Top 5 Tips for F-1 Students Changing to H-1B Work Visa

Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares his top 5 tips for making a smooth transition from F-1 student visa to H-1B worker visa.

Keep on watching to find out more!

Top Tips: How to Transition From F-1 Student to H-1B Worker

This post is dedicated to F-1 students who are graduating from U.S. universities and are ready to become part of the American workforce.

Many F-1 visa students are fortunate enough to secure a job in the United States and H-1B visa sponsorship from a U.S. employer. If that sounds like you, this video will help you navigate the process and explain how you can make a smooth transition from F-1 student to H-1B worker in a specialty occupation.

What does this process look like and how can you make the transition?

USCIS statistics have proven that many beneficiaries of cap-subject H-1B visa petitions are actually F-1 students currently inside the United States. One of the most important factors in making a smooth transition from F-1 student to H-1B worker is to ensure that you are properly maintaining your F-1 visa status while studying in the United States.

How to Properly Maintain Your F-1 Student Visa Status

What are the Top 5 Tips to make the transition?

Here are our top 5 tips to change to H-1B visa status from F-1 student visa.

Tip #1: File your H-1B petition BEFORE your OPT Expires

Make sure your employer/petitioner files your H-1B petition while you are still in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. Filing the H-1B petition BEFORE your OPT expires, will allow you to benefit from the “cap-gap” extension provision, which allows a student in the OPT program to bridge the “gap” from the time their OPT is set to expire through the beginning of the fiscal year typically October 1s t (the requested H-1B cap-subject start date).

As an example of how the cap-gap extension works, if your OPT expires on July 1st of the fiscal year, the cap-gap exception will bridge the gap from July through October (the H-1B start date), and you will be able to continue working as long as your H-1B petition was filed BEFORE your OPT expires. Once you have received a Receipt Notice from USCIS confirming the filing of your H-1B petition, you will be able to receive a “cap-gap” extension that will carry you all the way through to October 1st of the fiscal year.

To qualify for the cap-gap extension you must be either on an approved F-1 OPT or STEM OPT program or in the 60-day grace period and have a pending or approved change-of-status for an October 1st cap-subject H-1B petition with USCIS which was filed prior to the expiration of the OPT/STEM or 60-day grace period.

More About the Cap-Gap: A Cap-Gap extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F-1 student’s status to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 OPT or OPT STEM work authorization and start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the US during the “gap.”

Tip #2: Be Mindful of OPT Unemployment Limits and Avoid Falling Out of Status

Under federal law, F-1 students can fall out of status if they exceed certain days of unemployment under the STEM OPT program.

  • Post-completion OPT: 90-day limit of unemployment
  • STEM OPT: 150-day limit of unemployment, which includes any days accrued while on post-completion OPT.

This unemployment period continues to accrue even during the cap-gap extension, if the H-1B petition was filed while the student was on OPT. In addition to complying with the federal limits of unemployment for OPT, you must also be careful to comply with all STEM OPT reporting requirements by speaking with your Designated School Official (DSO) during the OPT period.

Your DSO is your point of contact and the first person you must speak to regarding questions of the legal requirements of your stay in the United States, maintaining status, and your unemployment limits. Your DSO can assist in answering your questions or direct you to the right person to guide you in your transfer.

TIP #3: Submit Your Annual Self-Evaluations on Time

Each STEM OPT student must ensure that they complete and submit to their DSO an annual self-evaluation describing the progress of the training experience.

The student must ensure that the DSO receives the assessment no later than 10 days following the conclusion of the training period. The student must submit the assessments for the stated periods:

  • Initial: 12 months after the STEM OPT start date, and a
  • Final assessment that recaps the training and knowledge acquired during the complete, 24-month training period.

SEVP Portal users will receive a reminder via email 30 days before their self-evaluation is due. A student must complete an assessment at the conclusion of the training opportunity; usually this is a final assessment due at 24 months, but possible any time during the period of authorized employment when employment ends. This final assessment must be submitted within 10 days following the conclusion of this training opportunity.

Not submitting a final evaluation would be a violation of the terms of the Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students,” and may jeopardize a student’s future nonimmigrant status including the pending H-1B petition.

Students and their employers must sign the student’s self-evaluation before the student submits it to their DSO, who will include it in the student’s record.

For more information about the annual self-evaluation, please visit the DHS Students and the Form I-983 page.

Tip #4: Avoid International Travel During Pending Change of Status

It is very important for applicants to avoid international travel after filing the change of status application with USCIS to change from F-1 student to H-1B worker. Applicants who travel outside of the United States, while their change of status application remains pending with USCIS (not yet approved) will risk abandoning their application altogether. Under no circumstances should you depart the United States with a pending change of status application. Applicants with life and death emergencies should first speak with legal counsel before considering departure from the U.S.

Tip #5: Make sure your I-20 Reflects the Cap-Gap Extension

Make sure you coordinate with your Designated School Official if you need an updated I-20 Certificate of Eligibility to reflect your cap-gap extension. Sometimes students will need a new I-20 for employment purposes to obtain a driver’s license. For assistance you should coordinate with your school’s DSO to obtain this information. Typically, the cap-gap extension should be automatically reflected in SEVIS, but this is not always the case. Make sure you check your I-20 to see if it has been automatically updated. If it is not, your DSO can help update the records to reflect a proper cap-gap extension.


We hope that these steps will help you on your immigration journey when transitioning from an F-1 student visa to an H-1B visa. Remember, it is crucial to maintain your status and fully understand the measures you must take to remain in compliance. When in doubt you should always consult with an experienced immigration attorney to clarify any of your concerns.

Questions? If you would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.

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