H-1B Cap Filings for Current F-1 Students
April 16, 2021
Akshat Tewary, Esq.
Many students in the final year of university studies spend
a great deal of time in planning their post-graduate lives. For
some, this involves applying for admission at a post-graduate
program. For many others, securing a job is foremost on the
mind. Given that the typical
open job receives thirty six applications,  this
can be a stressful time for final-year students and recent
graduates. However, job-seekers who are U.S. Citizens or Legal
Permanent Residents should consider themselves lucky because
they do not have the additional headache of securing their
continued status in the United States. International students
in the United States in F-1 or some other nonimmigrant status
have the unenviable task of not only finding an employer in a
tough economy, but also finding one that will sponsor their
continued stay in the United States.
The typical path for a graduating student in F-1 status who
seeks to work in the United States is the following:
- Find an employer in a field relating to the student's
- If available, apply for post-completion Optional
Practical Training (OPT) for a period of 12 months
- Towards the end of the OPT period, again find a willing
sponsor/employer and either file a 24 month OPT STEM
extension or file for a change of status to that of H-1B
nonimmigrant under the annual H-1B quota.
Basic Information About Optional
An F-1 student is entitled to 12 months of work
authorization under Optional Practical Training per program
level (e.g. Bachelor's level, Master's level, etc.). This 12
months of eligibility can be utilized during the course of
studies ("pre-completion OPT") or after graduation
("post-completion OPT"). Pre-completion OPT is used less
frequently than post-completion OPT because the former only
allows a student to work up to 20 hours per week while school
is in session. In contrast, post-completion OPT allows for
full-time work during the 12 month period.
In order to maintain status, students in F-1/OPT must secure
and maintain employment in a field that is directly related to
their education. In the past, USCIS was inconsistent in
determining whether a particular student had violated F-1/ OPT
by virtue of being unemployed. Under regulatory changes
effective April 2008, F-1 students in post-completion OPT can
now accrue only up to 90 days of unemployment while still
maintaining status. A graduating student can
apply for OPT by first asking the Designated School Official
(DSO) to endorse the student's Form I-20 with an OPT notation,
and then filing a Form I-765 between 90 days prior and 60 days
after the program end date.
24 Month Extension of OPT for STEM Degree
STEM extensions allow students currently in post-completion
OPT to extend the OPT period for another 24 months, provided
the degree earned was in an enumerated specialty in science,
technology, engineering or mathematics.
Students who receive a 24 month STEM OPT extension are given an
additional 60 days of permissible unemployment, for a total of
150 days of allowable unemployment over the entire
post-completion OPT period. Further, all OPT students have
certain reporting obligations that require communication with
the school's DSO. Students applying for a STEM extension must apply within 60 days of the DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into the student's SEVIS record. Note: If you file your extension application on time and your OPT period expires while your OPT extension application is pending, USCIS will extend your OPT employment authorization for up to 180 days.
A particularly onerous requirement for STEM extensions is
that the student's sponsoring employer must register under the
USCIS's E-Verify system. E-Verify is an Internet-based system
that allows an employer, using information reported on an
employee's Form I-9, to determine the eligibility of that
employee to work in the United States. Currently, E-Verify is
only required for all employers in a handful of states as well as for all federal contractors. Once an employer
registers under E-Verify, it must use the system to confirm
work authorization for all employees going forward. Under the revamped 24 month STEM program, employers will also be required to attest to the training undertaken by the STEM OPT holder, by submitting a Form I-983 training plan to the school's DSO.
Basic Information About H-1B Cap
Filings for Students
The H-1B program allows an employer to temporarily employ a
foreign worker in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant basis in a
specialty occupation or as a fashion model of distinguished
merit and ability. A specialty occupation requires the
theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized
knowledge and a bachelor's degree or the equivalent in the
specific specialty (e.g., sciences, medicine and health care,
education, biotechnology, and business specialties, etc…).
Current laws limit the number of foreign workers who may be
issued a visa or otherwise be provided H-1B status to 85,000
per fiscal year. Sponsoring employers are required to file a
Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the Department of Labor
To hire a foreign worker on an H-1B visa, the job must be a
professional position that requires, at a minimum, a bachelor's
degree in the field of specialization. Likewise, the
beneficiary must possess the equivalent of the required
bachelor's degree, whether acquired via a single degree or by
virtue of a combination of education, training and
Each employer seeking an H-1B nonimmigrant has several
- The employer shall submit a completed LCA on Form ETA
9035E in the manner prescribed by the regulations. By
completing and signing the LCA, the employer agrees to
several attestations regarding an employer's
responsibilities, including the wages, working conditions,
and benefits to be provided to the nonimmigrant.
- The employer shall make the LCA and necessary supporting
documentation available for public examination at the
employer's principal place of business in the U.S. or the
place of employment within one working day after the date
on which the LCA is filed with ETA.
