Guidance for Certain Foreign Students Applying for H-1B Status

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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.

Amy M. Landwehr
Immigration Law Iowa
515.288.2500
www.davisbrownlaw.com

Published In: Education Updates, Immigration Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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