DO NOT File the I-765 OPT Application Online Without Reading This Message First

Before electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online, students must first receive a NEW I-20 from ISSS recommending Optional Practical Training (OPT) by submitting the ISSS OPT I-20 Request Form (DocuSign) to ISSS.

  • On April 12, 2021, USCIS announced that students in F-1 status seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) can now file Form I-765 online
  • USCIS continues to accept the latest paper version of I-765 application by mail.

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USCIS Experiencing Delays in Issuing Receipt Notices for Applications Submitted By Mail

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, USCIS is experiencing delays in issuing receipt notices for some applications and petitions filed at a USCIS lockbox facility. Individuals who have submitted an application to USCIS, such as an Optional Practical Training (OPT) application, may experience a delay of four to six weeks in receiving your receipt. However, delays can vary among form types and lockbox locations and some may experience significant delays.

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Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined in the F-1 regulations as “temporary employment authorization for practical training directly related to a student’s major field of study.” Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months of employment authorization per higher degree level completed in the U.S.    

There are two types of OPT:  

  • Pre-Completion OPT: Off-campus work authorization during a student’s degree program.   

  • Post-Completion OPT: Off-campus work authorization after completion of all degree requirements or after completion of all coursework (excluding thesis or dissertation credits).   

Below is information that will guide you through each step of the pre-completion OPT application and authorization process.  We also provide a printable version of this material.

Introduction to Pre-Completion OPT

This section will review eligibility requirements, the application timeline, and options for your pre-completion OPT start date.   

In order to be eligible to apply for pre-completion OPT, you must:   
  • Currently be in the U.S. in valid F-1 status;  
  • Have a valid passport and I-94 record indicating F-1 and D/S (duration of status);  
  • Have been continuously enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year (fall and spring semester) in active nonimmigrant status OR will be completing one academic year within 90 days of applying for pre-completion OPT;
  • Be enrolled full-time at CU Boulder (or an authorized equivalent) with an on-campus presence in the semester in which you apply for pre-completion OPT;  
  • Have not completed more than 365 days of full-time CPT at the current degree level  
  • Have not previously completed a higher degree level in the U.S.;   Have not previously been approved for 12 months of OPT at the current degree level or a higher degree level; AND   Only pursue employment directly related to your major field of study.       

Please note: You must be registered for credits that require on-campus presence in your final semester.

You are eligible to apply for pre-completion OPT up to 90 days before you will have completed one academic year (fall and spring semester) in active nonimmigrant status. USCIS has a processing time for OPT of 2-5 months. ISSS recommends choosing a start date at least 2 months in the future to account for USCIS processing times.  
  • For students who started their F-1 SEVIS program in the Fall 2020 semester, the first day you can apply for pre-completion OPT is February 4, 2021 – 90 days before completing an academic year in F-1 status. Your requested start date must be after May 5, 2021.  

  • For students who started their F-1 SEVIS program in the Spring 2021 semester, the first day you can apply for pre-completion OPT is September 16, 2021 – 90 days before completing an academic year in F-1 status. Your requested start date must be after December 15, 2021.  

  • For students who started their F-1 SEVIS program in the Fall 2021 semester, the first day you can apply for pre-completion OPT is February 3, 2022 – 90 days before completing an academic year in F-1 status. Your requested start date must be after May 4, 2022.  

No. When you apply for pre-completion OPT, you are requesting authorization to work in a job directly related to your major field of study during your authorized period of pre-completion OPT. You will choose your requested start and end dates when you apply for pre-completion OPT. You are not required to have a job offer before applying for pre-completion OPT. If USCIS approves your request for pre-completion OPT authorization, they will provide you with your authorized pre-completion OPT start and end date.

