F-1 student status must be obtained and managed through your University and the Designated School Official. The following is a summary of the issues you should be aware of when planning and monitoring your F-1 status.
CPT — Curricular Practical Training
Once authorized for CPT by the Designated School Official, students are able to work in an integrated vocational program for up to 12 months. Students who have received one year or more of full time CPT are ineligible for post completion training and OPT.
OPT — Optional Practical Training
Students may apply for OPT with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for training related to your area of study. Students are generally limited to a total of 12 months of OPT, and this must be completed within 14 months of completion of study.
STEM OPT Extensions
The period of OPT is extended from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program.
Cap Gap Provisions
A Cap Gap situation arises generally where a student’s OPT authorization expires prior to the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1st ) beyond the normal 60 day grace period, thus resulting in a gap of status between the OPT expiration and an H-1B start date of October 1st. This situation would prevent students from filing for a change of status from F-1 to H-1B in the U.S. Further, it would then require students to apply for an H-1B visa at a U.S. consulate abroad, to then be able to seek readmission to the U.S. in H-1B status.
The Cap Gap provisions automatically extend the student’s F-1 status and OPT authorization until the October 1 effective date for foreign nationals who timely filed for an H-1B petition. Thus, these provisions allow such students to change status in the U.S. from F-1 to H-1B without having to apply for an H-1B visa abroad and re-enter in H-1B status. A trip to a U.S. consulate would still be required for international travel as an H-1B.
Duration of Status
Students are considered in legal student status as long as they are pursuing a full course of study — 12 or more certified hours of undergraduate instruction or postgraduate study. During OPT, students who accrue more than 90 days of unemployment would fail to maintain status. With a STEM OPT extension, students are granted a total of 120 days for the entire 29 months. USCIS considers “employment” to be working at least 20 hours per week. Once students fail to maintain a full course of study or accrue more than the applicable days of unemployment, they will be out of status immediately.
Preparation for departure “Grace Period” — Non H1B situations
When students complete their course of study or practical training, they are permitted 60 days for preparation of departure or to transfer to a new program. We have found that the USCIS has often been generous in interpreting this grace period liberally to include change of status. However, if you withdraw from classes you are only permitted 15 days to depart the U.S.