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

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

June 17, 2021: ISO has received a lot of inquiries about students filing F-1 OPT or F-1 STEM OPT applications online on the USCIS website. Students have started to use this option, but USCIS has not published any detailed guidance on filing online. Students who choose to file online should read all screens completely and thoroughly. USCIS has advised that filing online or filing a paper application by mail should take approximately the same processing time.
The ISO will be sure to post updates on filing online as soon as they are published by USCIS.

April 14, 2021: ISO advises that students continue to file OPT applications via PAPER and by MAIL to USCIS until clarifications can be received about how photos will be included for newly allowed online filing of Form I-765 applications for OPT and STEM OPT Extension. ISO will update students as soon as additional information is available.

January 8, 2021: USCIS announced an adjustment of filing location in Chicago for new filings of foreign student Form I-765 employment authorization applications (including F-1 OPT and F-1 STEM OPT). The new filing/mailing address is available on the instructions for the Form I-765 and the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765 on the USCIS website.
The USCIS Lockboxes in Texas and in Phoenix continue to process I-765 applications already received.

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 OPT 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. 

During the campus closure due to COVID-19, the ISO is making available our “F-1 Practical Training (OPT-CPT) Information Session” audio presentation (a copy of the PDF slides only available here) for students to review in place of attending an in-person session. No Sign Up is required as the presentation/slides are available for review at any time on the ISO Website. For students submitting a Form 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.

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

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

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 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.

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, 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 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 an email to pick up the Form from the ISO or to mail the document to you. You will need to include a photocopy of the new Form I-20, along with other documentation, in the OPT application submitted to USCIS.

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” OR Form G-1450 with credit card information (in the memo line of the check/money order, please write “Form I-765” and your SEVIS ID number.)
  • (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.

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.