F-1 Optional Practical Training during program (Pre-Completion OPT)

Students must not pursue any off-campus employment without proper authorization.

USCIS Announces Application Fee Increases Effective April 1, 2024
On January 31, 2024, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a Final Rule to adjust fees for certain immigration and naturalization benefit applications, effective April 1, 2024. This includes applications for F-1 Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, and STEM OPT Extension.
Please read the full announcement available on the ISO website.

USCIS Premium Processing Fees Increase Effective February 26, 2024
On December 28, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) announced a final rule that will increase the filing fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for Premium Processing for certain applications, using Form I-907 Request for Premium Processing, due to inflation. The final rule will become effective on applications postmarked, or received via online filing, on or after February 26, 2024.

The Final Rule can be viewed on the Federal Register website here.

For filing with an initial application, or for a pending application, Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization for F-1 Optional Practical Training or STEM Optional Practical Training Extension, the Premium Processing Fee increases from US$1,500 to US$1,685.

USCIS had made Premium Processing available to applications for F-1 Optional Practical Training or F-1 STEM Optional Practical Training Extension in March and April 2023.  This new update, effective February 26, 2024, was simply an increase of the Premium Processing Fees.

If after review of the ISO online resources, and USCIS guidance, you have any questions, please contact your ISO Advisor

Students may apply for Pre-Completion OPT by application to USCIS online (through the USCIS Online Account) OR by paper mail. Details on both procedures are provided below.

Delays in receiving Receipt notifications for applications filed with USCIS? Please consult the ISO Knowledge Base Guidance on Receipt Notification delays.

Authorization must be received before beginning any off-campus work, internship, or related employment activity. Pursuing off-campus employment activity without proper authorization could jeopardize the ability to complete your MIT academic program and obtain any future U.S. visas.

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is a benefit authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that extends the F-1 student status to allow you to work in the U.S.A. in order to gain practical training in your major field of study.

  • An employment offer is not required to apply for OPT.
  • OPT must be directly related to the student’s major field of study.

How to Sign-Up for an ISO F-1 Employment Information Session

In order to apply for OPT, all students must first attend an F-1 CPT/OPT Employment Information Session. If a student is applying for OPT and it has been more than one year since previously attending an Employment Information Session, it is recommended to attend a new session. 

The ISO will announce on our website, and through our ISO newsletter, the schedule of live sessions during the academic year.

Students interested in F-1 Curricular Practical Training will need to watch the CPT Canvas eCourse in order to apply for CPT authorization. Please see the details, and links to the e-Course, on the ISO Curricular Practical Training webpage.

For students submitting an I-20 Request for CPT or OPT applications in iMIT, on the eform “Attending the F-1 CPT/OPT Information Session” under the scheduled session date type the date you completed your review of all of the presentation slides; and under ISO Advisor who conducted your workshop please type “Online”

Eligibility Requirements

Students who have been in lawful, full-time student status for at least one full academic year (combination of Fall and Spring semester) are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT to use during or after completion of a degree program. Any period of OPT used before the completion of the program of study is subtracted from the 12-month total limit. Students may be authorized for up to 12 months of full-time OPT and become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when they change to a progressively higher education level (i.e., from Bachelors to Masters; from Masters to PhD). The 12-months of OPT limit applies to each educational level (Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degree programs).

  • Only students pursuing a degree are allowed to apply for OPT.
  • Special non-degree students are not eligible to apply for OPT.

Off-campus employment (including Optional Practical Training) must be directly related to your MIT degree field of study.

F-1 visa regulations require all authorized off-campus employment be “directly related to the student’s major area of study” and an integral part of the student’s established curriculum [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)], in addition to other criteria.

The U.S Department of Homeland Security reviews employment by international students with great scrutiny, and therefore all activity must be directly related to the student’s major field of study for the degree earned at MIT.

