Travel for F-1s During Cap-Gap Extension

Now that USCIS has completed the H-1B lottery, many F-1 students who filed H-1B petitions and were accepted as part of the lottery are eligible for cap-gap extension coverage. The cap-gap provision automatically extends until October 1, F-1 status and employment authorization for F-1 students who have a pending or approved H-1B petition.

Many F-1 clients may be wondering if they can travel during the cap-gap period. Though USCIS guidance is fuzzy, it appears that F-1 students will lose cap-gap benefits if they travel internationally during the cap-gap period. This means that if an F-1 student travels outside the United States during the cap-gap extension period, he or she will not be able to return to the United States in valid F-1 status.

Confusion about the ability to travel stems from the April 23, 2010 ICE policy guidance 1004-03, “Update to Optional Practical Training,” This guidance explains that a student should not travel outside the United States during the cap-gap extension because USCIS considers an application to change status to be abandoned if the applicant leaves the country while the change of status is pending. However, the guidance does not address whether travel is permitted during the cap-gap period if the H-1B is approved.