Pre-Completion OPT: How To Apply

What is Pre-Completion OPT?

“Pre-completion” OPT is used while you are still enrolled in your degree. Pre-completion OPT is rare. It is only for situations where:

  • Your OPT start and end date will be during your studies (not after graduation).
  • You have a training opportunity but might not be eligible for CPT.

If you are graduating soon–and looking to have OPT approval for work after graduation–you must apply for post-completion OPT.

If you are not graduating soon, and are looking for authorization for internship, practicum, or other work/training related to your studies, please consider first Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

Pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of OPT eligibility, and most students prefer to save OPT for after program completion.


You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are currently in F-1 status.
  • You are currently enrolled in your course of study; pre-completion or before completion of your degree program, Code (C)(3)(A).
  • You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (three quarters, including final exam week) or will complete one academic year by the date the OPT approval begins.
  • You are in a major. Pre-major students are not eligible for pre-completion OPT.
  • You have not been authorized for a total of 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Multiple overlapping, part-time CPTs would count toward this limit; otherwise, part-time CPT does not affect OPT.
  • You have not previously completed 12 months of full-time OPT at the same degree level. You are eligible for the standard 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level, when changing to a higher educational level. For example, you may apply for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree and then another 12 months after completing a master’s degree.


Pre-Completion OPT can be authorized:

  • Part-time (up to 20 hours per week) pre-completion OPT may be requested while enrolled in a full course of study.
  • Full-time (more than 20 hours per week) pre-completion OPT may be requested during your annual vacation quarter and between quarter breaks. For example, you may request full-time pre-completion OPT for summer quarter as early as a day after the final exam week for spring quarter and no later than a day before the start date of autumn quarter.
  • Thesis/Dissertation Students: Full-time (more than 20 hours per week) pre-completion OPT may be requested when all your course requirements are completed with only thesis/dissertation remaining.

When To Apply

You may start the OPT application process up to 100 days before your requested employment start date. If you do not have a job offer start date, you will need to estimate your requested employment start date. Please note that it takes the government 3-5 months to approve OPT depending on the time of year.

How To Apply

Please read the following instructions carefully. Although we in ISS provide information, the OPT application is your application. We do not approve the application or have the authority to influence the process.

Step 1: Schedule an Appointment With ISS

Schedule an appointment with an International Student Services (ISS) adviser to discuss your plans to apply for Pre-Completion OPT.

Complete the Have a Question form on the navigation bar to the right.

Step 2: Request the OPT Endorsed I-20

Before completing the request for the OPT I-20, please prepare the following document:

  • Completed Form I-765
    • For help completing the I-765, please see the I-765 Completion Guide: PRE-COMPLETION OPT.
    • You can type or hand write your I-765, but please save an electronic version of your completed form so that you can upload it to the I-20 request form.

You will need to determine your requested Pre-Completion OPT start date and end date. Consider the following:

  • The “start date” is the date your work permission begins. You cannot work earlier than the start date, but you can start working later.
  • Your approved start date is likely to be different from your requested start date, based on USCIS processing times.
  • The “end date” is the date your work permission ends. You cannot request an end date later than your academic program end date.
  • Changing the requested OPT dates after the application has been mailed to USCIS can be very difficult. Choose your dates carefully.
  • Recovering all or part of a period of OPT that has already been authorized by USCIS may not be possible.
  • Although you do not need a job offer to apply, it is advisable to have a job offer, because authorized pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of full-time OPT available. Part-time pre-completion OPT (up to 20 hours per week) is deducted at a 50% rate. OPT employment must be directly related to your major area of study and commensurate with your educational level.

Once you have prepared your Form I-765 and determined your start and end dates, complete the Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form:

Request Pre-Completion OPT I-20

An ISS adviser will review your request, note any items missing or needing to be changed on the Form I-765, and will issue a new, updated I-20 with an OPT recommendation printed on page 2. No appointment is necessary – allow 10 business days for processing.

You will receive an email from the ISS office ( to pick up the new I-20. You will receive a pink checklist indicating the final application materials that must be mailed to USCIS.

Step 3: Prepare Supplemental Documents

In addition to the OPT I-20 and the completed I-765, you will need to gather the supplemental documents. ISS does not need to review these documents, but you may schedule an appointment with an ISS adviser if you have specific questions about the following documents:

  • Form I-765 filing fee (extra $85 biometric services fee is not required for OPT applications) paid by money order, personal check, cashier’s check, or credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.
    • Use extra caution when sending the G-1450 – ISS has seen a number of complications related to the credit card payment process and recommends sending a money order, personal, or cashier’s check instead of the G-1450.
    • Do not send more than one method of payment.
    • If you pay by check, you must make your check payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • Completed Form G-1145 (optional; it signs you up for email/text message notification of your application’s arrival at USCIS)
  • Photocopies of:
    • All previously issued I-20s (pages 1 and 2 of the redesigned I-20s, or page 1 and 3 of pre-2015 I-20)
    • Your valid passport identification page
    • Your most recent F-1 visa
  • Two passport-style photos
    • Lightly print your name and your I-94 number in pencil or felt pen on the back of each photo.
    • See the USCIS photo instructions in the “Required Documentation” section on page 13.
    • The photos must have been taken within the last 30 days (do not use the same photos used for your F-1 visa application; USCIS might notice and will return the application).
    • The two photos should have a white background.
    • They should be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched.
    • The photos should show a passport-style, full-face image, with both ears visible.
    • The photos should be 2 by 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 3/8 inches.
  • Printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at
    • With few exceptions, your I-94 should list your ‘class of admission’ as F-1 and your ‘admit until date’ as D/S.
  • Photocopy of previously issued EAD (if applicable)

Step 4: Pick Up Your Application From ISS; Mail to USCIS

  1. Review the pink checklist, your I-20, and any notes on the Form I-765 to make sure it is complete.
  2. Sign your OPT-endorsed I-20 at the bottom of page 1 before photocopying it and adding it to your supplemental documents.
  3. Mail your entire application within 30 days of the new OPT-endorsed I-20 being issued. Late applications will be denied by USCIS.
  • Do not mail your original passport, I-94, or I-20.
  • Make copies of everything that you send – including the I-765.
  • It is recommended you send your application by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • If you live in Washington state mail the entire application to:
    • For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries

PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

    • For Express Mail and Courier Service Deliveries

Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S.
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

    • If you reside outside of Washington state, review the USCIS mailing instructions to find the correct Lockbox location.

After You Mail Your OPT Application to USCIS

USCIS will send you a receipt notice (I-797 Notice of Action) confirming receipt of your OPT application, assigning a receipt date and case number. Carefully review the notice to make sure your name is spelled correctly. If it is not, contact your ISS adviser immediately.

You may use the case number on your receipt notice to check the status of your application online. It is normal for your case status to say ‘case received’ for most of the 3-5 month processing period.

If you receive an RFE, returned application, or denied application, notify ISS immediately. Complete the “Have a Question” form. It may be necessary for ISS to provide a new I-20 before you can respond to the USCIS inquiry or resubmit your OPT application.

You may not begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Authorized OPT dates will be on your EAD. Note that students must file a separate application for post-completion OPT to work after graduation.