International students attending a US college or university may be interested in changing their F1 visa status directly to an H1B work visa. This is possible in many circumstances, assuming that the student has a qualified US company to sponsor the H1B petition.
All of the normal H1B visa rules will apply, including that the applicant’s degree is related to a highly skilled position offered by the US company sponsor. The real challenge in converting from an F1 to an H1B is the timing and maintaining legal immigration status.
Options for Changing F1 Status
The main issue that arises for direct F1 to H1B visa status change, is how to handle any gap in time between the completion of study and beginning of employment with the sponsor. This issue can be avoided by applying for OPT status, discussed in a related article, which is a great option for those in transition.
But those students who want to change directly to an H1B do have that alternative available, as long as they can locate a sponsoring company and position in time, as well as submit the H1B petition. Otherwise, they would have to leave the US, and then complete their job search and H1B visa petition from abroad through a US consulate.
What is a Student’s Status While Awaiting Approval of an H1B Visa Petition?
Any F1 student with a pending H1B visa petition can remain in their F1 status until their petition is approved and employment begins. This is known as “filling the gap”, or time period from the end of study to beginning of employment.
Students on an F1 visa normally will have a 60-day grace period after completing study to prepare for departure, but this will not be needed unless their petition is rejected or does not receive an H1B visa slot in the lottery. In that case, the 60-day grace period would start from the date the rejection notice is received, to give them time to leave the US.
How Long is the Gap Extension of Status?
The earliest that you can start employment is six months after you submit your H1B petition, so applications received in April by USCIS would be eligible for work October 1st.
If your petition is filed (but not yet receipted or approved) then your F1 status extension date is June 1st.
If the H1B petition is approved, then the extension of F1 status will run to September 30th. After that date, the F1 status extension may expire, and if the petition is not yet approved or employment has not yet begun, it may be necessary to leave the US and then return under the new H1B visa.
The Gap Extension is Only Available to Petition Subject to the Annual H1B Cap
If you are submitting a petition for cap-exempt position, then an extension of F1 status is not available. This is due to the fact that cap-exempt positions are not constrained by the H1B lottery calendar and process, and petitions can be filed at any time.
Given the multiple challenges of locating a sponsor, completing study and graduating, filing a timely petition and then navigating the lottery process; it would seem that the F1 to H1B direct route could be a difficult path for a recent graduate. The OPT status option begins to look attractive, or even taking a break and looking for a job from the home country.
If you have questions about the OPT status, H1B petitions or how to locate a sponsoring employer please comment below.
- June 15th, 2016