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How to Change Status From F-1 to H-1B

Learn the eligibility requirements and application process for changing from an F-1 student visa to an H-1B work visa

If you’re currently in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa, you may be thinking about next steps and how to continue your U.S. immigration journey after graduation.
 
Many F-1 students choose to stay in the U.S. and begin their careers, due to the wide range of employment opportunities available. One way to start your career in the U.S. is to change your status from F-1 to an H-1B work visa. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. In this guide, we’ll cover how to apply for a change of status, the cost and timeline of the H-1B visa, and more.

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Changing from F-1 to H-1B Process

Changing status from an F-1 student visa to an H-1B work visa involves a multi-step process. Although each applicant’s situation may look a bit different depending on their specific circumstances, here’s a general outline of the process:

  1. Find H-1B Sponsorship:

In order to change your status to an H-1B visa, you must receive a job offer from a U.S. employer. The employer must be willing to sponsor you for the H-1B visa, which involves costs and legal obligations on their part. The job should qualify as a specialty occupation, generally requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

  1. Labor Condition Application (LCA):

Your prospective employer will be required to file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor. The LCA specifies the job details, including job title, salary, location, and other conditions. The employer must agree to pay you the prevailing wage for your occupation and location.

  1. File Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker):

Once the LCA is certified by the Department of Labor, your employer can file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form includes information about your job, your qualifications, and the terms of your employment.


Cost

Changing status from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa comes with several government filing fees. The good news is that the majority of these expenses will be covered by the employer who is sponsoring you. Form I-129 has a filing fee of $460, which must be paid by all employers filing an H-1B petition. 

The additional fees paid by your employer can vary. The specific fees your employer will need to cover are contingent upon factors like the company’s size and how many foreign workers they currently employ.


Timeline

Processing times for changing from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa can vary depending on factors such as your employer, the service center reviewing your case, and the current case backlog at USCIS. You can check the current processing times for a change of status to an H-1B visa at specific USCIS service centers here.

Premium processing can also impact your processing time. Premium processing is an expedited processing option that many H-1B visa applicants opt for. Although it requires an additional fee, premium processing petitions are typically reviewed within 15 calendar days. You can check USCIS’ page on premium processing to check your eligibility and talk to your employer about whether it is the right option for your application.


Understanding Cap-Gap Extensions

In certain situations, your F-1 status might expire before your H-1B petition is approved. If this occurs, you have the option to apply for a cap-gap extension. A cap-gap extension in U.S. immigration refers to a provision that allows certain F-1 students who are in the process of transitioning to H-1B status to extend their F-1 status and work authorization. This extension bridges the gap between the expiration of their F-1 status and the anticipated start date of their H-1B employment. 

Here’s how the cap-gap extension works:

  • H-1B Petition Filed: If an F-1 student is selected in the H-1B visa lottery and their H-1B petition is filed before their F-1 status expires, they become eligible for a cap-gap extension.
  • Extension of F-1 Status: The cap-gap extension automatically extends the student’s F-1 status and, if applicable, their Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization. This allows the student to legally remain in the U.S. while their H-1B petition is pending.
  • Transition to H-1B Status: If the H-1B petition is approved, the student’s status changes from F-1 to H-1B, and they can begin working for the H-1B sponsoring employer.

It’s important to note that not all F-1 students are eligible for the cap-gap extension. To qualify, the H-1B petition must have been filed as a change of status (rather than consular processing), and the student must be in a period of authorized OPT or the 60-day grace period following the OPT expiration when the H-1B petition is filed.

The cap-gap extension is designed to provide a seamless transition for F-1 students who are transitioning to H-1B status without any gaps in their legal status or work authorization. It allows them to maintain lawful presence in the U.S. while waiting for their H-1B employment to begin.

What happens if my F-1 status expires while I’m waiting for my H-1B petition to be approved and I am not eligible for a cap-gap extension?

If you don’t meet the requirements for the cap-gap extension and your F-1 status expires before your H-1B visa is approved, you will need to leave the U.S. Subsequently, you can apply for an H-1B visa at the Embassy or consulate in your home country. Upon approval of your petition, you’ll be eligible to reenter the U.S. with H-1B status and begin working for your sponsoring employer.

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