Extensions of OPT
“Cap Gap” Relief for OPT — H-1B Transitions
What Are the H-1B “Cap” and “Cap Gap”?
The number of people who can obtain the H-1B status is regulated by a numerical limit, or “cap”, each fiscal year.
NOTE: Institutions of higher education or their affiliated or related nonprofit entities, as well as nonprofit and government research organizations, are exempt from the H-1B cap. They can file H-1B petitions any time of the year and are not subject to the numerical limit. Cap-exempt employers may plan in advance to avoid any gap between OPT and the H-1B status begin date. Since they are exempt from the cap, the information below does not apply.
If a person's H-1B is subject to the cap, and if that person's OPT expires before September 30, the time in between the EAD expiration and October 1 is called the “cap gap.”
What Are “Cap Gap” Extensions and Who is Eligible?
If you meet all of the following eligibility criteria, you may be entitled to an extension of F-1 status and employment eligibility to cover the “cap gap” period:
The cap-gap extension of status and work authorization ends on October 1, when the H-1B status begins. The automatic extension of status also applies to your F-2 dependents.
NOTE: If conditions 1-4 above are true but the H-1B petition was filed in the 60-day grace period following the end of your OPT, you are not eligible for the “cap gap” extension of employment eligibility. You may still be eligible to remain in the United States until October 1 if the H-1B petition is approved. Consult the immigration attorney for your employer for information about this scenario.
Additional information can be found at FY 2012 H-1B Cap Resource Page, Extension of Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 Status for Eligible Students under the H-1B Cap-Gap Regulations Questions and Answers, and H-1B Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Cap Season.
When and How Should I Request a “Cap Gap I-20 Reprint”?
If you meet eligibility criteria 1-5 above, the cap gap extension of F-1 status and employment eligibility is automatic.
After the H-1B Receipt Notice comes and before your EAD expires, you are encouraged to request an I-20 reprint showing the cap gap information.
Generally you should wait to request the Cap Gap I-20 Reprint until you have the H-1B Receipt Notice.
Before requesting the Cap Gap I-20 Reprint, please check your OPT Employer Record and update with any changes, as necessary.
To request your Cap Gap I-20 Reprint, proceed to the Cap Gap I-20 Reprint Request Form.
How Long Will It Take to Get a “Cap Gap I-20 Reprint”?
Remember, the International Center is simply reprinting the I-20 for you. If USCIS and SEVIS have made the proper updates, processing time is the same as for any other reprint (5-10 business days).
NOTE: Unfortunately, sometimes USCIS and/or SEVIS fail to make the proper updates to a student's SEVIS record. In this case, it may become necessary for an International Student/Scholar Advisor (ISSA) to intervene on your behalf by filing a “data fix” ticket with SEVIS Help Desk. The Help Desk must process the data fix before the International Center can produce your Cap Gap I-20 Reprint; their processing time can range from weeks to months. If a data fix is necessary, the ISSA who receives your reprint request will inform you and maintain communication with you.
Reporting Requirements During Cap-Gap Extension Period
Students who remain in the U.S. under the “Cap Gap” regulation remain in F-1 status and must continue to report:
What if the H-1B Petition is Denied?
If your H-1B petition is denied, the “cap gap” extension of employment eligibility will immediately terminate.
Can I Travel Internationally During the “Cap Gap” Period?
After an H-1B petition with Change of Status is filed, consult your employer's immigration attorney about all international travel, whether or not your EAD is expired.
Special 17-month STEM Extension
Definition of STEM OPT
Practical work experience in your field of study, typically after completion of a degree for a maximum of 29 months (12 months of “regular” OPT with a 17-month extension possible).
Eligibility Criteria for the 17-month OPT extension
Please Note: All four of the above criteria must be met in order for a student to be eligible for the 17-month OPT extension.
List of degrees in STEM fields
If a student earned a degree in a field that appears on the U.S. government's official list of STEM fields, he/she may be eligible for the 17-month OPT extension. In order to verify that your degree is on this list, look at the code listed under “Primary Major” on your Page 3 of your I-20 form, and then look for that code in the CIP code column of the Department of Homeland Security STEM Designated Degree Programs list.
E-Verify is a database system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly-hired employees. E-Verify is currently voluntary in most states. For more information visit www.dhs.gov/e-verify.
Application time frame for the 17-month OPT extension
Students must apply for the special 17-month OPT extension prior to the expiration of the first 12 months of “regular” OPT. The application must be received by USCIS prior to the expiration date of the first OPT period in order to be properly (timely) filed. USCIS will not accept I-765 applications for STEM extensions any earlier than 120 days before the current EAD expiration date. Accordingly, International Center will process a STEM recommendation I-20 no more than four months and one week in advance of your current OPT end date.
While the application is pending
If the application for the 17-month OPT extension is successfully received prior to the expiration of the first OPT period, students may continue employment until the application is processed or until 180 days have passed, whichever is sooner.
Reporting requirements during the 17-month extension
Students approved for the 17-month OPT extension have additional reporting requirements in order to maintain their status and work authorization. Students must report to the IC within 10 days if there is any change of:
Students must make a validation report to the IC every six months to confirm name and address, employer name and address, and continuation of employment. The report is due within 10 days of the six-month reporting date. Use the STEM Extension Reporting Requirement web form to submit your validation report.
Types of Employment Allowed During an OPT STEM extension
A student authorized for a 17-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP.
For students who are on a STEM extension, this employment may include:
17-Month Extension Available Once
The special 17-month extension of OPT is only available to each student one time. A student who is approved for a 17-month OPT extension can never apply for it again. Please note that this rule is different from the application rules for the “standard” 12-month OPT, under which students could be approved for multiple OPT periods for each higher degree earned in the U.S. (i.e. bachelor's, then master's, then doctoral).
Starting and Ending Dates
The start date of the 17-month OPT extension will be automatically set to the day after the expiration of the current 12-month OPT authorization. The end date will be 17 months later. (It is not possible to request smaller increments of time for the OPT extension.)
Application Procedures for Students
Note for applicants who are employed by U of M: once your 17-month OPT STEM extension I-20 request is received and approved by an IC advisor, the advisor will send an e-mail to your U of M supervisor with the university E-Verify number information. You will need this number for your OPT extension application with USCIS. Please ask your supervisor for the E-Verify number after you receive your new I-20 from the IC.
USCIS will send you a notice for the receipt of your I-765 EAD (OPT) application (2-3 weeks). Once you have received your receipt notice, you can track the status of your individual case using the case status search feature of the USCIS web site. You may elect to receive email alerts about your case status from this web site.
We recommend that you send your OPT application via U.S. Postal Service (USPS). There are four USCIS Service Centers in the United States that process I-765 (OPT) applications. The address you use on the I-765 determines where you should send your application (see I-765 instructions).
During the 17-month OPT Extension
How to maintain your F-1 status
Information reporting requirements are more strict during the special 17-month OPT extension. Take special care to comply with these obligations. Failure to do so can jeopardize the validity of your OPT and your legal visa status in the U.S.
Ending Your OPT
Your F-1 status remains valid until 60 days after the expiration of your EAD card. During this 60-day grace period, you are no longer authorized to work, however you may legally stay in the U.S. If you depart the U.S. during the 60-day grace period, you are no longer eligible to re-enter under your previous F-1 visa status.
Last reviewed: 04/15