Individuals who are in the United States in F-1 (student) status should be aware of special rules that may apply if filing a petition for a change to H-1B status.
Under the immigration regulations, certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions are permitted to remain in the United States in F-1 status during the period of time when an F-1 student's status and work authorization would otherwise expire. Under these special rules, the student's F-1 status is extended and he or she can remain in the United States until the start date of the new, approved H-1B employment period. This special extension is called the "cap-gap" extension because it fills the "gap" between the normal end of F-1 status and the beginning of H-1B status. The gap often occurs because most students graduate or complete their post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) in May or June and H-1B visas, normally exhausted months earlier, are not available again until October 1.
To be eligible for the cap-gap extension, an F-1 student must have an H-1B petition filed on his or her behalf and that petition must be filed while the student's authorized F-1 admission is still in effect. In other words, the petition must be timely filed during the academic course of study, the authorized period of post-completion OPT, or during the 60-day grace period. In addition, the H-1B application must indicate a request for an October 1st start date (the first day of the upcoming fiscal year). Once a timely filed request to change status to H-1B on October 1 has been made, the automatic cap-gap extension begins and continues until the H-1B petition adjudication process has been completed.
If the student's H-1B petition is selected and approved, the student's extension will continue through September 30 (of that year). If, however, USCIS denies, rejects, or revokes the H-1B petition, the automatic cap-gap extension of status expires, and the student is granted (from the date of the notification of the denial, rejection, or revocation of the petition) the standard 60-day grace period before he or she is required to depart the United States. In some instances, however, where there has been a denial, the student is required to leave the United States immediately.
Other rules apply to F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees as well as instances where the F-1 student is terminated or laid off during the pendency of their H-1B petition.
The rules regarding work authorization and status for cap-gap foreign students are complicated and very specific. For example, an F-1 student who is already in his or her 60-day grace period when the H-1B petition is filed is unable to receive employment authorization even though F-1 status is automatically extended. Also, students whose status is governed by the cap-gap extension cannot re-enter the United States in F-1 status during this period if they elect to travel. Instead, they are required to apply for an H-1B visa at a consular post abroad prior to returning. And, the earliest they can re-enter the U.S. is ten days prior to the H-1B start date.
Students are strongly encouraged to stay in close communication with their petitioning employer during the cap-gap extension period for status updates on the petition processing, with their Designated School Official (DSO) to ensure their status is properly extended on their Form I-20, and with their immigration attorney.