- The employer may then submit a copy of the approved LCA
to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with a
completed petition (USCIS Form I-129) requesting H-1B
- The employer shall not allow the nonimmigrant worker to
begin work until USCIS grants the worker authorization to
work in the U.S. for that employer.
- The employer shall maintain documentation to meet its
burden of proof with respect to the validity of the
statements made in its LCA and the accuracy of information
provided, in the event that such statement or information
is challenged. The employer shall also maintain such
documentation at its principal place of business in the
U.S. and shall make such documentation available to DOL for
inspection and copying upon request.
Filing Under the H-1B Quota
Approximately 65,000 H-1B visa numbers are
available each fiscal year. In addition to
this allocation, F-1 students may also avail of a specially
demarcated exemption of 20,000 visas per year, applicable to
those holding a U.S. Master's degree. There are also other
provisions for exemption from the H-1B numerical limitation as
well, such as for employees of nonprofit research
organizations. A new H-1B visa can be
utilized effective the start of the new federal fiscal year,
which starts on October 1.
USCIS conducts a pre-registration system in March of every year for H-1B cap hopefuls. The lottery is then conducted among registrants on March 31, followed by a 90 day period during which time lottery winners can file their full H-1B petitions. H-1B employment under the H-1B cap must begin on October 1 of the same year.
In the recent past, demand for H-1B visas has generally
outstripped supply. Barring a cataclysmic change in
the H-1B landscape, the H-1B quota for the next few years will continue to expire well before
the end of the fiscal year. Given the fact that the U.S.
economy has rebounded slightly, this year it is quite likely
that the H-1B quota would expire upon the opening of the filing period.
This has special significance for F-1 students in their final semester in U.S. Master's
degree programs. Under 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(b)(12), evidence must
establish eligibility as of the time of filing an H-1B
petition. Therefore, a student who will graduate from a U.S.
Master's program in May 2021 cannot file an H-1B cap petition
until after the graduation date, and therefore runs the risk of
possibly missing the H-1B cap for the year, depending on when the full H-1B cap petition is filed. USCIS has announced
a limited exception: a student may still be eligible for a
Master's exemption H-1B filing if that student has completed
all requirements for the degree as of the H-1B filing date. In
other words, if the student will graduate in May 2021 but has
otherwise satisfied all requirements for the degree (including
passage of any required dissertation/thesis) prior to the filing of the full H-1B petition,
then that student is eligible for an H-1B Master's filing.
Choosing Between Post-Completion OPT and an H-1B Cap Filing: Caught Between Scylla and
While many graduating students automatically opt for
post-completion OPT upon graduation, the choice between this
option and H-1B cap filing is not obvious, and the optimal
decision depends on a variety of factors. Both H-1B and OPT
require a nonimmigrant to be employed in order to protect
status. Thus, neither status is ideal. Loss of a job has a
doubly harmful effect on individuals in either status - both
income and status are put in jeopardy.
From the perspective of an employer, OPT is more preferable
than H-1B employment, as the former does not have any
prevailing wage requirement. In fact, the OPT regulations even
allow "voluntary" employment during the first 12 months of
post-completion OPT, as long as an adequate relationship
between employer and employee exists. Even so, employers who
employ OPT students in unpaid positions may risk running afoul
of their minimum wage obligations under the Fair Labor
Standards Act and its implementing regulations, depending on
Similarly, an H-1B employer can face stiff penalties for
"benching" or any other unauthorized deductions from an H-1B
employee's salary. Therefore, H-1B employment is often
preferable from the perspective of an employee, as it typically
involves greater assurances of compensation. Students in OPT
status are also subject to somewhat burdensome reporting
requirements that require them to stay in contact with their
school DSOs. These additional reporting requirements do not
exist for H-1B nonimmigrants.
Another factor to consider is the fact that H-1B employers
have certain notice and public access responsibilities that are
in addition to the normal requirements applicable to U.S.
citizen and Permanent Resident employees. Most companies in the
United States are unfamiliar with the H-1B regulations, and
typically an F-1 student seeking H-1B employment will need to
apprise the employer of its responsibilities under the law. By
contrast, OPT employers do not have the same kind of posting
and public access obligations. However, as noted above, an
employer of an F-1 student utilizing the 24-month STEM
extension provision does need to utilize E-Verify for all new
hires going forward.
Perhaps the most significant issue from the perspective of a
graduating student is that of nonimmigrant intent. Under USCIS
regulations, F-1 students must maintain nonimmigrant intent.
That is, they must have no intention of staying in the United
States permanently. Thus, a student on OPT could jeopardize continued status by
pursuing green card processing, whether through an employer or
on the basis of a family relationship. The H-1B visa
specifically allows for dual-intent, whereby an H-1B
nonimmigrant is permitted to pursue immigrant visa processing,
while still maintaining a present intention to stay in the
United States in H-1B status temporarily. Accordingly, an H-1B
cap filing is preferable for an F-1 student whose intention has
now changed such that he or she now wishes to stay in the
United States on a long term basis.