USDHS, on September 27, 2019, issued Policy Guidance re-affirming this requirement and their additional focus on this issue, including a new requirement that ISO Advisors review employment under CPT/OPT/STEM OPT Extension to confirm it meets these requirements. The ISO had seen additional scrutiny even before this Policy Guidance — with student visa applications at U.S. Embassies/Consulates, as well as applications for employment authorizations and Change of Status (including H-1B and Green Card) with USCIS, be delayed with questions about direct relationship to degree. Students must take great care to be sure the position being pursued under CPT, OPT, or STEM OPT requires their specific degree program and is an application of that degree (not just general concepts or one course taken during a degree program). The ISO addresses this requirement further in our Employment webpages, in our Employment Information Sessions, and in a specific article on this topic in the ISO Knowledge Base. Please feel free to contact your ISO Advisor if you have questions about an internship/training/employment being directly related to your degree field of study.

Applying for Full- or Part-Time Pre-Completion OPT

  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time only (maximum 20 hours/week), while school is in session, with permission of academic department
  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time (maximum 20 hours per week) or full-time (21 or more hours per week) during the annual school vacations (e.g. summer vacation, IAP), with permission of academic department.
  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time (maximum 20 hours/week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week), after completion of all course/subject requirements but before completion of required dissertation/thesis, with permission of academic department.

    [Regulatory requirements for employment hours per week referenced above available at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A)]

Application Deadlines

  • For Pre-Completion OPT, USCIS may receive the OPT application no earlier than 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year and no earlier than 90 days prior to the requested start date of OPT.
  • USCIS must receive the Pre-Completion OPT application within 30 days of the date the ISO issues your new Form I-20 with recommendation for Pre-Completion OPT.

USCIS processing times can take as long as 3-4 months. Please apply in a timely manner to ensure that you receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card on time. The EAD is the official work permit issued by USCIS that allows you to be hired and work in the U.S. during OPT. It is not possible to request an expedite of an OPT application from USCIS, so please plan your OPT start date accordingly and allow for at least 100 days to receive your EAD card from time of filing.

Important: Students are NOT permitted to begin employment until they receive the EAD and until the approved start date listed on the EAD.

How to Apply

All students who wish to apply for Pre-Completion OPT must attend an ISO F-1 CPT/OPT Employment Information Session. Attendance of this session is required to submit your OPT application.

Students may apply for Pre-Completion OPT by application to USCIS online (through the USCIS Online Account) OR by paper mail. Details on both procedures are provided below.

Students MUST be physically present inside the U.S. at the time the OPT application is received/receipted by USCIS; therefore, students can only mail/submit the application to USCIS while you are physically present in the U.S.

After you have attended an F-1 Employment Information Session, you may submit a request for your Form I-20 with OPT recommendation online at iMIT.mit.edu; choose “F-1 Practical Training”, then “Optional Practical Training”.

It will take the ISO up to 10 business days to prepare your new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, following receipt of your complete request in iMIT, after which you need to submit your application to the USCIS including a photocopy of the new Form I-20.

To request the Form I-20 for Pre-Completion OPT, please prepare the following documents:

  • Letter signed by an academic advisor on departmental letterhead (Upload to iMIT.mit.edu)
    The letter should certify that:
    (a) the student is in good academic standing;
    (b) the practical experience the student is seeking is directly related to his/her field of study;
    (c) the practical training is recommended;
    (d) the expected completion date of the degree program, and
    (e) if applicable, the student has completed all course/subject requirements except the dissertation/thesis
    (f) if applicable, the student has on-campus employment (including assistantship) that will continue during the period of authorized pre-completion OPT
  • Please make a decision about the OPT start date BEFORE you request the OPT Form I-20.

The ISO Advisor will issue a new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation on page 2 of the Form. When the new Form I-20 has been generated, you will receive the new document electronically (to your MIT.edu email address) for you to download, print, and sign to use as your new original document. You will need to include a photocopy of the new Form I-20, along with other required supporting documentation, in the OPT application submitted to USCIS.

