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 H-1B Cap pre-registration window opens on March 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 H-1B start date , 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.
- Study in the States F-1 Cap Gap Extension
- U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) H-1B Cap Gap Regulations
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 in F-1 status when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1). F-1 status means you are:
- enrolled, or
- in your 60-day grace period, or
- within your OPT authorization period
Note: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 extension.
Extension of F-1 Status and/or Work Authorization:
If your OPT authorization is still valid when your employer submits your H-1B petition to USCIS, your OPT authorization is extended. You can continue working in F-1 status through the extension date.
If you are in your 60-day grace period (following either OPT completion or graduation without OPT) 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.
If you are enrolled in your final quarter (but not planning to apply for OPT) 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.
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 an optional new I-20 as documentation of your Cap Gap extension, follow these steps:
- Check yourSEVP Portal to ensure your employment information is accurate. If needed, submit an employment report through MyISSS
- Gather the required document to upload to the ISS Cap Gap I-20 Request webform.
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)
Log-in to your MyISSS profile and submit a Cap Gap I-20 Request
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.
After H-1B Approval
If your H-1B and change of status are approved, follow these steps:
Before October 1:
- Check that your SEVP portal information is correct. Changes cannot be made after October 1.
- If you are in your STEM OPT period, continue to follow the STEM OPT reporting requirements based on your EAD dates.
- Notify ISS of your status change: submit the ‘Immigration Status Update’ request through MyISSS
- If you are in your STEM OPT period, you must upload the Final Evaluation Page 5 of your I-983 Training Plan in the Immigration Status Update webform
After October 1:
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.
I am approved for an H-1B through consular notification, but my SEVIS record completed for change of status approved. What do I do?
It is a common mistake for USCIS to “complete” a student’s F-1 SEVIS record on October 1 even if the student will gain H-1B status through consular processing (not a change of status in the U.S.). ISS can contact the SEVIS tech team to request they fix your record.
Please upload a copy of your EAD and the I-797 Approval Notice that references consular notification to our secure webform.