On pre-completion OPT you can have a job, internship or volunteer work that directly relates to your major field of study. The hours you can work per-week will depend if you are approved for part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours) pre-completion OPT. You may change employers on OPT and can have multiple jobs, internships or volunteer work as long as you do not exceed your allotted work hours per week, each position directly relates to your major field of study, and you submit the required pre-completion OPT relevance statement to ISSS for each training opportunity you undertake. 

Yes, use of any practical training (both pre- and post-completion OPT) is counted cumulatively with only a total of 12 months allowed for practical training (not including the STEM Extension). Pre-completion OPT will count against that 12-month total and reduce time available for post-completion OPT.

  • Part-time pre-completion OPT (20 hours per week or less) is deducted from post-completion OPT at a half-time rate. For example, 3 months of approved part-time pre-completion OPT will deduct 1.5 months from your time of post-completion OPT and you will be eligible for only 10.5 months of post-completion OPT.
  • Full-time pre-completion OPT (more than 20 hours per week) is deducted from post-completion OPT at a full-time rate. For example, if you are approved for 3 months of full-time pre-completion OPT 3 months will be deducted from your time of post-completion OPT and you will be eligible for only 9 months of post-completion OPT.

Even if you end up not working during some or all of your authorized period of pre-completion OPT, the USCIS authorized time will still be deducted from the time available for post-completion OPT.

No, USCIS authorized period of pre-completion OPT does not reduce time available for the 24-month STEM Extension. However, you must be in an active period of post-completion OPT to apply for STEM OPT so please plan to ensure you have time remaining to use for post-completion OPT if you will be applying for STEM OPT. ISSS recommends you leave at least 3 months of post-completion OPT available to ensure you have enough time to apply for both post-completion OPT and then the STEM OPT extension.

There is no limit to unemployment days while in your authorized period of pre-completion OPT. However, the time you are authorized for pre-completion OPT will deduct from the 12-month post-completion OPT period upon the pre-completion OPT start date granted by USCIS. You cannot recoup any loss of post-completion OPT time, even if you do not end up working during the pre-completion OPT period for which you have been approved. For example, if you are approved for 3 months of full-time pre-completion OPT you will be eligible for only 9 months of post-completion OPT, even if you do not end up using the pre-completion OPT benefit.   Your authorized period of pre-completion OPT does not impact the 24-month STEM OPT extension, if you are eligible for STEM OPT. 

No, pre-completion does not impact your on-campus employment. Students can work on pre-completion OPT and on-campus; you are still subject to the on-campus work hour restrictions and eligibility requirements.

Yes. It is possible to take advantage of both the pre-completion OPT benefit (authorized by USCIS) and the CPT benefit (authorized by ISSS) and at that the same time. However, on pre-completion you may have multiple training or internships as long as they each relate to your major field of study so it is not necessary to have both if authorized for pre-completion OPT.

Your pre-completion OPT requested start date must be after you have completed one academic year and your pre-completion OPT end date must be before your F-1 SEVIS program end date or last date of enrollment (whichever is sooner). For the fall and spring semesters, the last day of enrollment is the last date of exams listed on the CU Boulder academic calendar. You can request a minimum of one day and up to one-year of pre-completion at a time.  

Once you have submitted your pre-completion OPT application to USCIS and it is pending with USCIS, the only way to change your requested pre-completion OPT dates is to withdraw your pre-completion OPT application and submit a new application, including another filing fee. Once your pre-completion OPT is approved you cannot change your pre-completion OPT dates. 

When selecting your dates, you need to take into consideration if you are requesting part-time or full-time pre-completion OPT. Full-time pre-completion OPT is not allowed during the academic year (Fall and Spring terms) unless you have completed all coursework for the degree and are in thesis or dissertation stage.

No. If the EAD was issued for pre-completion OPT, then the EAD is only valid for OPT prior to a student’s degree completion. The student must stop working on or before their program end date and file a separate application for post-completion OPT in order to be authorized for employment after graduation.    

