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F-1 STEM OPT Extension

The 24-month extension of Post-Completion OPT is for students who have completed a degree listed in the STEM Designated Degree Program List. Students who have completed a previous degree in a STEM designated program from a U.S. institution within the past ten years and have completed a new degree at Northwestern University are also eligible for STEM OPT Extension. 

To verify whether you qualify for the STEM OPT Extension, check the STEM Designated Degree Program List and verify your program name and the CIP code for your major found on page 1 of your I-20 under Program of Study. 

Eligibility Requirements for STEM OPT Extension

  1. Your program listed on your I-20 must be listed in the STEM Designated Degree Program List.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains a complete list of fields that fall within the regulatory definition of “STEM field” that qualifies certain degrees to fulfill the STEM OPT extension requirement. This list is known as the STEM Designated Degree Program list.  

    The  Northwestern Academic Programs and CIP Codesalso identifies programs with a STEM eligible CIP code. Please note this list is organized first by education level (Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate) and then by CIP Code, in numerical order within each education level. 

  2. You must currently be employed or have a job offer from an employer registered with E-Verify
  3. Your employer/supervisor must complete the Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. The form is to be completed jointly by the STEM OPT student and employer/supervisor.
  4. You must apply before your post-completion period of OPT expires, and your application must be sent to USCIS within 60 days of the date the STEM OPT Extension I-20 was issued and signed by the OISS Advisor. You may apply up to 90 days before your post-completion OPT expires. Please note that you may continue to work up to 180 days while your STEM OPT Extension application is pending with USCIS and you have your receipt notice.

Employer Requirements

Employers of F-1 students on STEM OPT Extensions, or who wish to support an employee preparing an application for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension, must meet the following requirements:

  1. Enrolled in E-Verify electronic eligibility verification system
  1. All employers of STEM OPT Extension students must complete and sign the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students, together with their STEM OPT student employee. For more details on the I-983 and employer responsibilities while they employ a student on their STEM OPT Extension, view this information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For details on the I-983 itself, view the overview and instructions linked below.

NOTE: Employers may use existing training programs as long as the existing training program or policy aligns with the goals of the STEM OPT student’s continued learning and all other regulatory requirements.

Northwestern University Hiring Departments

The following information will be helpful when completing the I-983 (NOTE: This information is specific to Northwestern University only)

  • NU FEIN: 362167817
  • Full Time Employees: 10,839
  • NAICS Code: 611310
  • E-Verify Number: 297964

Application Process

How do I begin a STEM OPT Extension Request?

Submit your STEM OPT Extension request on the OISS Portal.

The STEM OPT Extension Request will appear as an option in the OISS Portal ONLY if both of the following eligibility conditions are met:

  1. You have completed a degree listed in the STEM Designated Degree Program List
  2. It is 100 days or less from the end date of your Post-Completion OPT

You must submit your request at least 2 weeks before your post-completion OPT end date and you can submit this request as early as 100 days before your post-completion OPT end date. Remember, the request will appear 100 days prior to the end date of Post-Completion OPT as an option in the OISS portal to STEM majors only.

Your STEM OPT Extension request will be processed and your new I-20 with the STEM OPT Extension recommendation will be ready in 5 business days or less. 

You will receive an email notifying you when your new I-20 with the STEM OPT Extension recommendation is ready for you to access via the OISS Portal. 

You will then be able to print your updated I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation from your “Documents” section of the OISS Portal. This is the easiest and fastest way to receive your I-20.

Please be sure to:

  1. Review the top of page 2 of your I-20 to verify your STEM OPT recommendation information is correct.
  2. Sign both I-20s on the bottom of the first page in the “Student Attestation” section. One I-20 is for you to send to USCIS with your OPT application and the 2nd is for you to keep as your current I-20.

