Immigration thoughts from an Immigration Lawyer.

Preparing for H1B: Timing of OPT and graduation

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If you are an international student, planning to graduate soon, and want to take the OPT -> H1B path, be careful about the timing of your graduation and your OPT start/end date. In short, plan your graduation date so that your OPT expires after April 1.

The general path for a new H1B applicant is: 1. Working for a company under OPT –> 2. The company really likes you, so they file an H1B application for you on April 1st –> 3. The application is approved and your status changes to H1B on October 1st.

What’s important to know is that the company can file an H1B application in April (and usually only in April), but your status does not change to H1B until October 1st of that year, even if your application is approved before that date. So, what this means is that if your OPT expires before October 1st, you will lose your F1 status, and your H1B status does not start until October 1st, so you won’t be able to work for the company until October 1st. However, there is a big exception for students whose OPT expires after the company files your H1B application. This is called “Cap-gap” extension. For example, if your company files your H1b on April 1st, and your OPT expires on April 2nd, you can extend your OPT and keep working for the company until September 30th, and from October 1st, your status will be changed to H1B (assuming your application is approved). This is why it is extremely important that your OPT expires after April 1st, when most employers will submit their H1B applications.

In order to have your OPT expire after April 1st, you need to plan your graduation date carefully, because you can chose your OPT start date no later than 60 days after your graduation. If you graduate too early, your OPT may expire before April 1st. For STEM students, you can have a total of 29 months OPT, so you should graduate after September 3rd. For non-STEM students, you can have a total of 12 months OPT, so you should graduate after February 1st. If you have done CPT and pre-graduation OPT, you may not have the full 29/12 months OPT after graduation, so calculate carefully to have your OPT expire after April 1st.

Because it is very important for most companies that you are able to work from the time they file your H1B (April 1st) to the day you start your H1B (October 1st), do not overlook the timing of OPT expiration when you plan for your graduation. Also, do not forget to talk to your International Student Adviser about your desired start/end date of OPT, since they have control over these dates on your I-20.


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