Many F1 students choose to participate in OPT (optional practical training) before applying for H1B. Engaging in OPT after graduating gives F1 students an interim phase where they can gain experience in their field of study while having time to search for an H1B sponsoring employer. However, F1 students may also apply directly for H1B from F1 status as long as they have found an employer to sponsor their H1B visa.
Optional practical training is a visa program that allows F1 students to work in the US for a 12 period. Upon completion of undergraduate or graduate studies, F1 students may either return to their home country or participate in OPT, allowing them to gain practical experience in their major area of study.
Eligible F1 students who engage in pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT, or both, may:
- Gain practical experience in their major area of study.
- Start work after receiving EAD (Employment Authorization Document).
- Stay and work in the US for 12 months
- Apply for a 17 month OPT extension if they are STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degree holders.
- Convert to H1B visa status later.
F1 students can also apply for H1B visa after graduation or during OPT. H1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa program that allows US employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations, which are professions that require theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge along with a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.
H1B visa holders may:
- Work legally in the US for a period of 3 to 6 years.
- Gain practical and theoretical experience related to their field.
- Bring their spouse and children to the US on H4 visa.
- Travel in and out of US as long as valid H1B status is maintained.
- Apply for permanent residency in the US, also known as green card.
F1 to H1B Change of Status
The following steps outline the procedure of changing status from F1 to H1B work visa.
Step 1: Find H1B sponsoring employer.
Whether you are applying for H1B directly from F1 visa status or from OPT, you must obtain a job offer from an H1B sponsoring employer in order to apply for H1B visa. The employer must be in good standing in order to demonstrate to the USCIS that the employee will be paid 95% of the prevailing wage of the occupation and that H1B workers will not have adverse affects on the work conditions of US workers.
Step 2: Timely filing of H1B petition.
USCIS has certain limitations on the number of H1B visas issued every fiscal year. There is an H1B visa limit of 65,000 visas under the general category and an additional 20,000 visas for those with a master’s degree, doctoral degree, or higher. In order to successfully obtain an H1B visa for the following fiscal year, you must file your H1B petition on time.
Step 3: Have employer file your H1B petition.
After you receive an employment offer, your employer must file your H1B visa petition as ‘Change of Status’ on your behalf by the stated deadline. If your H1B visa petition is approved, you will be granted H1B status. You may start working on H1B visa status October 1 as instructed by USCIS.
Step 4: Check eligibility for cap-gap extension.
If you have filed an H1B visa petition and your case is pending you may be eligible for a cap-gap extension in which you are allowed to remain on F1 visa status where your work authorization and F1 status would otherwise expire until the H1B employment is approved.
For F1 students whose period of authorized stay expires before October 1 and do not qualify for a cap-gap extension must leave the US or they may lose their status. Upon leaving the US, students must apply for an H1B visa at a consulate abroad and enter the US on H1B status if the petition is approved.
F1 to H1B Application Process
The application process for F1 to H1B visa is the same as the regular H1B application process. Remember that only the H1B sponsoring employer may file your H1B petition. Your H1B petitioning employer must:
- File an LCA (Labor Condition Application) with the US department of Labor.
- Complete Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and Form I-129 H Classification Supplement
- Submit all required supporting documentation as required per individual case.
For more information about applying for H1B status, visit our H1B Visa Guide.