STEM OPT-Application Process

When do I apply?

  • You may apply up to 90 days before your current EAD card expires. USCIS processing takes 3-4 months.
  • USCIS must receive your application before the end of your current period of OPT/your current EAD card expires. 
  • Once you receive your STEM OPT receipt notice, you may continue to work (for up to 180 days) after your first EAD card expires. 

How do I apply?

1. Submit your complete application to the IO

If you are not in the Evanston/Chicago area, please email your IO advisor.   If you are in Evanston/Chicago,please come to walk-in hours.  Processing time takes 10 business days.  

2. Pick up your materials from IO and prepare your application for USCIS
  • Pick up your new I-20 with your STEM OPT recommendation I-20s.  Not in Evanston/Chicago? Create an account in eShipGlobal and we will mail you your packet.
  • You will receive a packet containing two I-20: one to keep and one to send to USCIS with your STEM OPT application. Sign page 1 of each I-20.
  • Make a photocopy of your I-765.
3. Mail your application to USCIS
  • Mail your application to USCIS within 15 days (or else it will be rejected!)
  • Send your application to either the Phoenix or Dallas USCIS office, depending on your current U.S. state of residence.  Please check with your IO advisor to see where you should mail your application.  DO NOT E-FILE your application!
4. Wait...
  • After 2-3 weeks, you will receive a receipt notice in the mail.  You may track the progress of your application on the USCIS website. Please note that USCIS does not regularly update the steps and most students see their status as 'initial review' until it jumps to 'card production.'
  • After 3-4 months, your will receive your new STEM OPT EAD card.  Make a copy or take photos of both sides of your new EAD card.  Do not lose it!

Application materials checklist

The following items need to be reviewed by the IO. Items marked with an asterisk (*) also need to be submitted to USCIS:

  1. STEM OPT Extension Form (For IO only. DO NOT SEND TO USCIS.)
  2. Completed Training Plan Form I-983 (For IO only. DO NOT SEND TO USCIS.)
  3. *Completed Form I-765 (download from and print single sidedSample STEM OPT I-765
  4. *G-1145 Form-USCIS.GOV
  5. *Copy of I-20 issued for first period (12 months or less) of Optional Practical Training (or) a copy of I-20 from institution other than NU with STEM field.
  6. *Copy of I-20(s) from previous U.S. Institution
  7. *Copy of ANY I-20(s) with CPT Authorization
  8. *Copy of your Northwestern transcript (order yours here
  9. *Copy of Diploma
  10. *Copy of I-94 Record Retrieve most recent I-94
  11. *Copy of Passport Bio Page
  12. *Copy of F-1 visa stamp
  13. *Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 6 months
  14. *Personal Check, Money Order, or Cashier's Check made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (check USCIS for current fee)  Sample check
  15. *Copy of any previous EAD Cards (front and back)


After all documents are reviewed, you will receive a Extension OPT Recommended I-20 signed by your international student advisor. This new I-20 then needs to be submitted to the USCIS along with the above documents.

STEM OPT-Maintaining Status (unemployment, reporting & travel)