Carnegie Mellon University
March 06, 2017

OPT and H-1B Update for Fiscal Year 2018

This message will address issues related to:

  • Reporting employment while on OPT
  • H-1B Update (start of filing season, suspension of premium processing)
  • Alternatives to the H-1B after the cap has been reached

1.  Students in F-1 status with Optional Practical Training (OPT) must report their employment because of regulations which limit unemployment to 90 days during the 12-month period of (post-completion) OPT and 150 cumulative days with the STEM OPT extension.  OIE will issue a new I-20 which will show the employer’s information.  The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is working on system upgrades which will allow it to terminate the records of students who do not comply with this reporting requirement so we urge everyone to remember their reporting obligation.  OIE has also seen instances where US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is looking for employment history before they will adjudicate applications (such as an H-1B petition, for example).

F-1 students using the 12-month OPT should use the OPT Reporting Portal.  You will not receive an email confirmation of your submission but you will receive notification that a new I-20 has been issued within 5 business days.

F-1 students using the STEM OPT extension should email OIE.

2.  The H-1B filing season for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 will begin on April 3, 2017.  USCIS is expected to reach the fiscal year cap the first week of April.

In anticipation of a large volume of applications, USCIS has announced that it will suspend premium processing of all H-1B petitions effective April 3, 2017. Suspension of this service may last as long as six months.  

Once the cap is reached, no more H-1B visas will be available for that fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2017-Sept. 30, 2018) for private sector jobs, unless the US Congress mandates some type of temporary relief or comprehensive immigration reform.

There are a number of bills in Congress proposing changes to H-1B regulations.  We do not know which, if any, of these proposals will be successful.  While there may be presidential executive orders that could impact H-1B status in the short-run, legislative changes would likely take longer to implement and would not likely impact processing of the FY2018 petitions.

These immigration issues are very stressful for many people, and we share the concerns that students have about the difficulties and uncertainties of this situation. OIE is committed to providing as much support and assistance to students as we can. Other offices on campus are equally committed to assisting students; students should use campus resources as needed, including Counseling and Psychological Services (for stress management and counseling), University Health Services (for stress or anxiety-related physical problems) and the Career and Professional Development Center (for career guidance).

For those of you who have job offers and your employers have filed or will be filing H-1B petitions on your behalf, maintain open communication with your employers.  Because premium processing will not be available, it will likely take several months to sort out which of the applications submitted for FY18 will be accepted and approved.

3.  Alternatives to the H-1B after the limit has been reached

We encourage people to think about alternatives to H-1B status.  Below are some options to consider and discuss with your employer and/or an immigration attorney, if appropriate.

Students should apply for and use all of the Optional Practical Training (for F-1 students) or Academic Training (for J-1 students) for which they are eligible. F-1 students who are in designated STEM fields and have employment with an E-Verify-participating employer may be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Additional options to consider:

  • Are you a citizen of Chile or Singapore? Check to see if H-1B1 visas (under Free Trade agreements) are available for you.
  • Are you citizen of Canada or Mexico?  Look for jobs that will qualify you for TN status.
  • Are you Australian? Consider E-3 status
  • Have you previously been in H-1B status with a cap-counted employer? If so, an employer may petition for a new H-1B for you as you have already been cap-counted.
  • Look for jobs with cap-exempt employers:
    1. an institution of higher education or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity;
    2. a nonprofit research organization; or
    3. a governmental research organization.
  • Look for jobs with international organizations or with your government (Embassy/Consulate) to obtain a G or A status.
  • Would you qualify for O-1 status? You may wish to consult with an attorney to determine your eligibility. 
  • Would you qualify for P status as an athlete, artist or performer?
  • Is your spouse in the US? You may be able to change to a dependent status which may or may not allow you to work (depending upon the dependent status) but will allow you to remain in the US with your spouse.
  • Are you interested in further study?  Now may be the time to continue your education with a new degree or level of study. F-1 students are eligible for a new 12 month period of OPT for each higher level of study. F-1 students can only have one 12 month period of OPT per level of study; however, so pursuing another degree at the same level will not qualify a student for additional OPT.
  • If you exhaust all options within the US, you may need to return home or search for jobs in other countries. You do not have to physically be present in the US for an employer to petition for an H-1B for you; you may decide to work outside the US for a year or two and return when an H-1B visa becomes available for you.