A Cap-Gap Extension is a regulatory provision that 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, 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, are either on approved OPT or in their 60-day grace period and have a pending or approved change-of-status H-1B petition for an October 1st start date with USCIS. This does not apply if your employer has filed for consular processing.
If approved for a change to H-1B status that cannot take effect until October 1, eligible students whose F 1 status ends between April 1 and September 30 become eligible for the Cap-Gap Extension providing the following:
- Extend duration of status (D/S), along with any F-2 dependents, to October 1, if the petition is filed before the end of their grace period.
- Extend work authorization for any approved, post-completion OPT or STEM extension OPT to October 1, if the petition is filed before the end of their approved OPT.
Eligibility for Cap-Gap Extension
As an F-1 student, you may be eligible for an extension of your F-1 status through September 30 if you meet the following requirements:
- Your employer filed an H-1B petition on or after April 1 with USCIS with an employment start date of October 1;
- You are maintaining your F-1 status on the date your potential employer files your H-1B petition;
- You are in an authorized period of post-completion OPT (including the STEM OPT extension) on the date your potential employer files your H-1B petition;
- USCIS receives the H-1B petition in a timely manner and issues a receipt for it.
If your registration is selected in the lottery, this does not mean that you are eligible for the Cap-Gap extension. Your sponsor should receive an I-797 notice of your selection, but they still need to file the H-1B petition in a timely manner in order for you to be eligible for the Cap-Gap extension.
The cap-gap extension of status and work authorization ends on October 1, when the H-1B status begins. The automatic extension of status also applies to your F-2 dependents.
Traveling on the Cap-Gap Extension
If an F-1 student travels abroad before USCIS approves their H-1B change of status (COS) petition, USCIS will deem the petition abandoned and the student’s F-1 status will expire per the program end date listed on their Form I-20. Meaning, if a student leaves the United States before USCIS approves their H-1B COS petition, that student will not be able to re-enter the United States as an F-1 student pursuant to the cap-gap extension provisions.
Students should consult your employer’s attorney about whether and when you may be eligible to re-enter the U.S. in H-1B status. Under certain circumstances, an F-1 student on the cap-gap extension may travel abroad and seek readmission to the United States. Specifically, you may travel abroad and seek readmission into the United States if you are an F-1 student on the cap-gap extension and meet the following criteria:
- Your H-1B petition and request for change of status has been approved by USCIS;
- You seek readmission before your H-1B employment begins (normally such employment begins at the start of the fiscal year, i.e., Oct. 1);
- You are otherwise admissible (e.g., you have all proper documentation including a valid, signed Form I-20 and an F-1 visa).
You will not need to provide an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This requirement does not apply because during the cap-gap period your EAD card will have already expired, and USCIS will not renew the EAD card during the interim period.
As with all other international arrivals at a U.S. port of entry, the final decision on whether to grant admission into the United States lies with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Visit our Getting to the United States page and CBP’s website for more information regarding the appropriate travel documents and supporting evidence required for entry into the United States.
How to Apply for Your Cap-Gap Extension I-20
If your H-1B petition has been filed by your employer and receipted by USCIS, you are eligible for an automatic Cap-Gap extension I-20 through September 30th, if your OPT employment (EAD document) expires between April 1 and September 30. To request this Cap-Gap extension I-20, submit the “H-1B Cap Gap Extension I-20 Request” in the International Services Portal. You will be asked to upload a copy of the I-797 Receipt or Approval notice from USCIS for the I-129 filing.
Frequently Asked Questions
The H-1B status is temporary employment authorization for a nonimmigrant who performs services in a specialty occupation. An employer may petition United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for H-1B status on behalf of an employee/prospective employee if the candidate holds “theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields.” USCIS is the government agency responsible for adjudicating H-1B petitions and granting H-1B status.
The H-1B cap is a numerical limit placed on the number of noncitizens authorized to work in the United States annually under H-1B status. Currently, USCIS grants 65,000 visas, with 20,000 additional visas for foreign professionals who graduate with a master’s degree or doctorate annually for the H1-B Cap.
Regulations prohibit employers from filing H-1B petitions until six months before the date of actual need for the employee. This means that once USCIS reaches the cap in one fiscal year, employers must wait until April 1, which is six months before the start of the next fiscal year, before filing H-1B petitions again.
Please note that Institutions of higher education or their affiliated or related nonprofit entities, as well as nonprofit and government research organizations, are exempt from the H-1B cap. They can file H-1B petitions any time of the year and are not subject to the numerical limit. Cap-exempt employers may plan in advance to avoid any gap between OPT and the H-1B status begin date. Since they are exempt from the cap, the information below does not apply.
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.
If your H-1B petition is denied, withdrawn, revoked or not selected, an F-1 student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date of the rejection notice or their program or OPT end date, whichever is later, to depart the United States. However, if the denial is because of a status violation, you will not be eligible for a grace period.