Only the USCIS authorized pre-completion OPT time that occurs prior to the student’s program end date will be deducted from the allotted post-completion OPT time. A student will not lose any unused pre-completion OPT time if they completed their program prior to the end date on their pre-completion EAD card.  

  • For example, if a student applied for part-time pre-completion OPT from January 2, 2019, to January 1, 2020, but finished the course of study on June 1, 2019, the student would still have nine months of OPT available (the six months of part-time pre-completion OPT would deduct 3 months of the total amount available at that education level).

If you are eligible for pre-completion OPT you can request part-time pre-completion OPT (20 hours per week or less) during the academic year. Both part-time and full-time pre-completion OPT (more than 20 hours a week) are allowed during official school breaks (spring break, summer vacation, Thanksgiving break, and winter vacation). Full-time pre-completion OPT is not allowed during the academic year (Fall and Spring terms) unless you have completed all coursework for the degree and are in thesis or dissertation stage. 

 

If summer is your final semester and you are registered for your final coursework in a summer term, you are still allowed to take advantage of full-time pre-completion OPT in the summer, despite being enrolled.  However, keep in mind that on-campus presence is required in a student’s final term, even if the final term falls over the summer.  Also, your pre-completion OPT end date will be based on your last day of enrollment in the summer term.  

 Applying for Pre-Completion OPT

This section provides a material guide to applying for pre-completion OPT. Included in this section are detailed instructions, a list of documents and materials that you need to compile, and information about what happens after you fill out the Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form.  

 ISSS has a list of OPT resources on the right-hand side of the Pre-Completion OPT website. Please review these resources.  

On April 12, 2021, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced they will now accept electronic filings of form I-765 from international students in F-1 status who are applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) in the following categories: (c)(3)(A) Pre-Completion OPT, (c)(3)(B) Post-Completion OPT, and (c)(3)(C) STEM Extension OPT. 

Before electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online or filing by mail, students must first submit the Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form to ISSS and ISSS must make the pre-completion OPT recommendation in SEVIS. This is very important. If a student first submits the USCIS online application and then requests the pre-completion OPT recommendation I-20 from ISSS, the pre-completion OPT application will be denied, as the regulations require the recommendation be entered into SEVIS prior to the pre-completion OPT filing.

Filing electronically:  

There are several benefits to filing your pre-completion OPT application electronically. 

  • USCIS has confirmed that an electronically filed pre-completion OPT application is less likely to be rejected. This is because the USCIS online filing system uses logic that limits the questions you will need to answer based on prior answers, diminishing the opportunity for errors. 
  • Once the application is submitted online with final payment, students will immediately receive a receipt number and receipt notice. This means that you will not face a receipt notice delay. A paper copy receipt notice will also be mailed to applicants.  
  • Payment will be made on a secure website using a credit or debit card. This means that you'll be able to confirm receipt of payment at the time of application. ISSS understands that once you submit payment, your whole application will be submitted to USCIS. Please make sure that you are ready to submit your entire pre-completion OPT application (including the required pre-completion OPT recommendation I-20 from ISSS, passport photos, and any other supporting documents) when you get to the payment screen. 
  • Additional evidence can be uploaded to the application after submitting. However, ISSS urges students to ensure that they submit a complete application at the time of submission to USCIS.  ISSS wants to reiterate that you must first receive the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT from ISSS before submitting your complete application to USCIS online. 

Filing by mail:  

Submitting your complete application to USCIS by mail is still allowed. ISSS wants you to be aware of the following if you choose to submit your application to USCIS by mail.  

  • You must first receive the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT from ISSS before submitting your completed documents to USCIS. 
  • You will need to submit a complete Form I-765 to USCIS. ISSS has a sample I-765 for you to reference while completing your own Form I-765. Please make sure that you sign your I-765 by hand with a black ink pen.  
  • You should include the Form G-1145 on top of your complete application materials that you mail to USCIS. This form allows you to receive an email/text message when USCIS accepts your application at the Lockbox. 

