H-1B Cap Travel FAQ for F-1 Students

Jan 23, 2024 | Human Resources Services, Immigration Updates

By Kimberley Best Robidoux

Q: When is the H-1B cap registration period?

A: It is expected to be the first two weeks of March 2024 but as of January 24, 2024 the specific dates have not yet been announced by USCIS.

Q: If I am maintaining F-1 status, can I travel while my H-1B cap registration is pending?
A: Typically, international travel does not affect the H-1B cap registration process and the H-1B cap registration does not affect international travel. However, you must make sure that you are permitted to travel pursuant to your current F-1 status and have the information and documentation necessary to reenter the U.S.

Q: If the H-1B registration is selected in the lottery and an H-1B petition is then filed with USCIS, can I travel abroad while my H-1B cap petition is pending with USCIS?
A:
That depends. 

  • If an individual in F-1 status has an H-1B cap petition that is pending with USCIS a “change of status,” they cannot travel abroad and reenter the U.S. without abandoning the change of status request. Once the H-1B petition has been approved as a “change of status,” the individual in F-1 status may travel abroad and reenter the U.S. prior to October 1st and their status will automatically change to H-1B status on October 1st. It is very important to note that the individual in F-1 status must have the appropriate documentation to reenter the U.S. pursuant to F-1 status; otherwise, they will likely need to remain abroad, apply for and be issued an H-1B visa stamp to then enter the U.S. no earlier than 10 days prior to October 1st or the beginning validity of the H-1B petition if it is after October 1st. 
  • If the H-1B petition is filed for “consular notification,” an individual in F-1 status may travel internationally and reenter the U.S. pursuant to F-1 status if the individual has been maintaining F-1 status in the U.S. and provides the appropriate documentation for reentry to the U.S.  In order to “activate” the H-1B status after approval of the H-1B petition by USCIS, the F-1 student will need to leave the U.S., apply for and obtain an H-1B visa stamp from a U.S. consular post abroad, and then return to the U.S. to be admitted pursuant to H-1B status.

Q: If I am in F-1 status with a valid OPT or STEM OPT extension, what documents should I carry if I travel internationally prior to October 1st after my H-1B petition has been approved? 

A: The F-1 student must have (1) passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended period of stay in the U.S.; valid F-1 visa stamp; valid Form I-20 endorsed by the ISO/DSO for travel; and valid EAD card. It is also recommended to have a letter from the employer confirming employment in the U.S.

Q:  If I am in F-1 status with a valid OPT or STEM OPT extension, can I apply for a new F-1 visa stamp if I travel abroad after my H-1B petition has been approved?

A: If an F-1 student travels abroad after the H-1B petition has been approved and has a valid OPT or STEM OPT extension, they may apply for a new F-1 visa if they will be returning to the U.S. prior to October 1st (effective date of H-1B petition).  Please note that visa issuance is always discretionary by the consular officer and visa processing times may take longer than expected, especially if an individual’s application is subject to administrative processing.  Thus, it is critical that whether or not to travel and apply for a new F-1 visa stamp after approval of the H-1B petition and prior to the effective date of the H-1B petition be discussed with the company and counsel.

Q: What if my current F-1 OPT or STEM OPT extension expires before my H-1B cap petition is approved?
A: Individuals in the U.S. pursuant to F-1 status with an OPT or STEM OPT extension could potentially have their EAD/work authorization extended beyond the expiration date if their registration is selected in the H-1B cap lottery. An individual must be in an authorized period of post-completion OPT or STEM OPT extension on the date that the H-1B sponsoring employer files the H-1B change of status petition with USCIS. Provided that the H-1B petition is timely filed, an individual may be granted “cap gap” work authorization valid until at least September 30th.

Q:  If I am in F-1 status with “cap gap”, can I apply for a new F-1 visa stamp if I travel abroad after my H-1B petition has been approved?

A: It is recommended that an F-1 student in this situation not travel abroad during “cap gap”. Any decision about travel in this situation should be discussed with the company representative and counsel.

Q: If I have F-1 “cap gap”, what documents should I carry if I travel internationally after my H-1B petition has been approved and prior to October 1st?
A: If an individual is an F-1 student on the cap gap extension and has an approved H-1B change of status petition, they must have (1) passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended period of stay in the U.S.; valid F-1 visa stamp; valid Form I-20 endorsed by the ISO/DSO for travel. It is also recommended to have the expired EAD card as well as a letter from the employer confirming employment in the U.S.

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