F-1 Visas / CPT / OPT / STEM OPT / Cap-Gap

Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port of entry and request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to enter the United States. Nonimmigrant visas ("NIVs") are issued to individuals who intend to remain in the United States temporarily. NIVs are designated by letters of the alphabet. The type of visa a foreign national is issued depends principally upon the nature of the foreign national's proposed activities in the United States, the duration of those activities, and in some instances, his or her nationality. It is often easiest to understand NIVs and their limitations, criteria, and characteristics by distinguishing them in terms of the principal activity authorized by the visa: (a) employment-based NIVs; (b) NIVs for students and exchange visitors; (c) NIVs for business visitors and tourists; and (d) other NIV categories including diplomats, international civil servants, and family relatives.

Temporary worker visas are for persons who want to enter the United States for employment lasting a fixed period of time and are not considered permanent or indefinite. Most of these visas requires the prospective employer to first file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("CIS"). An approved petition is required to apply for a work visa.

F-1 Students


The F-1 visa is available to foreign nationals while they temporarily pursue a full-time course of study at an approved educational institution in the United States. After completion of their first academic year, an F-1 visa student engage in three types of off-campus employment associated with their degree:

Curricular Practical Training ("CPT")


This is temporary employment authorization for practical training that is considered an integral part of the curriculum or academic program in the student's major field of study. Students receive course credit for CPT. "Practical Training" can include employment and internship experience (paid and unpaid). Students, authorized to work for CPT, are generally limited to 20 hours of work per week during the academic year. They may work full-time during summer and winter breaks and holidays.

Optional Practical Training ("OPT")

This is a temporary employment authorization that allows students enrolled full-time in an approved post-secondary institution to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to practical work experience off campus in a position that is directly related to the student's major field of study. Eligible OPT employment must be a minimum of 20 hours per week and is normally limited to a maximum of 12 months and must be completed within 14 months of completing the curricular program.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics ("STEM") OPT

Students granted OPT after completing a STEM degree from an accredited school may apply for a one-time 24-month extension if the student's employer is registered with the E-Verify program and satisfactorily completes the Form I-983, which includes the employer's attestation that (1) the F-1 student is paid a salary commensurate  with  similarly  situated  workers; (2) it has sufficient resources and trained personnel available to provide appropriate training in connection with the specified opportunity; (3) the student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker; and (4) the opportunity will help the student attain his or her training objectives (which includes submission of a formal mentoring and training plan to document students' academic learning through practical experience).

H-1B Cap Gap Extension for F-1 Students

Following OPT, an employer would need to apply timely for H-1B visa status in order to continue to employ the former student. The H-1B Cap Gap is the period of time between when the F-1 student status would end and the H-1B status would begin (October 1). Certain beneficiaries of cap subject H-1B petitions that are timely filed on behalf of an eligible F-1 student, which request a change of status to H-1B to start on October 1, qualify for Cap Gap Extension. Qualifying students will be able to legally live and work in the U.S. during the "gap" in time between when F-1 student status would end until the H-1B petition adjudication process has been completed. The Cap Gap extension ends on September 30, or earlier when an H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or revoked.

More detailed, case-specific advice is available from Matthews Immigration Group by scheduling a consultation.