The first step in applying for pre-completion OPT is to complete the Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form and upload the required documentation for the request. We will review that documentation below.    

After you complete the Pre-Completion OPT Request Form it will automatically be routed to ISSS for processing. After ISSS receives your request form, please allow 2-5 business days for processing. Once ISSS has reviewed your materials, an I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT will be issued to you.  

You will then need to submit your complete application to USCIS either by mail or by electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online. Please see further instructions below.  

ISSS wants to reiterate that you must first receive the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT from ISSS before submitting your completed documents to USCIS.  

  • ISSS will review your application materials and will contact you if any questions arise.   
  • ISSS will recommend part-time or full-time pre-completion OPT based on your request form.    
  • ISSS will issue an I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT to you. You must print, sign the I-20 by hand with an ink pen, and include a copy of the I-20 in your application that you submit to USCIS. ISSS wants to reiterate that you must first receive the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT from ISSS before submitting your application documents to USCIS.  
  • Please note that ISSS only recommends that your pre-completion OPT application be approved; the final decision is made by USCIS. 

 

The materials that you will submit to USCIS depend on whether you are electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online or mailing your completed application to USCIS. Remember that you must first receive the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT from ISSS before submitting your completed documents to USCIS. 

To receive your I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT, please complete the Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form. On the form, you’ll be asked if you are planning to apply for pre-completion OPT by mailing your materials to USCIS or by electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online. If you are going to apply through electronic filing, ISSS recommends that you do not start the USCIS online application until after you receive the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT from ISSS. For this reason, if you indicate that you will be electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online, you will not be required to submit a copy of your I-765 to ISSS for review. The ISSS advisor who issues the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT welcomes the opportunity to review your draft I-765 before you make payment and submit your complete application to USCIS.  

If you indicate that you will be mailing your materials to USCIS then ISSS will ask you to upload a copy of your completed Form I-765 to the ISSS Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form. You should type your information into the I-765 form, print, and sign the I-765 in black ink.    

The following documents are required for the application to USCIS and must be uploaded to the Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form that ISSS reviews:  

  • Current I-94 Record, you will have one of the following:   
    • Electronic I-94: Majority of students will have an electronic I-94. Download a copy from the Customs and Border Protection I-94 website   
    • Paper I-94 Card: Most common with land crossings, given to student at Customs and Border Protection. Include photocopies of the front and back of your I-94 card    
  • Clear (color) copy of your valid passport ID page(s) and any renewal, extension, amendment, or correction pages     
  • Clear (color) copy of most recent U.S. entry visa or change of status I-797 approval notice. Exception: Canadians do not need provide a visa copy   
  • Form I-765 if you will be submitting your application materials by mail to USCIS. Optional to upload if you will be electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online. 

The following documents are required for the application to USCIS but optional to upload in the Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form that ISSS reviews:    

If mailing your application to USCIS, you will need to mail printed paper copies of these materials. If electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online, you will need to upload the following materials to the USCIS online application system. Documents can be uploaded in the following formats: JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF, or TIFF. Photos can be uploaded as a JPG, JPEG, or PNG.  

