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 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. See details about Post-OPT from here.

Students on Pre-OPT cannot work on-campus or accept a Stipended Graduate Assistantship (SGA) position.

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 fulltime 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 fulltime CPT
  • Student has not engaged in 12 months of OPT (Pre or Post) at your 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

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

If a Ph.D student has completed all his/her coursework but is in 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 end date of program completion, and the student’s I-20 will reflect it as the completion date of his/her program.

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

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

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

When should I apply for Pre-OPT?

Students may apply for Pre-OPT as early as 90 days before the desired start date of employment authorization.  Please note that USCIS must receive the application within 30 days of the date of the OPT recommendation.  This is the date of issuance of the I-20 that bears the recommendation for OPT.  OPT applications that are not received by USCIS within 30 days of the recommendation will be denied.

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 90 days to review the application and process an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. USCIS will not expedite OPT requests before the 90 day processing time has elapsed.

Travel Outside the USA During 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 and your unexpired visa
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature (travel signatures are valid for 1 year).

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.

Application Steps for Pre-OPT

Step 1 – Submit the Pre-OPT I-20 request eform 

You must upload the following documents on the eform.

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 (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)

Please see the Direct Filing Address for Form I-765, Application for Employment to find the appropriate address to use for filing your Pre-OPT application. Make sure to mail your OPT packet through certified mail which includes a tracking number and guaranteed delivery date.

What happens after I submit my documents to USCIS?

  • You should receive a receipt notice from USCIS. You can look up your case status online using the case number.
  • Once your 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)
  • If there are any errors on your EAD card, call USCIS Customer Service

Instructions for Completing Form I-765

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


□     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: US 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 OPT EAD.

  • If you are using someone else’s address, put “c/o…person’s name”.  For example, “c/o John Smith” – “care of John Smith”.  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.

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 (SSA) ever official 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 (SSN): Fill in appropriately with your SSN.

Field 10: Do you want the SSA 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 SSN.
  • 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 OPT or other employment.  If you have previously applied, check “yes”.  The USCIS Center serving the northeast region of the U.S. is the “Vermont Service Center”, though many OPT applications are processed at the “Potomac Service Center”.  Enter the dates of employment authorized indicated on the Employment Authorization Card; under “Results” enter “Granted” or “Denied” and if granted, attach a photocopy of your EAD (Employment Authorization Document).  If the application is still pending, put “pending”.

Field 16: Date of Last Entry into U.S.: The date of last entry listed on your I-94 card in your passport even if you have received more recent entry stamps from visits outside the U.S. lasting less than 30 days.

Field 17: Place of Last Entry into the U.S.: The place of entry is often written in three letter abbreviations such as “BOS” for Boston and “SFR” for San Francisco.  Enter the place and date of last entry.

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 OPT, enter the following codes in the three consecutive parentheses: (c) (3) (A)   Note: Post-OPT and 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 on I-765, USCIS will reject your application and it will be returned to you.