Information for Employers

Information for Employers about Hiring International Students

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

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

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.

 

Academic Training

Exchange students typically study in the U.S. in J-1 non-immigrant status.  In this status, they are eligible for Academic Training which is the J-1 version of “practical training.”  Academic Training is employment authorization that must be considered a part of their academic objectives.  It is approved by the Responsible Officer at the institution that sponsored their immigration status.   Academic Training cannot be issued for more than 18 months or the duration of their program, whichever is shorter.  Students must request Academic Training based on an offer of employment and BEFORE the end date of their program.

 

Minimal paper work for the employer

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.

 

Continuing Employment after the Practical / Academic Training Period

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. 

 

U.S. tax requirements

Unless exempted by a tax treaty, F-1 and J-1 students earning income are subject to applicable federal, state, and local income taxes.  Information on tax treaties may be found in the Internal Revenue Service Publications 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, and 901, U.S. Tax Treaties.

Generally, F-1 and J-1 students are exempt from Social Security and Medicare tax requirements.  However, if an F-1 or J-1 student is considered a “resident alien” for income tax purposes, Social Security and Medicare taxes should be withheld.  Chapter 1 of the Internal Revenue Service Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens explains how to determine the residency status of international students.

 

References

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 8 and Title 22 govern the regulations on F-1 and J-1 non-immigrant classification employment.  The citation numbers are:

F-1 students:  8CFR 214.2 (f)(9)&(10)
J-1 students: 22CFR 62.23 (f)

The CFR is available at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/index.html.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t it illegal to hire international students because they don’t have a green card?

No.  Federal regulations permit the employment of international students in F-1 or J-1 status within certain limits.  These classifications allow students to work in jobs related to their major field of study under the auspices of CPT, OPT, or Academic Training.

Even if it’s legal to hire international students, won’t it cost a lot of money and involve a lot of paperwork?

No.  The only cost to the employer hiring international students is the time and effort to interview and select the best candidate for the job.  The international student office handles the paperwork involved in securing the work authorization for F-1 and J-1 students.  In fact, a company may save money by hiring international students because the majority are exempt from FICA and Medicare tax requirements.

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.

Don’t international students need work authorization before I can hire them?

No.  International students must have work authorization before they BEGIN actual employment, but not before they are offered employment.  In fact, for CPT and J-1 Academic Training, the student must have the employment offer before the work authorization can be issued.

What does the work authorization look like?

For CPT, the authorization appears on page 3 of the Form I-20 and will be a notation with the employer’s name and address.  For OPT, the student will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which is a card with the student’s name, date of birth, gender, photo and authorization dates.  The Academic Training will appear on the J-1 student’s Form DS-2019 and be included in a work authorization letter issued by the program’s Responsible Officer.

What if I want to continue to employ international students after their work authorization expires?

An employer can hire eligible international students to continue to work for them using the H-1b temporary work visa which can be granted for a total of six years.  This classification is available for workers in professional level positions.  It requires an application by the employer with the USCIS and will need some proper planning and the advice of an immigration attorney.

Doesn’t an employer have to prove that international students aren’t taking jobs from qualified Americans?

No. U.S. employers are not required to document that a citizen of another country did not take a job from a qualified American if that person is working in F-1, J-1 or H-1b status.  Employers must document that they did not turn down a qualified American applicant for the position only when they wish to sponsor a foreign citizen for permanent resident status (green card).