Online application for STEM OPT Extension

Follow these steps:

  1. Prepare STEM OPT Extension application materials: While waiting for your new I-20 with your OPT recommendation, prepare your STEM OPT Extension application documents and digital photo as explained in detail on the OISS resource Online I-765 Application for STEM OPT Extension.
  2. Receive and sign your updated I-20 with STEM OPT Extension Recommendation: You will receive an email notifying you when your updated I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation has been processed and is ready for you to access via the OISS Portal. You will then be able to print your updated I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation from your “Documents” section of the OISS Portal. You will need to sign in ink in the student attestation section of the document. 
  3. Review all your documents carefully before sending or submitting your STEM OPT Extension application: Check your major and degree level on page 1 of your I-20 and check your STEM OPT Extension recommendation on page 2 of your I-20. You are responsible for your STEM OPT Extension application and we recommend that you independently check dates, deadlines, and the I-765 instructions We recommend you photocopy and/or save an electronic copy of your FULL application.
  4. File your COMPLETE application with USCIS within 30 days of the date the OISS processed your STEM OPT Extension request. The STEM OPT Extension recommendation on the OPT I-20 is only valid for 30 days. OISS recommends you submit your complete STEM OPT application within 15 days of the date your advisor recommends you for STEM OPT Extension on the I-20.

The application MUST be received by USCIS within 30 days of OISS recommending STEM OPT Extension in your SEVIS record and issuing your STEM OPT Extension I-20 or STEM OPT will be denied.

If it has been more than 30 days since your STEM OPT Extension I-20 was issued and you have not sent or submitted your application, please submit a new STEM OPT Extension request at the OISS Portal and email your OISS advisor.

Frequently Asked Questions about STEM OPT and the application process

What are the requirements for the photos?

OISS strongly recommends students applying for STEM OPT use a professional visa/passport photo service (such as the photo department at Walgreens or CVS) to ensure the photo meets all requirements for the STEM OPT application. We are aware of numerous circumstances in which students initially received approval utilizing the online photo tool, and later had their OPT application rejected due to issues with the photo. The acceptance of your digital image or photo is at the discretion of USCIS.

The digital photo requirements for filing online are different from the paper photo requirements for filing a paper application by mail. See requirements below.

Digital photo requirements for filing your STEM OPT application ONLINE

You must prepare a digital passport-style photo taken within the last 30 days and the photo must follow the U.S. Department of State guidelines. Please review the following resources:

Photo Requirements

Photo Composition Template.

Be sure to check that your photo file has an acceptable name that follows USCIS's file name formatting outlined in the instructions and is saved as either a .jpeg / .jpg or .png file type. The online OPT application has a photo tool you can use to check your photo. 

How long will it take for my STEM OPT application to be approved?

Processing times vary greatly, but you should expect USCIS to take about 3 – 5 months  to approve your STEM OPT Extension application.

Can I work while my STEM OPT application is pending?

  • Your work authorization and F-1 status is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the STEM OPT Extension application is pending.
  • The 180 days counts from the end date of your initial Post-Completion OPT period.
  • Only applies if your STEM OPT Extension application was received by USCIS before the end date on your initial Post-Completion OPT period.
  • Your I-797C Receipt Notice serves as documentation of your pending STEM OPT Extension application.

What are CIP codes?

Classification of Instructions Programs (CIP) codes are published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NES).   Your CIP code determines whether your major has been designated as a STEM major eligible for the STEM OPT Extension. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM Designated Degree Program List is a complete list of fields of study that DHS considers to be science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields of study for purposes of the 24-month STEM optional practical training extension.

My department changed CIP codes. Can I apply for the STEM OPT Extension?

There is an administrative process that NU departments must go through to change the CIP code. Once the CIP code change has been approved, the NU registrar updates the CIP code based on the parameters of the approval. After the registrar updates the CIP code, the OISS will update the CIP codes in SEVIS. You may request a new I-20 with the updated CIP code. Please request a reprint for your I-20 via the OISS Portal. In the request, please choose Other from the drop down and explain that your CIP code changed in the area provided.

Once the CIP code has been updated, you may meet the CIP code requirements for STEM OPT Extension eligibility.

