H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
Students commonly transition from Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, part of F-1 status, to H-1B status. H-1B is a work visa that is sponsored by an employer.
New H-1B visas become effective each October 1, but the application period for most employers begins six months earlier on April 1. The "cap gap" occurs when a student's F-1 status and/or OPT expire before their approved H-1B begins October 1.
Cap Gap Extension
The H-1B Cap Gap Extension allows certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status until the start date of their approved H-1B employment period, even if the OPT authorization and/or F-1 grace period would have otherwise expired before October 1.
Standard 12-months of Post-Completion OPT Example:
H-1B Cap Gap Eligibility
You are eligible for the cap gap extension if both:
- Your employer files an H-1B petition for you, on or after April 1st, and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1st.
- You are still within your OPT authorization period, or 60-day grace period following the OPT expiration, when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1).
If your OPT authorization is still valid when your employer submits your H-1B petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), your OPT authorization is extended. You can continue working in F-1 status through the extension date.
If your OPT authorization is expired but you are in your 60-day grace period when your employer submits your H-1B petition to USCIS, your F-1 status is extended. You cannot work but you can remain in the U.S. through the extension date.
Tip: If you have less than 12 months of post-completion OPT remaining after using pre-completion OPT prior to graduation, you will need to be sure that their post-completion OPT is still valid on April 1st. It is recommend counting backwards from April 1st to determine your OPT start date.
How to Apply for Cap Gap Extension I-20:
The cap gap extension of F-1 status is automatic. It begins when your employer submits the H-1B petition to USCIS.
To obtain documentation of your F-1 status extension, please complete the Cap Gap Online Application:
- Include your employment information/history as instructed at Reporting Requirements to ISSO
- State in your email how you would like to receive your new I-20. Please see our mailing options.
- Attach proof of your H-1B petition.
If your H-1B petition is:
- Filed: Upload a copy of the petition and FedEx, UPS, or USPS Express/certified mail receipt to the cap gap online application. (If your regular OPT authorization is valid through June 1st, do not request a new I-20 based on H-1B filing only. Wait for the receipt or approval notice.)
- Selected for receipting: Upload a copy of the I-797 Notice of Action (receipt notice) to the cap gap online application.
- Approved: submit a copy of your approval notice (I-797) to your ISS adviser.
An ISSO adviser will print a new I-20 for you that indicates the extension of your F-1 status and (if eligible) extension of your OPT employment authorization. Please allow 7-10 business days for processing. The extension benefit is automatic, so you can continue working (if eligible) and remain in the U.S. while waiting for the new I-20.
If eligible, an ISSO DSO will process your H-1B cap gap extension I-20 within 7-10 business days from when the request is submitted. The extension benefit is automatic, so you can continue working, if eligible, and remain in the U.S. while waiting for the new I-20.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I am NOT eligible for the Cap-Gap extension?
F-1 students who do not qualify for a cap-gap extension, and whose periods of authorized stay expire before October 1, are required to leave the United States, apply for an H-1B visa at a consular post abroad, and then seek readmission to the United States in H-1B status, for the dates reflected on the approved H-1B petition.
What is my opt extension date?
The length of your extension depends on your H-1B petition phase:
Filed: If your H-1B petition is filed, your OPT authorization is extended to June 1st. (If your regular OPT authorization is valid through June 1, do not request a new I-20 based on H-1B filing only. Wait for the receipt or approval notice.)
Selected for receipting: If your H-1B petition is selected for receipting, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30th. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to September 30th.
Approved: If your H-1B petition is approved, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30th. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to September 30th.
Can the cap gap extension of OPT be extended beyond September 30 if my H-1B petition is still pending?
No, the cap gap extension is only until September 30. If the H-1B petition is pending beyond October 1, you can remain in the U.S. based on the pending change of status petition. However, you must stop working until the H-1B petition is approved.
Can I travel outside the U.S. during a cap gap extension period and return in F-1 status?
ISSO recommend you consult your employer's immigration specialist before traveling internationally during the cap gap extension period.
A student granted a cap-gap extension who elects to travel outside the United States during the cap-gap extension period, will not be able to return in F-1 status. The student will need to apply for an H-1B visa at a consular post abroad prior to returning. As the H-1B petition is for an October 1 start date, the student should be prepared to adjust his or her travel plans, accordingly.
Is there a limitation on unemployment during the cap-gap period?
The 90-day, or 150-day for STEM OPT, limitation on unemployment during the post-completion OPT authorization continues during the cap-gap extension.
What do I do if I am eligible for Cap-Gap and Brandeis ISSO discovers that the SEVIS system has not been updated by USCIS to reflect my pending H-1B petition?
If the ISSO checks your SEVIS record and finds that cap-gap has not automatically been applied, then we will have to request a data fix from the SEVIS Help Desk. In these cases, we will have to submit a copy of your EAD card, your H-1B Receipt Notice or your H-1B Approval Notice.
What if my original OPT expires and my Cap-Gap Extension data fix is still pending with SEVIS Help Desk?
Your post-completion OPT is automatically extended, whether you apply for the cap-gap extension I-20 or not. Therefore, you are allowed to continue working with your employer while the cap-gap extension data fix is pending. Also, keep in mind that the 90-day unemployment rule remains in effect during your automatically extended work authorization. During this time you must continue to update the ISSO of any changes in your employment or address via our update address and employer form.
Where can I get more info on the cap-gap extension?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides thorough Cap Gap information.