International Student Services

Pre-Completion OPT

What is Pre-Completion OPT?

“Pre-Completion” Optional Practical Training is used while you are still enrolled in your degree. Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of OPT eligibility. Pre-Completion OPT is rare: most students save OPT to use after program completion.

Pre-Completion OPT 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 need OPT approval to work after graduation, you must apply for Post-Completion OPT.

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

Master’s and Doctoral Students: it is possible to apply for Post-Completion OPT while still completing your thesis. This is different from “Pre-Completion” OPT.


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

  • You are currently in F-1 status.
  • You will begin and end your OPT during your enrolled course of study. 
  • You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (three quarters).
  • You are in a major. Pre-major students are not eligible for Pre-Completion OPT.
  • You have not been authorized for 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
  • You have not previously completed 12 months of full-time OPT at the same degree level. 


Pre-Completion OPT can be authorized:

  • Part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during your full-time enrollment quarters. Part-time Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12-month OPT availaiblity at a 50% rate (example: 2 months of part-time pre-completion OPT equals one month of regular OPT).
  • Full-time (more than 20 hours per week) during your annual vacation quarter and between quarter breaks.
  • Thesis/Dissertation Students: Full-time (more than 20 hours per week) while you are enrolled in thesis/dissertation credits, after you complete all other course requirements.

When to Apply

  • You may request the OPT I-20 from ISS up to 100 days before your requested employent start date.
  • For the OPT, I-20, check ISS processing times.
  • After you receive the OPT I-20 from ISS, you will apply for OPT through U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. Check current USCIS processing times.

Step to Apply

Step 1: Consult an ISS advisor.

Step 2: Request your Pre-Completion OPT I-20 from ISS.

  • Do not apply for Pre-Completion OPT with USCIS before you get your OPT I-20 from ISS. USCIS will deny the application.
  • You must know the following to request your I-20:
    • Determine your planned Pre-Completion OPT start and end dates.
      • The “start date” is the date your work permission begins. You cannot work earlier than the start date, but you can start working later.
      • The “end date” is the date your work permission ends. You cannot request an end date later than your academic program end date.
      • Although you do not need a job offer to apply, we advise you to have a job offer, because authorized pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of full-time OPT available.
      • You cannot change the OPT dates after you file your application with USCIS.
      • Your approved start date may be different from your requested start date, based on USCIS processing times.
  • Log into MyISSS to request a Pre-Completion I-20.

Step 3: Receive your Pre-Completion OPT I-20 from ISS.

You must receive a signed Pre-Completion OPT I-20 from ISS before you submit you OPT application to USCIS. The ISS recommendation for Pre-Completion OPT will appear on page 2 of the I-20.

Step 4: Submit your I-765 application to USCIS.

There are two ways to apply for OPT authorization with USCIS:

  • File a paper application
  • Online OPT application

Documents to prepare for the paper or online application

All students applying for pre-completion OPT will need to prepare supplemental documents when applying with USCIS:

  • Form I-765 filing fee (extra $85 biometric services fee is not required for OPT applications)
    • When applying online, you will pay via credit card.
    • When applying by mail, we recommend check, money order, or cashier’s check.
  • Completed Form G-1145 
    • Only when applying via paper form.
  • 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.
    • Check 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)

Filing a paper application instructions

  1. Gather together items listed above.
  2. Sign your OPT I-20 from ISS and make a copy to include with your application.
  3. Review your completed I-765 and sign and date it.
  4. Mail your application to the appropriate USCIS lock-box.

Filing an online OPT application

  1. Create an account with USCIS. See their tutorial for support.
  2. Click on the box to file a form online.
    • Select Application for Employment Authorization
    • Read through the Form Overview Page. This is important information about your request to the U.S. Government.
    • Go through the steps to complete the application.
    • DO NOT SUBMIT UNTIL you have uploaded all required documentation (I-94 record, visa, passport, photos, OPT endorsed I-20, previous CPT or OPT I-20s, and previous EAD cards. If you submit your application and pay the fee to USCIS WITHOUT having proper information in the application, USCIS will deny your OPT application AND keep your fee.

Tips for Filing the Online Application 

  • Complete the form as best as you can. The form uses logic which allows you to skip the questions you don’t need to answer.
  • Your form will save in draft status for 30 days. If you start the application and realize you messed up your OPT dates or need to get new photos taken, you can take a break and complete the form later.
  • If you’re inactive for 15 minutes, you will be automatically logged out.
  • Make sure you pick the correct eligibility category for your form! (pre-completion = (c)(3)(A); post-completion = (c)(3)(B); stem extension = (c)(3)(C))
  • Make sure your files uploaded properly. Documents and photos can only be up to 6 MB and they only accept certain file types. If you are getting an error, check the error message and do what you need to do to correct it.
  • REVIEW! Always review your application before you pay the fee. If you pay the fee and submit, you cannot make corrections.

Benefits of Filing Online

  • All notices are posted to your account!
  • You have more control of the application.
  • Note: Students who file a paper application can also create a USCIS account. You can link your paper application and receipt notice to the online account!

After You Submit Your Pre-Completion OPT Application to USCIS

RFEs, Returned, or Denied Applications 

If you receive a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), returned application, or denied application, contact ISS immediately. ISS might need to provide a new I-20 before you can respond to the USCIS inquiry or resubmit your OPT application.

USCIS Case Status, Processing Times, and Expedites

If you submit your OPT application online, you will receive a receipt notice immediately. If you mail a paper application, USCIS will mail you a receipt notice (I-797 Notice of Action) confirming receipt of your OPT application, assigning a receipt date and case number.

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 USCIS processing period.

USCIS rarely expedites OPT applications. ISS cannot contact USCIS on your behalf to request expedited processing; OPT applications are between you and USCIS.

Starting Work

You may not begin employment until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and the approved OPT start date is known. Authorized OPT dates will be on your EAD.

OPT employment must be directly related to your major area of study and commensurate with your educational level. You are not required to report your employment to ISS or through the SEVP portal for Pre-Completion OPT. That is only a Post-Completion OPT requirement.

Note that you must file a separate application for Post-Completion OPT if you want to work after graduation.