  • Application Fee: $410  
    • If mailing your complete application to USCIS, you can choose to pay with a money order, check, or credit card. If you choose to pay with a Credit Card, you will fill out and include the Form G-1450 with your materials. This form authorizes a credit card payment. USCIS accepts: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover.    If you choose to pay with a Personal Check/Money Order Payment: Make it payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”     
    • Do NOT abbreviate name to DHS or USDHS; Sign and date the check (month/day/year) on the front of the check (do not sign the back of the check); on the memo line, indicate—OPT and your I-94 number.   
    • Please note that if you are electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online, you will submit payment on a secure webpage. ISSS understands that once you submit payment, your whole application will be submitted to USCIS. Please make sure that you are ready to submit your entire pre-completion OPT application (including the required pre-completion OPT recommendation I-20 from ISSS, passport photos, and any other supporting documents) when you get to the payment screen.  
  • Form G-1145 (Only if mailing your complete materials to USCIS): Place this form on the top of your application if you would like to receive an email/text message when USCIS accepts your application at the Lockbox.    
    • Clear copies of the front and back of any Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) issued previously by USCIS. You would only have this if you had a previous work authorization adjudicated by USCIS (Pre-completion OPT, Post-completion OPT, STEM OPT, or Severe Economic Hardship).    
    • Photocopies of the I-20 ISSS issued with the pre-completion OPT recommendation, along with any previous I-20s from a different SEVIS ID than you have now and/or copies of CPT authorization I-20s (if applicable).     
  • Two identical color U.S.-style passport photographs taken within the last 30 days. If electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online, you will only need to upload one photograph.  
    • 2” x 2” on plain white or off-white background in accordance with Department of State photo requirements. You cannot be wearing glasses, hats, or head coverings unless a personal or doctor’s statement is submitted.    
    • Do not cut, trim, or otherwise alter the photos.    
    • Do not reuse old photos or photos used in passport/visa applications.   
    • If USCIS requests new photos, it will delay OPT application processing.  
    • Gently write your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo in case they are separated from the application.

I-765 Instructions and Sample

This section contains an in-depth guide to the Form I-765. The Form I-765 is the document by which you are formally requesting pre-completion OPT authorization from USCIS.  

If mailing your materials to USCIS for processing, you will need to include a paper copy of your complete Form I-765. You will need to sign this form by hand with a black ink pen. It is your responsibility as the F-1 applicant to ensure that you have filled out your I-765 correctly. ISSS will review your I-765 for completeness, not accuracy. Included in this section is also an example of a completed I-765.  

If electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online, you will not fill out a paper copy of the Form I-765. The USCIS online filing system uses logic that limits the questions you will need to answer based on prior answers, diminishing the opportunity for errors. You will not be required to submit a copy of your I-765 to ISSS for review. The ISSS advisor who issues the I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT welcomes the opportunity to review your draft I-765 before you make payment and submit your complete application to USCIS. 

Please review the I-765 instructions on the USCIS website and prepare a complete pre-completion OPT application.  Below are I-765 instructions written by ISSS.   Here is a sample I-765. Please note that this is one example. Student circumstances may differ and require different answers. Please be sure to review the USCIS I-765 instructions, read the I-765 carefully, and reach out to ISSS if you are still unsure.

Do not leave any questions blank unless the form specifically says you do not need to answer the question. Otherwise if a question does not apply to you, write “N/A” or “NONE”   
   

