About the “Cap Gap”
H-1B is a work visa that is sponsored by an employer. Students commonly transition from Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, part of F-1 status, to H-1B status. There are a limited number of H-1Bs available each fiscal year, for most employers, and this limit is often called the “H-1B cap.”
New H-1Bs become effective each October 1, but the application period for most employers begins six months earlier, 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.
The 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.
You are eligible for the cap gap extension if both:
- Your employer files an H-1B petition for you, on or after April 1, and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1.
- 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.
The length of your extension depends on your H-1B petition phase:
- Filed: If your H-1B petition is properly filed (but not yet receipted or approved), your OPT authorization is extended to June 1. 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 June 1.
- Selected for receipting: If your H-1B petition is selected for receipting, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30. 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 30.
- Approved: If your H-1B petition is approved, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30. 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 30.
How to Apply
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, email the following information to the International Student Liaison at email:
- Is your employment information up-to-date? Check with the International Student Liaison at WWU
- State in your email how you would like to receive your new I-20 (pick-up at ISS or mailed; if you prefer mail, include your mailing address).
- Attach proof of your H-1B petition.
If your H-1B petition is:
- Filed: submit a copy of the petition and FedEx, UPS, or USPS Express/certified mail receipt to the International Student Liaison. (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: submit a copy of the I-797 Notice of Action (receipt notice) to the International Student Liaison.
- Approved: submit a copy of your approval notice (I-797) to the International Student Liaison.
The International Student Liaison 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 ISS 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can the International Student Liaison adviser check my for H1-B application updates?
Only your employer can provide accurate, official updates regarding your H1-B application. If your initial OPT expires before October 1, please follow the instructions above (in the “How to Apply” section) to request an updated cap gap I-20 from the International Student Liaison.
If my OPT has been automatically extended through the cap gap extension program, do I need to get a new permission document to keep working?
No. A student does not file an application for the extension or receive a new EAD to cover the additional time. Students can request a new I-20 showing the cap-gap extension, but the updated Form I-20 is not required for a student to continue working.
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.
Will I receive personal notification of my cap gap extension?
No, you will not receive automatic notification. You must be in close communication with your employer’s immigration specialist so you know the status of your H-1B petition. When you are eligible for the cap gap extension, you must contact your the International Student Liaison if you want documentation of the extension (though it is not required).
What happens if my H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or revoked?
You will have a 60-day grace period from the date of the notification of the denial, rejection, or revocation, during which time you can make preparations to depart the U.S.
Can I travel outside the U.S. during a cap gap extension period and return in F-1 status?
We recommend you consult your employer’s immigration specialist before traveling internationally during the cap gap extension period.
Does the 90-day unemployment limit apply during the cap gap extension period?
Yes, the 90-day unemployment limit continues during the cap gap extension period.
Can I apply for the 24-month OPT extension while I’m within a period of cap gap extension?
Yes, you can apply for the 24-month OPT extension during the cap gap extension of OPT. However, you must ensure your employer requests the withdrawal of the approved or pending H-1B petition in time for USCIS to officially accept the withdrawal prior to October 1–otherwise, your H-1B will begin October 1, which cancels your eligibility for the 24-month OPT extension.