Submitting the OPT Application to USCIS Online

USCIS announced on April 12, 2021 that applications for F-1 Optional Practical Training and F-1 STEM Optional Practical Training Extension may be filed online with USCIS. Applicants will create a USCIS Online Account to access the ability to file the application online.

Students who choose to file online should read all online application screens completely and thoroughly. In addition, USCIS has advised that filing online or filing a paper application by mail should take approximately the same processing time.

REMINDER: Students who decide to submit their OPT application online should:
• Gather and collect ALL the required documents and materials as if they are filing their OPT application by mail to USCIS.
• This should be done in advance of submitting the application to USCIS online.
• Students MUST obtain their new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation from the ISO BEFORE going online to file their OPT application with USCIS.
• The online Form I-765 will require students to upload ALL required and supporting documents in the below ‘Checklist of Documents To Mail To USCIS’; students must also pay the application fee online as well.

As USCIS has not published or provided any detailed guidance or a step-by-step set of instructions, the ISO has provided the below resources for F-1 students to review. The ISO will continue to post updates and resources as soon as they are published by USCIS:
• ISO’s USCIS Online Form I-765 Filing Resource Guide: Overview of online filing basics. 
• Overview of myUSCIS for Applicants: Overview of USCIS online filing system (May 5, 2021).
• Updated Questions & Answers: CIS Ombudsman’s Webinar Series, USCIS Introduces Online Filing for Form I-765 (May 5, 2021).
• Engagement Readout: USCIS Introduces Online Filing for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, for F-1 Students Seeking Optional Practical Training (May 5, 2021).
USCIS Webinar Slides (PDF):  USCIS Online Filing for Form I-765 for F-1 OPT/STEM OPT Extension (April 2021).
• USCIS’ Online Filing and Customer Service Tools: Engagement Readout, PowerPoint presentation copy, and Q&A (March 31, 2021).
• USCIS’ Original Announcement: Regarding the Online Filing of Form I-765 for F-1 OPT and F-1 STEM OPT.
• USCIS General Online Filing Information: Overview of online filing.

Mailing the OPT Application to USCIS

Students MUST be physically present inside the U.S. at the time the OPT application is received/receipted by USCIS; therefore, students can only mail/submit the application to USCIS while you are physically present in the U.S.

Important: The OPT application must be received by the USCIS Processing Center within 29 days from the date the ISO Advisor issued/signed the new Form I-20 with recommendation for OPT.

Checklist of documents to be mailed to USCIS:

Please put together your application in the following order. Do not staple your documents. Be sure to keep a photocopy, or scanned copy, of all documents mailed to USCIS for your records.

  • Bank-Certified Check or Money Order for Form I-765 application fee (check USCIS Form I-765 webpage to confirm fee amount) made payable to “US Department of Homeland Security” (in the memo line of the check/money order, please write “Form I-765” and your SEVIS ID number), OR
    Form G-1450 with credit card information (Note: given recent student reports, may be advisable to notify your bank/credit card company of this upcoming charge so they do not have their system flag it as potential fraud).
    IMPORTANT NOTE: If filing application by mail to USCIS, it is strongly recommended that students use a bank-certified check, cashier’s check, or money order to pay the USCIS application fee rather than paying by credit card (given if there is a problem with the credit card payment student would not be notified for many weeks and would have to resubmit the application — but if after filing deadline the application would not be able to be resubmitted).
  • (Recommended) Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance. To receive a text message and/or email from USCIS when USCIS has received/receipted your Form I-765 OPT application.   
  • 2 passport photos (less than 30 days old). Write your name and SEVIS # number in pencil or felt pen lightly on the back and towards the bottom of each photo — so as to not damage the photos or have writing appear on the face of the photo. Paper clip photos on top of Form I-765.  Further information is available at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/photos.html)
  • Original Form I-765 with signature (https://www.uscis.gov/i-765) Use most recent edition, read all the I-765 Instructions, type your form instead of handwriting, sign in black ink. Be sure to click on this USCIS link to use MOST CURRENT Form I-765.
  • Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards), front and back, if applicable.
  • Copy of new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation (Pages 1 and 2; please remember to sign your I-20)
  • Copies of all previous Forms I-20 (in order from newest to earliest issuance date — Pages 1 and travel signature page – including forms issued by MIT and any previous institution) 
  • Copy of I-94 card (front and back) or electronic Form I-94 Form record (retrieve the I-94 number from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/)
  • Copy of identity pages in passport (pages with name, photo, date of birth, passport number, issue and expiration date — passport must be valid)
  • Copy of F-1 Visa (even if the visa is expired) – NOTE: Does not apply to Citizens of Canada, who are not issued an F-1 visa issued by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

