The Cap-Gap Extension 

Current regulations allow certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in F-1 status during the cap-gap period. This is referred to as filling the “cap-gap,” meaning the regulations provide a way of filling the “gap” between the end of F-1 status and the beginning of H-1B status that might otherwise occur if F-1 status is not extended for qualifying students.

How does Cap-Gap Occur?

“Cap-gap” occurs when an F-1 student’s status and work authorization expire during the current fiscal year before the student can start approved H-1B employment during the next fiscal year beginning on October 1. The cap-gap extension is a period in which an eligible F-1 student’s status is extended to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status. It starts when the student’s current period of F-1 status ends, regardless of whether the student is on OPT (a day after the grace period ends). If a student is pursuing post-completion OPT, the OPT is also automatically extended. This is the cap-gap OPT. In order to have the OPT extended during the cap-gap extension, the student must be in an approved period of OPT on the eligibility date. The eligibility date is the date a USCIS Service Center receives a properly filed H-1B petition. The cap-gap extension does not involve a filing fee.

Eligibility for Extension

H-1B petitions that are timely filed for an eligible F-1 student that request a change of status to H-1B on October 1 qualify for a cap-gap extension.

Timely filed means that the H-1B petition (indicating change of status rather than consular processing) was filed during the H-1B acceptance period which begins April 1 while the student’s authorized F-1 duration of status (D/S) admission was still in effect (including any period of time during the academic course of study, any authorized periods of post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), and the 60-day departure preparation period commonly known as the “grace period”).

Once the petitioner timely files a request to change status to H-1B on October 1, the automatic cap-gap extension will begin. If the student’s H-1B petition is selected and approved, the student’s extension of status will continue through September 30. The extension of status will automatically terminate if the student’s H-1B petition is denied, withdrawn, revoked, rejected, or is not selected, or if the change of status request is denied or withdrawn even if the H-1B petition is approved for consular processing. The student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date the extension of status terminated or their program end date, whichever is later, to depart the United States.

Students are strongly encouraged to stay in close communication with their petitioning employer during the cap-gap extension period for status updates on the H-1B petition processing.

Please note: F-1 students who have entered the 60-day grace period are not authorized to work even if student has recently completed Post-Completion/STEM Optional Practical Training.  If an H‑1B cap-subject petition is filed for a student who has entered the 60-day grace period, the student will receive the automatic extension of his or her F-1 status, but will not be authorized to work since the student was not authorized to work at the time H-1B petition was filed.

Proof of Continuing Status

The cap-gap extension of OPT is automatic for eligible students. The only proof of continued employment authorization currently available to an affected student is an updated Form I-20 showing an extension of OPT, issued to the student by the OIS. This document serves as proof of continued employment authorization.

If a student chooses to obtain an updated Form I-20, the student should  contact the OIS, with evidence of a timely-filed H-1B petition (indicating a request for change of status rather than for consular processing), such as a copy of the petition and a FedEx, UPS, or USPS Express/certified mail receipt. The OIS will issue an updated Form I-20, showing an extension until June 1.

If the H-1B petition is selected by USCIS, the student should again contact the OIS with a copy of the petitioning employer’s Form I-797, Notice of Action, indicating that the petition was filed and accepted. The Form I-797 must have a valid receipt number. The OIS will issue another updated Form I-20, showing an extension until October 1. In such situations, the student can continue to work while the update to his or her Form I-20 is being processed. Because the cap-gap extension is automatic, the updated Form I-20 is not required for a student to continue working; it merely serves as proof of the extension of OPT employment authorization.

Note: IF a student does not request a Cap-Gap I-20 before June 1st, or before October 1st, a Cap-Gap I-20 cannot be issued.