  • Mark “Initial permission to accept employment” as the reason for completing the form   
  • Item 1: Enter your full legal name in the applicable boxes. See Part 6 if you require more space to enter your name.  
  • Item 5: Utilize an address you will continue to receive mail at for at least 120-150 days  
  • 5.a.: If your name is not on the lease or you do not live at the mailing address you are providing, enter the name of the official person living at this address   
  • Items 7.a.-7.d.: If you selected “Yes” to Item 6, you can leave this section blank. If you selected “No” to Item 6, complete all of Item 7 with your current physical address  
  • Items 8-9: Write “NONE”   
  • Item 13.a: Enter “Yes” if you have been issued a SSN and include it in 13.b.   
  • Enter “No” if you need to apply for a SSN and complete 14-17.b.  
  • Item 21.a: Enter your complete I-94 number  
    • Electronic I-94—Enter the Admission (I-94) Record Number from your electronic I-94  
    • Paper I-94—Enter the complete number found on the upper left corner of your paper I-94 card   
  • Item 21.c: If you entered your passport number in 21.b, leave 21.c blank.  
  • Item 22 Enter the date of your last entry to the U.S. This will most likely be the date indicated on your I-94 unless you traveled to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island for less than 30 days and did not obtain a new I-94.   
  • Item 23: Enter the city where you last passed through U.S. Customs.   
    • Unless you utilized the automatic visa revalidation program or completed preclearance outside the U.S., it should be the port of entry indicated in your electronic I-94 travel history.    
  • Item 26: Enter your SEVIS number that is located on your Form I-20 (starts with N00…)  
  • Item 27: Enter the appropriate eligibility category based on the information below:   
    • (c) (3) (A)– Pre-completion OPT: Requested employment start day is prior to degree completion    
  • Items 28-32: You can leave all of these fields blank as they do not apply to pre- and post-completion OPT applications.  
  • Part 3, 7.a: Sign (original black ink signature—try to stay within the box do you use an electronic signature) and date.  
  • Part 4: Write N/A in all blanks unless you used an interpreter to complete the I-765 .  
  • Part 5: Write N/A in all blanks unless someone else prepared your I-765 (e.g. immigration attorney).    
  • Part 6, Items 1.a.-1.c.: Fill out your name   
  • Part 6, Item 2: Write “NONE”   
  • Part 6, Items 3.a. onward: complete this section IF:  
    • You have been approved for CPT in the past  
    • You have been approved for OPT in the past  
    • You have used a different SEVIS ID in F-1 status in the U.S.  
    • Your SEVIS ID can be found in the top right corner of your I-20. It starts with N00…  
      • Example: You attended school in the U.S., left the U.S. to take a break from school, and returned with a new I-20. Your SEVIS ID from your initial attendance is different than your current SEVIS ID.  
    • You need extra space to provide any other additional information that would not fit on the previous pages of the I-765   
  • For each of the items listed above, complete one box in Part 6.   
    • It is recommended that you use Page 3, Part 2, Item 27 for each box that refers to previous CPT, OPT, or a different SEVIS number, as this information is required specific to Category (c)(3)(B) per the I-765 instructions, page 4. 
    • CPT: Please list your CPT approvals. We suggest this format: CPT Authorizations (as a title to the section). Part-time / Full-time; start date-end date; degree level (bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD); major including CIP code; employer name. You can find your CPT details on the I-20 that was approved for each period of CPT. Please also include a copy of each CPT approval I-20 with your application.  
    • OPT: Please list your past OPT approvals (pre-completion or post-completion OPT). We suggest this format. OPT Authorizations (as a title to the section). Type of OPT (pre-completion, post-completion, or STEM extension); start date-end date; degree level (bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD); major including CIP code. Please also include a copy of each OPT approval I-20 with your application.    
    • Previous SEVIS ID’s: Please list the other SEVIS ID’s you have used in the past. We suggest this format: Previous SEVIS ID’s (as a title to the section). SEVIS ID: N00…; program start date-program end date; degree level (bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD). Please also include a copy of a previous I-20 for each different SEVIS number you have had.  

Submitting Your Pre-Completion OPT Application

This section provides instructions for submitting your complete OPT application materials to USCIS.

  • Now you will submit your materials to USCIS either by electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online or by mailing your materials to USCIS. Instructions for each option are listed below.    
  • First, make any edits that ISSS has recommended to your pre-completion OPT application materials and review all your materials for completion and accuracy.   
  • Compile all the USCIS application materials that were listed in section 3. Ensure they are complete and accurate.  
    • If filing by mail, ensure all forms are signed by hand with black ink.  
    • If electronically filing the Form I-765 with USCIS online, an electronic signature will be required. 

No matter how you file, USCIS must receive your pre-completion OPT application within 30 days of the date ISSS enters the recommendation for pre-completion OPT into your SEVIS record.   

Option 1: Mail your complete Pre-Completion OPT application materials to USCIS: 

It is your responsibility to mail all the required pre-completion OPT application materials to the USCIS Lockbox or Service Center that processes applications for your eligibility category and place of residence. The Pre-Completion OPT eligibility category is: (c)(3)(A).   

