If you are in the US as an F1 student and working in either OPT or STEM OPT, it is critical for you to have the ability to drive to work or move around. Many of the OPT students, who have applied for an H1B Petition with USCIS and were picked in the H1B lottery, would be in a cap-gap situation. The OPT Cap Gap allows them to work until September 30th. During this time, some of them would be in a situation, where their driver’s license would be expiring, and they need to renew it.
It is a tricky situation and some DMVs are not aware of this and may not allow renewing the driver’s license. Many of our users have faced similar issues and shared their experiences. We will cover the overall process, and official guidance by ICE to renew Driver’s license during OPT Cap gap. Thanks to our reader rickgrey for sharing his experience, and info with the community. Really appreciate it!
Before we dive into the solution, let us look at the actual issue and why it is tricky.
What is the issue to renew a Driving License during OPT Cap Gap?
Most of the DMVs in the US issue Driver’s licenses for F1 students on OPT until the end of their OPT or STEM OPT. The tricky part is for students, who applied for H1B with a pending/ approved Change of Status (COS) petition with USCIS. They are considered to be in cap-gap period.
Basically, after their OPT period ends, their F1 status is tracked as cap-gap extension in the SEVIS system until Sept 30th. That cap gap status information is not fully reflected in the SAVE system that DMV uses to verify the status of the F1 student.
USCIS SAVE System, its importance to get a Driving License at DMV
Most of the DMVs across the nation use USCIS online system SAVE (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements). In general, when someone goes to DMV and applies for driver license or renewal of an existing license, the DMV officers check the status of individual using USCIS SAVE System and if the system does not give the status verification they want, they will not issue the driving license, even if you show physical copies of Cap Gap I-20. This varies by state, but most of the states would not issue driving license, just based on the documents you show, they need to verify the status details in SAVE system.
Now that we know what the issue is and the importance of SAVE, let’s dive in to look at the official guidance by ICE ( US Immigration and Customs Enforcement )
Guidance from ICE for Cap Gap Status for Driving License Renewal and SAVE Verification
ICE ( US Immigration and customs enforcement) recommends that the F1 student in OPT Cap Gap inform regarding the pending or approved H1B petition with USCIS to their School’s DSO(Designated School Official) and get the new cap-gap extension I-20. The New I20 generated with Cap Gap extension will have details on Page 3 that tells details regarding the Cap Gap extension status, employment authorization and the supporting regulation details in Comments section on I-20 related to Cap gap ( see below screenshot of page 3 of I-20). F1 students in cap gap need to show that I-20 and DMV will use that information on Page 3 for the proof of lawful status.
Check below screenshots of regulation from official DMV Factsheet by ICE .
Also, ICE gives guidance that the DMV should submit a document verification request to SAVE officer for manual verification. Below is the screenshot of guidance from the same DMV factsheet by ICE I mentioned above. Now, USCIS SAVE system is pretty much online and no need to use manual forms, the DMV will know how to file the SAVE request online. Ask their supervisor or you can even apply at SAVE Case Check USCIS
OPT cap-gap Extension Status printed on Page 3 of I-20 Generated by DSO after updating SEVIS System
How to renew driver’s license during OPT Cap Gap ? Process and Steps
The process and guide below is based on official guidance and experiences by our readers.
Step 1 : Gather Documents Related to F1 OPT Cap Gap:
You need to gather all the required documents to got to DMV office. Below are the various documents and print outs you would need. Once you have these ready, go to the DMV office.
Documents Checklist for Driver License Renewal in Cap Gap
- Valid Passport
- I-94 Arrival/ Departure Card/Form (Check, Print I-94 Online )
- Updated I-20 after cap gap given by DSO
- EAD Card related to your OPT or STEM OPT
- H1B Visa Receipt Notice or Approval Notice (if you have it)
- SSN Card
- (Optional) Your current employment proof like paystubs or employment letter.
OPT Cap Gap Rules Documents from ICE, USCIS for Driving License, Status
- Download the Official US ICE DMV Factsheet and print it out. Carry the entire printed document, the DMV office would use page 4 for SAVE system. It is the same screenshot that you saw above.
- Go to USCIS.gov Page on OPT and F1 Status, expand the section “Proof of Continuing Status” and then print out the page from USCIS.gov page. You will need this page for the SAVE system verification as well. See below screenshot
Step 2 : Visit DMV and Submit Documents – SAVE Verification:
At DMV, it is up to you how you handle it. Either you can proactively explain your situation that you are in cap gap or you can let them handle normal way and then you share the details as requested. In general, the officer or agent handling your Driving License renewal will ask for your valid documents to prove your lawful immigration status.
You should provide your Cap Gap I-20 and H1B Receipt/ Approval Notice copy. They either will check the SAVE system and say that they cannot verify the status or say, these are not sufficient. Then you need to show them the two documents that you printed out that show official cap gap rules for the status from ICE and USCIS.gov website. If the officer/ agent handling your case is not aware or never done it before, ask for their supervisor officer, they can help out. In any case, you need to ask them to submit for SAVE manual verification by uploading the below documents:
- Copy of Cap Gap I-20 Issued by your DSO
- H1B Receipt / Approval Notice ( as needed)
- ICE DMV Factsheet page that talks about the Cap Gap Status ( screenshot above )
- USCIS.gov Cap Gap OPT website page that has “Proof of Continuing Status”
You will get a SAVE Case number for tracking. You can ask them for the same. The SAVE team will review the request manually and update the verification status to the DMV. Get the phone number from DMV to check the status of your SAVE verification request.
Step 3 – Wait for DMV to update:
Usually the SAVE requests take about a week or so to be completed. Once your SAVE request is through and your status come as valid/pass , the DMV will very likely notify you. If you do not hear back, you should proactively follow up with them after a week to check, if the SAVE request is processed or not.
Step 4 – Visit DMV, Collect License :
Once your SAVE request is through, you need to visit DMV and collect your license. Depending on the DMV, your license maybe usually given until September 30th, you will need to again visit DMV on October 1st and get your Driving License renewed until the end of H1B ending date or in increments of one year depending on the policy of DMV.
Common FAQs on OPT Cap Gap Driving License Renewal :
Every state is different, and some DMVs may not be friendly or understand these rules. If the DMV is not friendly and not accepting your request or not helping you, you should visit another DMV in the state and try your luck. Also, if you are out of luck going to multiple DMVs, then you can consider going to Congressman and seeking help to give a letter or ask them to help out by showing all your documentation.
In general, most of the states DMV and other state agencies use SAVE program for verifying lawful status of an individual. You can verify, those agencies enrolled in SAVE program by using SAVE Search Tool and look up by state or zip code.
You can try the same process described above. If it does not work, you can ask DMV if they would accept the SAVE Verification document, if you do it on your own. If DMV says yes, you first email SAVE at firstname.lastname@example.org explaining your situation and then based on their response, submit Form G-845 from USCIS.gov, along with supporting documentation as requested by them. They will email you the verification letter in a week or so and you can take that verification letter and go back to DMV to get the Driving license. Couple of users used this process, when they were waiting for STEM OPT approval.
Yes, it is free for the OPT student or anyone using the benefit. The agency like DMV works with the SAVE division separately and pays them as needed.
Ideally, it everything goes well, you should get it done in two visits. Our reader rickgrey had to visit 6 times to DMV. You can check experience of visiting DMV for Driving License renewal in Cap Gap
If you are stuck somewhere, you should email SAVE.email@example.com for help.
What has been your experience with renewing Driving License in Cap Gap ? Share your thoughts, experiences in comments.