check the box that indicates that you are applying for a “Replacement” card)
  • G-1145
  • $410 check, money order or bank check made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Copies of previous I-20s
  • Copy of F-1 visa
  • Copy of passport
  • Passport Photos
  • Approval Notice of OPT/STEM

General

I do not have a Social Security Number. When can I apply for one?

You may apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) as of the start date on your EAD – See Social Security Number (SSN) Instructions.

How many days of unemployment can I have during Pre-OPT?

There are no restrictions of unemployment during Pre-OPT. Students are not required to have a job offer to apply for Pre 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.

I applied for Pre-OPT. My application is still pending, but now I want to apply for Post-OPT; what do I do?

If you have a pending Pre-OPT application and you would like to apply for Post-OPT, then you will need to deduct the entire requested Pre-OPT period from your 12 months of Post-OPT.  If your Pre-OPT has been approved, then the entire approved period will be deducted from your 12 months of Post-OPT.

Part-time Pre-OPT is deducted at half the rate from your Post-OPT.  For example, if you are approved for 4 months of part-time Pre-OPT, then 2 months will be deducted from your 12 months of Post-Completion OPT.

I am doing Pre-OPT and want to do Post-OPT right after. Do I have to apply twice or can I apply for both at the same time?

Pre-OPT and Post-OPT applications have to be done separately.  If you are planning to do both Pre-OPT and Post-OPT, you will have to apply to USCIS twice (and pay an application fee each time).

It is my last semester and I only have one class to take – can I work full-time on Pre-OPT?

During your last semester, even if you are underenrolled, you are still taking required course(s), so you can only engage in part-time Pre-Completion OPT (20 hours per week or less).

Can I work on-campus while I am on Pre-OPT?

Students on Pre-OPT can work on-campus in addition to working on Pre-OPT.

Students cannot engage in a Stipended Graduate Assistantship (SGA) position while on Pre-OPT.