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Food-based Electronics - Prof. Hanqing Jiang, left, and doctoral student Haokai Yang

Beyond OPT to H-1B and other visas

F-1 students may apply for authorization to engage in temporary employment for Optional Practical Training (OPT) that is directly related to their field of study upon graduation. Some students may also be eligible for the STEM-OPT extension, which is two more years besides the one-year OPT benefit. Many of these students may have long-term employment plans and wonder how they can extend their careers and how this impacts their immigration status, especially when their OPT and STEM-OPT ends. We hope that the resources below will help students plan their future career.

Please note that the ISSC does not provide any specific H-1B or other employment status advice, as the H-1B and other options may require sponsorship from an employer. The frequently asked questions are provided below for your reference only.


Beyond OPT workshops and programs

Learn about employment options beyond OPT, including H-1B and pathways to permanent residency, from a local attorney by attending one of these workshops.

Frequently asked questions about moving from OPT to H-1B and other visa types

The H-1B visa is a U.S. work visa that allows foreign nationals working in specialty occupation jobs to live in the U.S. and work lawfully for U.S. employers.

A specialty occupation is defined as one requiring “theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge and attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific area of work.” Most commonly, these areas of specialty include the sciences, computer programming, engineering, mathematics, physical science, social science, medicine and health, education, business, accounting, law, and the arts.

OPT is a benefit for F-1 students to pursue that allows them to work for one year (possibly longer if the students are eligible for additional 24 months STEM extension). H-1B is a separate nonimmigrant classification specifically for employment.

No. H-1B is a work visa sponsored by an employer. A student must find a job with an employer who will sponsor the H-1B.

The employer submits applications to the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to demonstrate that the employer, position and employee meet the criteria for H-1B status. If the employee is in the U.S., a change of status from F-1 to H-1B within the U.S. may be possible. If outside the U.S., the employee applies for an H-1B visa at a U.S. consulate and enters the U.S. in H-1B status.

There is a limit of 65,000 new H-1B visas granted each year, plus an additional 20,000 visas for those who have earned advanced degrees (i.e., MA, MS, PhD) in the U.S. USCIS rejects cap-subject applications received after the cap is met. In recent years, USCIS instituted a “lottery” system for accepting applications because more than 65,000 regular H-1Bs were received on the first possible day of filing. Timely filed cases that are not chosen through the lottery system are rejected.

Employers subject to the H-1B cap can submit applications up to six months prior to the next fiscal year. Because the U.S. government’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, applications can be submitted on April 1 for the upcoming fiscal year. H-1B status, including work authorization, becomes effective Oct. 1 of that year. Employers exempt from the cap can submit applications at any time and, for new H-1Bs, H-1B status becomes effective when the application is approved.

The F-1 cap gap is an automatic extension of F-1 status which allows students a period of time to either stay or work until their H-1B status starts. Additional information is available here.

The U.S. government provides this type of data. Select the OFLC Disclosure Data, H-1B Data subsection.

The H-1B cap-exempt employers refer to those who are not concerned with numerical limitations or competing against larger companies for new H-1Bs. The USCIS lists the H-1B cap-exempt employers as:

  1. Higher education institutions.
  2. Nonprofit organizations associated with a higher education institution.
  3. Nonprofit research or government organizations.

You may be eligible for other types of nonimmigrant status that allow you to work in the U.S. such as the treaty or trader investment classifications, TN status for Canadian or Mexican citizens, J-1 exchange visitor visa, E-3 status for Australian citizens, or O-1. We recommend you speak with an experienced attorney to find out the eligibility requirements for these immigration categories.

ISSC does not provide specific advice on H-1B issues. The ISSC faculty and scholar services only provide advice on H-1B or other visa category issues to prospective and current ASU employees. There are many different ways of interpreting immigration laws, and the best practice for you is to address any questions to your current or prospective employer. Seek an experienced immigration attorney when necessary.

ISSC does invite outside legal counsel periodically to provide beyond OPT information to ASU students. Please check your email for regular updates on ISSC events.

For more information about H-1Bs, go to USCIS. For specific information on the application process, review USCIS’s temporary worker page. USCIS also has a helpful guide on changing nonimmigrant classification.