International Student Services

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.

Eligibility

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.

Hours

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.

Discuss Pre-Completion OPT with an ISS advisor.

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

Submit your inquiry via the Contact ISS form.

Ask ISS to Recommend your Pre-Completion OPT

You cannot apply for pre-completion OPT with USCIS without asking ISS to endorse your application.

Steps for requesting the OPT I-20

  • Prepare for your online or paper application by filling out the I-765 Form
    • We have an I-765 guide for pre-completion OPT to help you fill out your form.
    • 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. ISS will review the information and provide feedback that you can consider when you submit a final draft to USCIS.
  • Determine what start date you want your pre-completion OPT to begin.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Changing the requested OPT dates after the application has been mailed to USCIS can be very difficult. Choose your dates carefully.
    • Your approved start date may be different from your requested start date, based on USCIS processing times.
  • Once you have prepared these documents and determined your start date, complete the Post-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.

You will receive an email from ISS with your new I-20 and feedback for your next steps with USCIS.

Apply for pre-completion OPT work authorization with USCIS

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

  • File a paper application
  • Online OPT application

The online filing option only became available in spring quarter 2021. We understand that students prefer this option and we have compiled information to better help with the process.

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 https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
    • 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

If you submit your application online, you will receive a receipt notice immediately. If you file a paper application, 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 in the mail. 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. 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.