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

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

If you’re a student studying in the US on an F-1 visa and want to start working in the country, the following information should be helpful to you. At HiCounselor, we want to help smoothen the transition from student to professional, which is why we’ve created this useful search tool to help you find companies that sponsor H-1B visas. This tool not only gives you a list of companies but also recruiter names and their alma maters!


Some Things to Know

According to some USCIS statistics, F-1 students currently residing in the US have a greater chance of successfully procuring the cap-subject H-1B visas. Of course, you should ensure that you maintain your F-1 visa status and abide by all the rules while studying.


‘Optional Practical Training’ is the time period that allows an F-1 student to work in a field that’s directly related to their major field of study. To qualify, you should have completed or have pursued a degree and maintained status for nine consecutive months. Before starting work, the student must obtain an Employment Authorization Document. OPTs usually last for 12 months, unless you’re from a STEM field, which allows for 24 additional months.


An ‘H-1B Cap Gap’ is the time period of stay/work allowed by the USCIS and ICE to F-1 students whose student status/OPT/grace period expires after filing an H-1B change of status but before the start of the new fiscal year, i.e., October 1.


Find an Employer that Sponsors H-1B Visas

First things first, to start working in the US, you have got to find a job in the country. Luckily, there are many sites that list out companies that help with H-1B visas. HiCounselor also has a search tool that not only gives you names of companies and their locations, it also helps you narrow down your search according to your preferences and gives you additional details like recruiter names and colleges so you can connect more easily with them. 

File Your Petition Before OPT Expiration

Ask your employer to file your visa petition while your OPT is going on. This helps you benefit from the H-1B Cap Gap extension provision, basically allowing you to bridge the gap from the OPT expiration date till October 1. To qualify for the Cap Gap extension, you should be on an F-1 OPT or STEM OPT program or within the 60-day grace period waiting for a change of status. 

Avoid Traveling Abroad

While you’re waiting to change your status from F-1 student to H-1B worker, try to avoid any international travel. As long as the final decision is pending with the USCIS, it’s advisable to delay all travel plans as it can lead to abandoning your application. If there is some urgent reason for you to travel outside the country, you should first speak with an attorney and see the best way to go about things. 

Stay Within Allowed Days of Unemployment

To successfully get an H-1B visa you should comply with the federal limits of unemployment. According to federal law, an F-1 student shouldn’t exceed a number of days of unemployment. F-1 OPT students have a 90 day limit of unemployment while STEM OPT students have a 150 day limit of unemployment (which includes days accrued on post-completion OPT).

These unemployment days will keep accruing even when you’re on a Cap Gap extension if the H-1B visa petition was filed on OPT. There are also some STEM OPT rules you have to adhere to, so speak to your Designated School Official (DSO) to find out more about that. 

Don’t Delay Self-evaluations

If you’re a STEM OPT student, your DSO must receive your completed annual self-evaluation reports describing your progress. This document should be submitted to the DSO no later than 10 days after the end of the training period. The assessments should be submitted for the initial 12 months after the STEM OPT start date, and for the final recap of the training and knowledge acquired during the 24-month training period. 

Don’t take this step lightly as not submitting a self-evaluation is seen as a violation of the terms of Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT Students), which can work against your future non-immigrant status including your H-1B visa petition. Make sure your employer signs the report before you submit it to the DSO. 

Keep an Updated I-20 Certificate

If you need an updated I-20 Certificate of Eligibility to reflect your Cap Gap extension, get in touch with your DSO to help you out. Sometimes students have to get a new I-20 to obtain a driver’s license. Usually, the Cap Gap extension is automatically reflected in the SEVIS but there are some exceptions. If your I-20 hasn’t been updated, your DSO will be able to help you update your records.

We hope you find this information useful when transitioning from an F1 student to an H-1B worker visa! If you need help in finding a suitable job or want to learn how to handle interviews with more ease, get in touch with us at HiCounselor and talk to one of our helpful mentors. One of the best reasons to choose us as your career accelerator is that we only get paid once we’ve helped you get a job!