When F-1 students finish their programs of study or post-completion practical training (OPT employment), they have a sixty-day grace period during which they can do the following:
- Apply and be accepted to a new academic program.
- Apply to change their status to another nonimmigrant classification, such as H-4.
- Make preparations to depart the United States by the end of the grace period.
The following is common situation an F-1 student might experience:
An F-1 student is on their last year of post-completion OPT. An employer files an H-1B petition on the student’s behalf in the annual H-1B lottery but the petition is not selected. The student’s post-completion OPT ends on August 20, which marks the start of the sixty-day grace period. During the sixty-day grace period, the student applies for a new academic program (i.e. transfers to another school) and is accepted into the program.
The sixty-day grace period ends in October but the new program does not begin until mid-January. Can the F-1 student remain in the United States during the time between the end of the sixty-day grace period and the start of their new academic program in mid-January? Yes! An F-1 student may remain in the United States and maintain their F-1 status if their new academic program begins within five months of their prior program or post-completion OPT ending.
In conclusion, an F-1 student should be aware of two very important time frames, the sixty-day grace period and the five month transfer window. Certain steps need to be taken during these periods to ensure compliance with immigration rules and regulations; failure to do so could result in adverse immigration consequences or make it necessary to travel outside of the United States.