Cap-Gap OPT Extension

Are you on Post-Completion or STEM Extension OPT? Is your employer sponsoring you for H-1B status? "Cap-Gap" refers to the period of time between the expiration of your OPT and the October 1st start of an H-1B petition.

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You are eligible for an extension of both your F-1 status and OPT if:

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Before You Apply

The cap refers to the limit or quota on the number of individuals who can receive H-1B status at the beginning of the government's fiscal year — October 1st.  The cap is currently set at 65,000 recipients plus an additional 20,000 for those with US Master's degree or higher.

The gap is the period of time between the end of your F-1 OPT and the beginning of H-1B status. If you graduated in May, typically your 12 months of OPT will end sometime between mid-May and mid-July, leaving a gap in legal status and authorized employment through September 30th.

The Cap-Gap rule automatically extends F-1 status and, when applicable, extends OPT work authorization:

  • Cap-Gap until September 30th if you have your H-1B
    • I-797 receipt from USCIS or
    • I-797 Approval Notice

If eligible, you don’t apply for a new EAD and don't pay a new USCIS fee. Your employer can allow you to continue to work on the basis of the timely-filing of your H-1B petition while your OPT was valid. 

An updated “cap-gap” I-20 will reflect your extended OPT permission to work until September 30th if the H-1B petition has been receipted or approved.

“Cap-gap” work authorization is valid only through September 30th, even if you have an H-1B petition that remains pending on Oct. 1. If you continue to work without authorization, you risk  accruing unlawful presence.

The earliest a “cap subject” employer can file an H-1 petition on your behalf is 6 months in advance of the requested start date, which means April 1 for the following October 1.

For example:

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How to Get a Cap-Gap I-20

Steps to Get a Cap-Gap I-20
Step 1

Report your current employment if you haven’t yet done so.

Your employer's name and address will be printed on the cap gap I-20.

Step 2

Gather your documents


Log in to Compass with your UNI and password to submit your application

Please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

Step 4

We will contact you

Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. If your request is approved, we will email your new digital Cap-Gap I-20 for you to print with additional instructions. 

Step 5

Review, sign and date your I-20.

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Travel During Cap-Gap Extension Period

It will nullify the change of status and make you ineligible for the cap gap extension.

According to USCIS information on the Cap-Gap extension, generally, you may travel abroad and return to the US in F-1 status during a Cap-Gap period if:

Please be sure to consult with your employer and/or attorney regarding USCIS travel guidelines as it relates to your H1B application.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Your F-1 legal status to remain in the US may be extended, but unfortunately you won't have permission to continue working.

You and your employer will need your passport, EAD card, I-797 receipt notice for H-1B Petition or I-797 B approval notice, Cap Gap I-20, passport. They can refer to page 21 of the Employers’ I-9 Manual.

If your H-1B petition is not selected and approved, you will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date of the rejection notice to depart the US, transfer the I-20 to a new program, or apply for a change of status.

However, if a denial is based on a discovered status violation, there is no grace period and you have to leave the US immediately.

Yes. The 90-day limitation on unemployment during the initial post-completion 12-Month OPT authorization continues during the cap-gap extension, as does the additional 60-day limitation on unemployment under the STEM OPT extension guidelines.

Yes, but your STEM OPT Extension application must be received by USCIS before your cap-gap extension period expires.

Yes. Your F-2 dependent’s status is also extended.

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Want to learn more?

See what USCIS says about the Cap-Gap Extension.

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