The Cap-Gap Extension: The cap-gap extension is a period in which an eligible F-1 student’s status is automatically extended to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status. If the student is in a period of authorized post-completion OPT on or after the date the student becomes eligible for the extension, the student’s post-completion OPT is also automatically extended.
The STEM Extension: F-1 students who completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and are currently engaged in post-completion OPT may apply for the STEM extension if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer.
F-1 students in the STEM fields are eligible for a one-time extension of 17 additional months, thus making their OPT total a maximum of 29 months.
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.
How is the cap-gap situation changed under the interim final rule?
F-1 students on post-completion OPT maintain valid F-1 status until the expiration of their OPT. Once that OPT has ended, they are authorized to remain in the United States for up to 60 days to prepare for departure. Under this rule, the F-1 status of students is automatically extended when the student is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition for the next fiscal year (with an October 1 employment start date) filed on his or her behalf during the period in which H-1B petitions are accepted for that fiscal year.
The automatic extension terminates when USCIS rejects, denies, or revokes the H-1B petition.
If the H-1B petition filed on behalf of the student is selected, the student may remain in the United States and, if on post-completion OPT, continue working until the October 1 start date indicated on the approved H-1B petition. The student may benefit from this provision only if he or she has not violated his or her status.
Effective April 8, 2008, as part of the interim final OPT rule, duration of status and any post-completion OPT work authorization will be automatically extended for an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. This applies to all qualified students on OPT, not just STEM students. Since the regulation states that cap-gap extensions are terminated if the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or revoked, DHS has created a graduated extension scheme, which will grant extensions of OPT and of F-1 status depending on the situation of the underlying H-1B petition. Your International Student Advisor is not responsible for initiating any actions in connection with the cap gap extensions, but if a student asks for an updated I-20 showing the extension dates, the International Student Advisor is responsible for printing the I-20.
Additional CAP Gap Guidance
The cap-gap extension of status and work authorization officially commences on the date the I-129 petition and fee are received by the Service Center, not the date that the receipt notice was issued.
If a student was not in authorized OPT on the eligibility date, he or she is not eligible for an extension of employment authorization. If the student was still in his or her 60-day grace period, the student is eligible for an extension of status, but not of work authorization. For a student who is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition filed by a cap exempt (higher education, etc.) employer, USCIS will likely not recognize that s/he is eligible for the extension of status and work authorization under the cap gap provision of this rule. The rationale is that a cap exempt employer can choose a start date that matches the end of authorized F-1 status or work authorization. USCIS and SEVP are consulting with counsel. The automatic extension terminates when USCIS rejects, denies, or revokes the H-1B petition. However, the student would have a grace period after the termination during which s/he is authorized to remain in the United States for up to 60 days to prepare for departure from the U.S., change degree level, transfer, change status, etc. as long as the student has not otherwise violated status. The limits on unemployment continue to apply to students with employment authorization while on a cap-gap extension.