In sum, there are numerous advantages and disadvantages to
both OPT and H-1B employment for a graduating F-1 student, and such an individual will have to weigh these factors and the employer's preferences in arriving at a decision.
The "Cap Gap" Provision and for
H-1B Filers in F-1/OPT Status
The above analysis has assumed that the F-1 student is in
the final year of study, and has the choice between pursuing
post-completion OPT and filing an H-1B cap petition. For F-1
students who are already in post-completion OPT, and for whom a
STEM extension is either impossible or undesired, the choice is
typically simpler. While a particular student may qualify for
a number of other nonimmigrant or immigrants visa categories,
across the United States the most popular avenue for post-OPT
employment remains the H-1B visa.
The USCIS has promulgated the "cap-gap" provisions as a benefit
to F-1 students in OPT. An F-1 student applying under the H-1B cap may change his/her status to H-1B status effective no earlier than October 1.
Cap-gap is meant to address the specific
scenario where the student's F-1 or OPT period
expires after the H-1B cap filing date (i.e., some day in the 90 day period starting April 1, 2021) but before October 1, 2021.
The following cap-gap rules apply for F-1 students on OPT
applying for a Change of Status effective October 1, 2021.
These rules assume that a) the F-1 student's cap registration is picked in the March 31, 2021 lottery, b) the F-1 student then files an H-1B cap petition seeking a change of status effective October 1, 2021, and c) the F-1 student is in OPT status
that expires some time between the H-1B cap filing date and October 1, 2021
A. Where the Student will be on Post-completion OPT on
the H-1B cap filing date, and the OPT expires before October 1,
If the H-1B cap case is filed as a Change of Status from F-1
to H-1B effective October 1, 2021, OPT is extended under the following
- OPT is
extended as necessary until a maximum period of October 1,
2021. If the case is ultimately denied,
and at the time of denial the student has some remaining
time in the regular post-completion OPT period (as per the
EAD card), the student would have that much remaining time
in F-1/OPT status (as if the H-1B had never been filed). If
the case is ultimately denied, and at the
time of denial the student has no remaining time in the
regular post-completion OPT period (as per the EAD card),
the student’s 60 day grace period begins from the date of
denial(, unless the H-1B denial identified a lapse in F-1 status). There is no work authorization during a 60 day
grace period. If the case is approved
before October 1, 2021, the OPT ends on September 30, 2021
and the H-1B begins on October 1, 2021. If the case is
selected and is approved after October 1, 2021, the H-1B
status (and post-October 1, 2021 work authorization) only
begins upon approval.
B. Where the Student will be on the 60 day “Grace
Period” on the H-1B cap filing date:
If the H-1B cap case is filed as a Change of Status from F-1
to H-1B effective October 1, 2021, F-1
status or authorized stay (but not work authorization) is
extended as necessary until the case is approved or denied. If
the case is ultimately denied, any cap-gap
extension of the 60 day period comes to an end. If the case
is approved before October 1, 2021,
authorized stay (but not work authorization) continues until
October 1, 2021, at which time H-1B status begins. If the case
is approved after October 1, 2021, H-1B
status begins on the date noted on the approval notice.
C. Where the Student will be on Post-completion OPT on
the H-1B cap filing date and the OPT expires after October 1, 2021:
The Cap-gap rule does not apply. The student continues on
OPT with a pending Change of Status effective October 1, 2021.
If the case is approved, the status would change to H-1B
effective the date noted on the approval notice.
Given the complexity of these rules and the various
contingencies involved, it is essential that students stay in
touch with the DSO, and also follow up with the employer to
ascertain the status of the H-1B filing. In particular, students who wish to travel should be aware of the special rules involved, which vary depending on factors such as whether a change of status has been filed, whether cap-gap applies, and whether the OPT student is employed as required. More information can be found at: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/opt_policy_guidance_042010.pdf.
 2017 Recruiting Data Shows Fewer Job Applicants, More Hires,
SHRM, Aug. 20, 2018, available at
 Extending Period of Optional Practical Training by 17 Months for F–1 Nonimmigrant Students With STEM
Degrees and Expanding Cap-Gap Relief for All F–1 Students With Pending H–1B Petitions, 73 Fed. Reg. 18,944, 18,950 (Apr. 8, 2008), available at  The full list of STEM-eligible
degrees can be found at the ICE.gov website. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, STEM Designated Degree Programs, (Jan. 2, 2009), at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm.
 The exact number varies slightly
year-to-year depending on the number of "H-1B1" petitions (applicable only
to citizens of Chile and Singapore) filed in the prior
 See INA §214(g)(5).
Last updated: April 16, 2021.
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