Does USCIS offer premium processing for STEM OPT applications?

Yes, USCIS now offers premium processing for both OPT and STEM OPT applications. The timeline for premium processing is 30 calendar days and requires you to file a Form I-907 in addition to the I-765 There is an additional fee of $1,685 for premium processing, which is in addition to the I-765 application fee. Read more about USCIS premium processing.

Can I apply for the OPT STEM Extension based on a prior degree?

If you otherwise qualify for the STEM OPT Extension and can fill-out the I-983 training plan with your current employer outlining how you are using your STEM coursework in your job, you can apply for the STEM OPT extension based on a previously earned degree as long as both degrees were received from currently accredited educational institutions.

You will need to contact your OISS Advisor to initiate a STEM OPT Extension request based on a prior degree. 

Can I apply for STEM OPT more than once?

If you complete another STEM-eligible degree at a higher academic level, you may apply for a second 24 month period of STEM OPT if you otherwise meet the STEM OPT Extension qualifications.

What is the H-1B Cap- Gap Extension?

A cap-gap extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F-1 student's status to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the U.S. during the "gap”. The cap-gap extension is available to students who, as of April 1st, were either on approved OPT or in their 60-day grace period and have a pending or approved change-of-status H-1B petition with USCIS that was filed in a timely manner.

To qualify for the "H-1B cap-gap extension" you must be in valid F-1 status, and you must be the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that meets all of the following:

  • Has been timely filed.
  • Requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year
  • Requests a change of status
The cap-gap extension appears on a student’s I-20. To request your I-20 reflecting the cap-gap extension, submit the Cap-Gap Extension request at the OISS Portal.

Cap-Gap extensions cannot be used if you will be in H-1B status in a non-profit or research educational institution.

For more information, please contact your OISS advisor.

When your EAD arrives

Upon receiving your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), check the following:

1. Verify Personal Information:

  • Ensure your name is spelled correctly and matches the name on your Form I-20.
  • Confirm the accuracy of your date of birth, country of birth, and sex.

2. Review Work Authorization Dates:

  • Check the start and end dates for which you are authorized to work.

3. Confirm the Correct Category:

  • For Post-Completion OPT, the category should be CO3B.
  • For STEM OPT Extension, the category should be CO3C.

4. If your EAD card contains incorrect information due a USCIS error:

  • You must return the original EAD card to USCIS to get it corrected. See Replacement EAD Card for instructions.
  • If you are not sure if the error was made by USCIS or if you have questions, please contact your OISS Advisor.


While on STEM OPT

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires schools to maintain certain information in SEVIS for all students currently on approved STEM OPT. As an F-1 student on STEM OPT, you continue to be under Northwestern University's sponsorship. As such, OISS continues to maintain your SEVIS record so you will remain in valid visa status.

Consult the While on STEM OPT resource for important information related to rules and reporting requirements, practical matters, ending STEM OPT, and much more.

Are the reporting requirements and rules for STEM OPT the same as 12 month OPT?

Compared to the 12-month OPT period, there are several additional requirements while on STEM OPT.  Details and instructions related to  these requirements are outlined on the While on STEM OPT section including:

Disclaimer Statement

The Northwestern University Office of International Student & Scholar Services (OISS) offers guidance on Optional Practical Training (OPT) and OPT STEM processes as a courtesy to NU students. We make every attempt to ensure that we provide you with the most up to date information available. However, any advice provided to you by our office does not constitute legal advice. You should always independently check all deadlines and all OPT and STEM OPT application documents for accuracy before mailing them or submitting them online to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The OPT application is a personal application for which you are responsible. The application preparation and USCIS case decision will vary depending on the facts at issue in your particular case.  While OISS exercises best efforts to provide you with the most current guidance, please be aware that USCIS may change its interpretation of applicable policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time.  OISS is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims liability for, any errors or omissions relating to your OPT application and any decisions made by USCIS.  For legal advice, students are encouraged to consult with a licensed and experienced immigration attorney at their own expense.