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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 10 business days. 

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.

Application Checklist for STEM OPT Extension: Paper Application by Mail

Below are detailed instructions. Use the one page STEM Extension OPT Application Checklist as you collect your application materials,

  1. Copy of new I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation
    Submit the STEM OPT Extension request on the OISS Portal to receive your new STEM OPT recommendation I-20.
    • You must submit your completed Training Plan Form I-983 in the STEM OPT request on the OISS Portal and fill out every part of the request including the relevance of employment to coursework statement.
    • The I-983 training plan needs to be completed and signed by both you and your employer. Your OISS advisor must verify the information on your I-983 before recommending your STEM OPT Extension in SEVIS and issuing you a new I-20. IMPORTANT NOTE: If you change employers at any time during your OPT STEM Extension, you MUST complete and submit a new Form I-983 to your OISS Advisor and request a new I-20 within 10 days of starting any new employment.
    • The I-983 is submitted only with your STEM OPT Extension request at the OISS Portal to your OISS Advisor and does not need to be submitted to USCIS with your application materials.
  2. Completed Form I-765  (download from and print single sided). Type or print legibly in black ink to complete this form. See Sample STEM OPT I-765 for instructions on completion of this form.
  3. Completed Form G--1145 to receive e-mail or text message alerts about your application (optional)
  4. Copy of your Northwestern transcript (order yours here
  5. Copy of Northwestern Diploma
  6. Copy of I-94 Record 
  7. Copy of Passport biographical page
  8. Copy of F-1 visa stamp (Canadians do not have an F-1 visa stamp)
  9. Copy of current EAD card (front and back)
  10. Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 30 days. Your photos should be taken by a professional photographer and must meet Department of State requirements. Write your name and I-94 number on the back of your photos.
  11. Personal Check, Money Order, or Cashier's Check made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (check USCIS for current filing fee)  View a Sample check.

Mailing your Application

Once you have all your application materials you should then file to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox. Please check The USCIS Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765 page for the most up-to-date filing address. The Last Reviewed/Updated date of 09/03/2021, instructs filers to submit these applications to the USCIS Chicago Lockbox, at:

Chicago Lockbox

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS):
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Attn: 1-765 C03
P.O. Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680-5374

For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Attn: I-765 C03 (Box 805373)
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

As long as your application is received by USCIS before your current EAD expiration date, you will be allowed to remain in the US and continue employment for 180 days or until a decision is made on your application (whichever is sooner). Your employer may require that provide them with your STEM OPT receipt notice from USCIS to continue working.

Students have the option of receiving text message/e-mail notification from USCIS if they include the optional form G-1145:

Note:  Send your OPT application by a mail service with a tracking number, delivery confirmation, or return receipt. It is recommended that you make photocopies or scan your entire application for your records.

Before sending your application, please be sure to confirm the Lockbox mailing information for your application on The USCIS Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765 page.

Online application for STEM OPT Extension

In addition to the paper version of Form I-765, USCIS is now accepting online Form I-765 applications for Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the 24-month OPT STEM Extension. The online I-765 application is available ONLY for F-1 students applying for Post Completion OPT or the STEM Extension of OPT. The online I-765 cannot be used for any other type of employment authorization application.

See the following links for detailed information on the online application:

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. 

Paper photo requirements for filing your OPT paper application by mail:

You must submit two identical color passport-style photographs of yourself taken within 30 days of filing form I-765.

The photos must have:

  • A white or off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched.
  • The two identical passport-style photos must be 2 by 2 inches (passport size).
  • The photos must be in color with a full face, frontal view, on a white to off-white background.
  • Head height should measure 1 to 1 3/8 inches from the top of your hair to the bottom of your chin, and eye height is between 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches from the top of your eyes to the bottom of photo.
  • Your head must be bare unless you are wearing headwear as required by a religious denomination of which you are a member.
  • Using a pencil or felt pen, lightly print your full name and SEVIS number on the back of the photos.

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 $1,500 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.

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.