  • The address depends on the mailing service you choose to use to mail the application.    
  • ISSS recommends that you use a mailing service that provides detailed tracking information (FedEx, UPS, or DHL). You can also use the U.S. Postal Service.    
  • I-765 filing addresses are available on the USCIS website.    
  • Make sure that you have signed your Form I-765 by hand with a black ink pen.  
  • Please do not include any staples in your pre-completion OPT documents/application. Please use a paperclip or a binder clip to keep all your documents together. 
  • Please print your documents single-sided. Having your documents double sided will not result in a denial of your application, but USCIS does prefer all documents to be single sided.

Option 2: Electronically file your complete Pre-Completion OPT application materials: 

To electronically file the Form I-765 with USCIS online, individuals must first create a USCIS online account at myaccount.uscis.gov. Once you have created an account, you’ll be able to complete the filing process. Within your USCIS account, you will be able to:  

  • Upload your documents; 
    • Documents can be uploaded in the following formats: JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF, or TIFF. Photos can be uploaded as a JPG, JPEG, or PNG.  
    • File names must contain only English characters (e.g. ABC). Special characters (e.g. @, #, $, &) are not allowed. You will receive an error message if the file format or file name do not meet the standards above.  
  • Pay the $410 fee;
    • Payment will be made on a secure website using a credit or debit card. This means that you'll be able to confirm receipt of payment at the time of application. ISSS understands that once you submit payment, your whole application will be submitted to USCIS. Please make sure that you are ready to submit your entire pre-completion OPT application (including the required pre-completion OPT recommendation I-20 from ISSS, passport photos, and any other supporting documents) when you get to the payment screen. 

Once you submit your application through the online system, you should:  

  • Receive your receipt notice and receipt number immediately within your USCIS account; 
  • Be able to track the status of your case; 
  • Communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox; and
  • Respond to Requests for Evidence (RFE). 

You must have your EAD in hand and be in your authorized period of pre-completion OPT to begin working. 

You can check USCIS's pre-completion OPT processing time by going to the USCIS processing times website selecting "I-765 Application for Employment Authorization" under "Form" and "Potomac Service Center" under "Field Office or Service Center". There you will be able to see their estimated time range for processing all OPT applications. Generally speaking, it takes 2 – 5 months for pre-completion OPT applications to be adjudicated by USCIS.  Please note: filing your application with USCIS online does not expedite the USCIS processing times.   

While Your Pre-Completion OPT Application is Pending

This section provides an overview of what to expect while your pre-completion OPT application is pending. Included is a checklist of what to be watching for, reminders, and travel information. 

  • Pay attention to receipt notices, mail, and notifications from USCIS.  
  • Contact ISSS if your pre-completion OPT application is rejected, denied, or if you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE).   
  • If you move or are no longer receiving mail from the U.S. address you entered in item 3 of the I-765 (or that you provided in the USCIS online filing system) and you have not yet received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card), you must update your address information in the USCIS Online Change of Address System.    
  • If you have questions about your case or status of your application, please use the USCIS online tools or call the National Customer Service Number (800-375-5283). 
  • Wait for your EAD card to arrive by mail. You must have your EAD card in hand to begin working.  

 

You can depart the U.S. with a pending pre-completion OPT application. Be sure you have your pre-completion OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature, and active visa.    

There are a few things to be aware of if traveling with a pending OPT application:    

  • If additional information is needed for your OPT application, USCIS will mail you a request for evidence (RFE). If you receive an RFE you will need to respond in a certain amount of time and you may have difficulty responding to any request(s) for evidence from USCIS while you are outside of the U.S., which could result in a delay of an OPT approval or an OPT denial.  
  • Future travel restrictions could impede your ability to return to the U.S.; travel restrictions may change at a moment’s notice. You will need to carefully consult both the airline and the travel restrictions for the country to which you will be returning to the U.S. from.

Pre-Completion OPT Reporting Requirements

This section reviews your reporting requirements while on an approved period of pre-completion OPT.   