Please mail your OPT application documents via express mail either via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) or via Private Courier Service (FedEx, DHL, UPS) to the proper USCIS mailing address indicated for OPT applications in the Form I-765 Instructions at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765.

Helpful Tips: 

  • Keep a copy of all documents submitted to USCIS for your records.  Also, keep a mailing return receipt of your package as evidence that you submitted the application in a timely manner.
  • The U.S. Postal Service cannot forward USCIS government mail using the USPS Mail Forwarding service. If you need to update the mailing address on the Form I-765 after you submit the application to USCIS, please contact your ISO Advisor for more information.
  • When filing a paper application by mail to USCIS, it is advised by USCIS that you do NOT do the following:
    • Hole punch, staple, paper clip, binder clip, or otherwise attach documents to one another.
    • Include photos or scanned documents smaller than 4×6 inches for evidentiary purposes. Provide photocopies of these items instead. The only exception is when we request a passport photo with the filing.
    • Include anything that contains electronic chips and batteries (such as musical greeting cards) or any non-paper materials such as cassette tapes, CD-ROMs, DVDs, toys, action figures, or thumb drives. We will not accept these types of materials. However, we will accept photographs or photocopies of these items.
    • Submit forms or evidence documents bound with a binding or spiral wire/plastic.
    • Submit evidence using photo albums, scrapbooks, binders, or greeting cards.
    • Fold documents. 
    • Place sticky notes on documents. 
    • Use insertable tab dividers. 
    • Print forms on colored paper. 
    • Submit more than one copy of the same document or evidence unless required by the form instructions or regulations. If you are required to submit a copy of a complete prior application, petition, or request, clearly mark it as a “COPY” at the top of each page to ensure it is processed as intended. 
    • Send original documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, naturalization certificates, except when:
      • Required by the form instructions for the application, petition, or request you are filing; or
      • We specifically issue a request for you to submit an original document.

Students must NOT begin their internship/experience until they receive the Approval of their OPT application, have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card in hand, and the “valid from” start date on the EAD card has arrived. Pursuing off-campus employment activity without proper authorization could jeopardize the ability to complete your MIT academic program, require departure from the U.S., and difficulty obtaining any future U.S. visas.

F-1 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I pursue both a Teaching/Research Assistantship and an off-campus internship under CPT or OPT authorization at the same time?

If during an academic term (Fall/Spring) you are pursuing a 20 hour per week research or teaching assistantship, or other on-campus position at MIT, and want to pursue an off-campus internship at the same time, students will require approval of their academic department to do so and meet all CPT eligibility requirements. Generally at MIT, an on-campus position for the maximum 20 hours per week during academic term plus an off-campus internship is not granted, given concerns of the availability of time to pursue both activities and impact on being able to effectively pursue studies and make proper progress towards completion of degree. Please see current MIT policy on the OGE website.

If the student’s academic department feel the additional off-campus internship is beneficial for the student’s academic program, support such activity, and the student meets all other eligibility requirements for CPT or OPT authorization, the visa regulations may allow such authorization. Please consult with your ISO Advisor for eligibility details.