Many employers are concerned about liability related to the employment of international students in the U.S. due to complicated federal laws governing non-citizens. The following information addresses concerns that employers may have and serves to explain the means through which international students may work legally in the U.S.
Getting authorization for international students to work in the U.S. is not as difficult as many employers may think. Most international students in the U.S. are in a non-immigrant classification of F-1 or J-1. These classifications do permit employment under certain conditions.
For Students in F-1 status they are eligible for the following types of employment:
1. On-campus employment at the school that issued their Form I-20
2. Practical Training – both Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)
3. Employment Authorization granted for Economic Hardship
4. Employment with an International Organization as designated by the government
For Students in J-1 status they are eligible for the following types of employment:
1. On-campus employment at the school that issued their Form DS-2019, as long as they have special permission from the Responsible Officer
2. Academic Training
Students in F-1 status most commonly seek off-campus employment under Practical Training. Practical Training is authorization for a student in F-1 status to obtain employment in areas related to their academic field of study. In order to qualify for Practical Training, students must complete one academic year and be in F-1 status. Below are descriptions of the two types of Practical Training – CPT and OPT.
Curricular Practical Training, or CPT, is referred to by many different names. Whether you call it an internship, working off-campus, or a part-time job, it all refers to the same thing: CPT. Curricular Practical Training allows a student to work off-campus in a position related to their field of study. Employment under CPT must be considered “an integral part of an established curriculum.”
At Rollins College, Curricular Practical Training can be issued for:
1. An Academic Internship that is an integral part of the liberal arts curriculum. Academic Internships must earn college credit.
2. An Internship as required by a particular major or degree program.
3. An Internship that is approved by Career Services and is either for-credit or not-for-credit, but is directly related to a student’s field of study.
CPT is authorized by the school, not the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Authorization is recorded in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and is printed on the student’s Form I-20. The authorization on the Form I-20 will include the name and address of the company and the start and end dates of the authorization.
Optional Practical Training, or OPT, is employment authorization for work directly related to a student’s field of study, typically used following the completion of an academic degree or the earliest date a department can verify that a student has finished all coursework and any projects/thesis/dissertation for the degree.
Students, however, can use OPT in the following ways:
1. pre-completion of studies during the annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and eligible and intends to register for the next semester.
2. pre-completion of studies while school is in session, provided that the training does not exceed 20 hours per week.
3. post-completion of studies full-time after completion of all course requirements for degree (excluding thesis or the equivalent).
4. post-completion of studies full-time after completion of all courses for degree.
OPT must be applied for with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service based on a recommendation by the designated school official (DSO) at the school that issued the Form I-20. The maximum amount of time that a student can be authorized for OPT is 12 months. This can be a combination of pre-completion and post-completion OPT. If a student participates in CPT and accumulates 12 months of full-time CPT, the student will not be eligible for OPT.
The application process can take 3 weeks to 3 months, depending on the USCIS processing times. Students may NOT begin employment until they receive the authorization for OPT which will be granted in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) which will indicate the start and end date for the OPT authorization.
Fortunately, there is little paperwork for an employer who hires F-1 or J-1 status students. All paperwork is handled by the students, the school, and the USCIS. For CPT and Academic Training, the school will issue the authorization on the immigration form once the student is offered the position. The student will be able to begin work as soon as the Form I-20 with CPT is issued. For OPT, the student will actually apply for authorization through the USCIS oftentimes before they have even found employment.
Federal regulations require that employment terminate at the conclusion of the authorized CPT, OPT, or Academic Training. However, students who will continue to pursue their program of study, may request an extension of CPT if still eligible. If students who completed their programs of study and are participating in OPT wish to continue their employment in the U.S., they may apply for an H-1b temporary work visa.
The H-1b temporary work visa requires the sponsorship of an employer and must be for a professional level position, one that typically requires the minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Individuals may work in the U.S. for a maximum of six years with the H-1b visa. This visa is employer specific, but can be transferred to another employer through a petition made to the USCIS.
Students with an approval for H-1b status effective October 1 will be granted an extension of their OPT to bridge the time between when the OPT ends and the H-1b begins. Another possibility for extending OPT is called the STEM Extension. This is for students who completed a degree in one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) fields and is working for an e-verify registered employer. The STEM Extension can grant the student an additional 17 months of OPT authorization. This must be requested through an application to the USCIS.
How long can international students work in the U.S. with their student visa?F-1 students are eligible for Curricular Practical Training before completing their studies, as well as an additional 12 months of Optional Practical Training, either before or after completion of their studies. J-1 students are usually eligible to work up to 18 months or the length of the program, whichever is shorter.