While authorized for pre-completion OPT, you are still in F-1 status. Immigration regulations require you to report to ISSS how each OPT training opportunity is directly related to your major field of study. For each job you have during the pre-completion OPT period, you will need to complete the Pre-Completion OPT Employment Relevance Form that will be reviewed by ISSS and a record will be kept of the relevance to your major.

There is no limit to unemployment days while in your authorized period of pre-completion OPT. However, the time you are authorized for pre-completion OPT will deduct from the 12-month post-completion OPT period upon the approval date granted by USCIS. You cannot recoup any loss of post-completion OPT time, even if you do not end up using the approved pre-completion OPT benefit for which you have been approved. For example, if you are approved for 3 months of full-time pre-completion OPT you will be eligible for only 9 months of post-completion OPT, even if you do not end up using the pre-completion OPT benefit.    

Your authorized period of pre-completion OPT does not impact the 24-month STEM OPT extension, if you are eligible for STEM OPT. 

The list below is a suggestion of records to keep regarding your pre-completion OPT employment; it is not exhaustive. Be sure to maintain documentation that the work/internship directly related to your major field of study.  
  • Copies of offer letters and agreements/contracts with all pre-completion OPT employers including start/ end dates, pay rate, and number of weekly work hours   Copies of job descriptions including job title, duties, location, and supervisor’s contact information  
  • If you worked for an agency or consultancy, keep evidence of the projects you worked on  
  • Keep copies of your pay vouchers/pay stubs for all periods of employment, copies of your bank statements that show direct or corresponding deposits from your employer(s), and associated W-2 tax forms.

If you engage in employment that is not paid while on pre-completion OPT, it is recommended that you keep the following:   

  • Copies of employment agreement or contracts with the employer including start/end dates, trainings (on location, online, etc.), responsibilities and training objectives, location of the internship/unpaid training, and supervisor’s contact information   
  • Copies of all diplomas, completion certificates and/or certifications that you received related to the training program;   
  • If you worked/trained as an unpaid employee for a third party, keep evidence of the projects you worked on   
  • Copies of company time and attendance records that document your daily tasks in detail for all employers during the unpaid internship or training.

  • Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's major program of study.  
  • Students may work for multiple employers, as long as the employment is directly related to the student's major field of study  
  • Payment by multiple short-term employers. SEVP guidance states "Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration."  
  • Work for hire. SEVP explains, "This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment individual relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company."  
  • Self-employed business owner. SEVP indicates, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program."  
  • Employment through an agency.  
  • Volunteers or unpaid interns 

Travel, Extension, and Changes While on Pre-Completion OPT

You can only extend your pre-completion OPT benefit by applying to USCIS for a renewal of the pre-completion OPT benefit. You will remain eligible for pre-completion OPT up until you complete your academic program. You will need to submit a new pre-completion OPT application to USCIS for each period of pre-completion OPT you request. For example, if you would like to request full-time pre-completion OPT during the summer, and then would like part-time pre-completion OPT for the fall semester you will need to an I-20 recommending pre-completion OPT from ISSS by submitting two separate Pre-Completion OPT I-20 Request Forms to ISSS and then you would need to file two separate pre-completion OPT applications with USCIS.

Consult ISSS if you are considering a transfer of your SEVIS record to another institution. Pre-completion OPT work authorization is terminated when your SEVIS record is transferred to a new school.

Review your I-94 arrival record every time your re-enter the U.S. to ensure that your entry was recorded properly. Check your biographical information as well as your Class of Admission (F-1) and Admit until Date (D/S).   

Depending on the country you are traveling to and/or through, you may require a transit visa (to travel through an intermediary country on your way to your final destination) or a tourist visa to enter your final destination. Please consult the appropriate embassy or foreign consular office to determine if an additional visa is necessary. ISSS cannot give advice on visa procedures or application requirements for other countries.