International Student Services

H-1B Cap Gap Extension

What is 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.

See these U.S. government resources for more information.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the cap gap extension to September 30 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 the 60-day grace period, 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.

A petition asking for consular processing is not eligible for a cap gap extension.

Petitions submitted by cap-exempt employers are not eligible for the cap gap extensions.

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 a new I-20 as documentation of your Cap Gap extension, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure your employment information in SEVIS is up-to-date. Check the SEVP Portal, and if necessary, submit an OPT Reporting Form or a STEM OPT Reporting Form.
  2. Gather the required documentation to upload to the ISS Cap Gap I-20 Request webform. The required document will depend on the status of your H-1B petition.

If your H-1B petition is:

  • Pending: scan/photo of the USCIS I-797 Notice of Action (Receipt Notice)
  • Approved: scan/copy of the I-797 Notice of Action (Approval Notice)

Request a Cap Gap I-20

An advisor in ISS 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 within a few weeks.

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 from ISS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can my ISS adviser check my SEVIS record for H1-B application updates?

Only your employer can provide accurate, official updates regarding your H1-B application. ISS can provide a Cap-Gap I-20 after you have a receipt notice or approval notice from USCIS.

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 a separate application for the extension or receive a new EAD to cover the additional time. The extension is automatically in effect when USCIS receives the H-1B petition. 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 automatic notification of my cap gap extension from ISS?

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, submit a request to ISS for a Cap Gap I-20 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 prepare to depart the U.S.

Can I travel outside the U.S. during a cap gap extension period and return in F-1 status?

Consult your employer’s immigration specialist before traveling internationally during the cap gap extension period. ISS cannot advise about travel during the cap-gap 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. For students on STEM OPT, the 150-day unemployment limit continues during the cap gap extension period.

Can I apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension while I'm within a period of cap gap extension?

Yes, you can apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension during the cap gap extension of OPT. Many students apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension in case the H-1B is not approved. Note that on October 1, if approved, the H-1B status begins. If you change your mind and do not want to change to H-1B status, 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.