The "cap-gap" extension is for F-1 students who have been approved for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or the STEM Extension of post-completion OPT that is expiring before October 1 in a given year, but who have an offer of H-1B employment from a "cap-subject" US employer. If this applies to you, you may be eligible for a temporary extension of your OPT (or your grace period) until September 30, before the H-1B authorization goes into effect on October 1.
Eligibility for the Cap-Gap Extension
To qualify for the extension, you must meet the following requirements:
You are currently in F-1 status but your OPT or STEM Extension OPT, or the 60-day grace period after your OPT, expires after start of the H-1B filing period on April 1 of each year
You have have an offer of employment from an H-1B employer who is considered "cap-subject" (see below)*
Your H-1B employer files an H-1B petition for you with USCIS before your OPT or your 60-day grace period expires, requesting authorization to offer H-1B employment to you effective October 1
Your employer's H-1B petition to USCIS also requests a change of status for you from F-1 status to H-1B status effective October 1
Important: Employers sometimes file H-1B petitions requesting "consular processing," meaning that the employee is expected to depart the US and apply for a new H-1B visa at a US consulate, instead of doing an in-country change of status from F-1 to H-1B status. If your employer filed a "consular processing" H-1B petition for you, you are not eligible for the cap-gap extension, but should prepare to leave the US before the end of your 60-day grace period. Please consult with your employer regarding the difference between the "change of status" and "consular processing" options
*Cap-subject H-1B Employers, Defined: The H-1B visa is a temporary work visa for jobs that require specialized knowledge and skills. However, there is an annual limit or "cap" on the number of H-1B visas that the US government issues each year, starting on October 1. If you are granted a "cap-gap" extension, your OPT and/or your F-1 status will be extended from their expiration date until September 30, covering the "gap" until new H-1B visas are available on October 1.Note that most US employers are subject to the annual cap ("cap-subject") and the cap-gap extension only applies to F-1 students with offers of employment from "cap-subject" employers. However, there are some employers, primarily institutions of higher education (such as Tufts University) that are "cap-exempt" and can sponsor H-1B workers at any time of the year.
Cap-Gap Extension Process
To qualify for a cap-gap extension, several steps must happen
H-1B Electronic Registration: Your "cap-subject" H-1B employer must first submit your name to USCIS during the H-1B electronic registration period. This takes place typically during the month of March. Once USCIS receives all pre-registration requests, they will conduct a lottery. Those employer requests selected through the lottery process will be notified by March 31 that they may proceed with step 2, the H-1 petition filing. If your name is not selected through the electronic registration lottery, you will not qualify for a cap-gap extension.
H-1B Petition Filing: If your name is selected through the pre-registration lottery, your employer will have 90 days from April 1 to submit an I-129 petition to USCIS requesting authorization to offer H-1B employment to you. Your employer may not submit a petition for you only if your name was selected through the registration process.
USCIS Receipting: Once USCIS receives the I-129 petition, they will issue a receipt. If you are an F-1 student, your SEVIS record should be updated with your employer's H-1B petition information. Please contact the International Center to request a cap-gap extension I-20. If USCIS receipted the petition but the information is not in the SEVIS record, please contact the International Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may be asked to provide a copy of your OPT or STEM Extension EAD card and the USCIS receipt notice confirming that they received your employer's H-1B petition.
DIFFERENT CAP-GAP SCENARIOS
If your employer submits a petition to USCIS before your OPT expires, you should be eligible for an extension of your OPT authorization until September 30
If your employer submits a petition to USCIS after your OPT expires, but before your 60-day grace period expires, you are eligible for an extension of stay until September 30, but not an extension of your employment authorization (i.e., you may stay in the US but you are not permitted to work during the cap-gap extension period)
If your employer is not able to submit the H-1B petition to USCIS before your 60-day grace period expires, you are not eligible for any cap-gap extension (of your work authorization or of your permission to stay in the US, even without work authorization)
Contact the International Center at email@example.com. In most cases, your cap-gap extension information should already be in your SEVIS record, and the International Center can produce and send an updated I-20 to you. However, if your employer's H-1B information is not in your SEVIS record, we will need to receive a copy of your EAD card and the USCIS receipt notice confirming that USCIS received your employer's H-1B petition.
If your company's H-1B petition is rejected, you may be eligible to finish your remaining OPT (if your EAD card is still unexpired) or have a 60-day grace period from the date of rejection, unless the H-1B was denied based on finding of a status violation. Consult with your employer as options may depend on the reason for the rejection. Once you have information about your H-1B petition, consult with an advisor at the International Center.
Your cap-gap extension ends by September 30 even if USCIS has not reached a final decision on your employer's H-1B petition by October 1. Talk to your employer about your immigration options.
Yes, assuming that you meet the STEM Extension eligibility requirements. However, consult with your H-1B employer, especially if your STEM employer and cap-gap extension employer are not the same. Also, note that if you apply for the STEM Extension you should apply BEFORE the end of your post-completion OPT period, even if your OPT has already been extended by the cap-gap extension. This is because eligibility for the STEM Extension requires you to file for the extension before the expiration of your original period of post-completion OPT.
Please consult with an International Center advisor if you have a cap-gap extension but also want to apply for the STEM Extension, since coordinating multiple processes in your SEVIS record can create confusion with USCIS.