Hiring an international student is a great way to bring some of the world’s best talent to your organization. Some of the many benefits include:
- Understanding the cultural values of your target customers in a globalized environment;
- We can help you build a strong talent pipeline and create economic and technological competitiveness through programs that enhance the diversity of research and innovation activities;
- You can strengthen your company’s business by gaining a better understanding of the markets in your STEM OPT candidates’ home countries and by utilizing these candidates’ networks of contacts at home.
- Global perspectives add depth, perspective and context to other people’s experiences.
- Marketing the STEM OPT program to potential students in participating countries and using employees from those countries to spread the word.
As an office that works with international students, we wanted to share employment authorization options:
- What is F-1/J-1 status?
- What Is Work Authorization?
- F-1 Curricular Practical Training
- F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
What is the F-1/J-1 status?
To pursue a degree or exchange program in the United States, international students must apply for and receive a visa.
Student visa status depends on whether you are a full-time or exchange student. Full-time students will need the form I-20, a visa, an I-94 number, and an Admission Stamp. Exchange students need a DS-2019 form, a J-1 visa, an I-94 number, and an Admission Stamp.
What is work authorization?
Working in the USA as an F-1 or J-1 student is possible. Some students begin working before completing their visa sponsorship, but you will likely need to apply for work authorization.
F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Student-workers may also be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) if the duty is integral to their course of study or fulfils a degree requirement. CPT eligibility requirements are pretty strict and cannot be adjusted based on a student’s particular circumstances.
Other Characteristics of CPT:
- Students must be full-time students for one academic year before they can apply.
- CPT can be used only before a student completes their degree/graduate.
- The Office of International Affairs processes student applications within one week.
- Part-time and full-time opportunities are available.
- We require that students already have a job offer when applying for this program.
To receive authorization for CPT, students must submit a CPT employer letter. The CPT employer letter template will ensure all necessary information is included and prevent processing delays.
Once the documents are received, OIA will authorize a student’s CPT within one week. Students will receive a new I-20 with an employment authorization on page 2. The original I-20 may be copied for Human Resources purposes, but the student must keep the original on their person.
Students may not be allowed to work until their work authorization has been approved and their start date reached. Working even one day without proper permission can have severe consequences on the student’s immigration status and the company.
F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
The Optional Practical Training program allows degree-seeking students to gain experience in jobs directly related to their central area of study. Other Characteristics of OPT
- No sponsoring is needed.
- Students must attend classes for one year before applying for OPT.
- OPT may be used after a student completes their degree.
- A student can apply for this benefit by submitting an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which can take up to 4 months to be approved. USCIS does not expedite applications.
- International students on post-completion OPT must work at least 20 hours per week and change their employment dates without penalty.
- Eligible students may apply to stay and work here for up to 12 months; students who have earned a STEM-designated degree can qualify for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training.
- Students are not required to send a copy of their resume when they apply.
- Students must strictly work in areas related to their degree program.
Employers don’t have to be deeply involved in the OPT application process. Still, they must keep track of some general information about their STEM OPT program participants and will be required to issue an Employment Verification Letter before an international student can apply for an F or J visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate if planning to travel with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
F-1 STEM OPT
If you have a STEM-designated degree, you may be eligible for the F-1 STEM OPT extension.
Other characteristics of STEM OPT Extension:
- No employer sponsorship is required, but employers are highly encouraged to participate in their employees’ training. Employers must fill out the I-983 Training Plan and submit multiple follow-up progress reports. For more details, see Employer Responsibilities.
- STEM OPT may be used after students complete their initial 12 months of non-STEM OPT. If A student who has completed one year of study on an F-1 visa can apply for 12 months of “regular” OPT, the student can work or study in a field other than STEM. After completing one year of “regular” OPT, the student can apply for STEM OPT.
- The OPT STEM extension program is a work permit issued to F-1 visa students by the USCIS that allows you to stay and work in the U.S. for up to an additional 17 months (a total of 29 months). You must apply for the OPT STEM extension before your regular OPT expires. It will take 3-4 months to use it until approved. You also need to list the employer’s E-Verify number on your application (the E-Verify number can be found on the I-9 form).
- Students may be able to apply for the STEM OPT extension no sooner than 90 days before their current EAD expires.
- Twenty hours per week is obligatory for the student working in a position directly related to their STEM degree.
- All students must be paid for their work. Students who engage in OPT STEM extension are not allowed to volunteer.
- It is required that students need to have a job offer from an employer who has signed up for E-Verify.
Although the program’s reporting requirements apply predominately to students and sponsoring schools, employers must also assist in keeping track of STEM OPT students and their practical training progress.
As an employer, you have special responsibilities for a student’s STEM OPT:
- E-Verify: This means that the STEM OPT employer must be enrolled in this program.
- The STEM OPT student’s salary must be the same as that of a U.S. citizen with equivalent qualifications in similar positions.
- When the student is ready to provide the I-983 training plan to your supervisor, they must get the supervisor’s signature.
- Any changes to the student’s work duties must be reflected in their I-983 training plan, and a new program will also need their direct supervisor’s signature. Student Self-Evaluations: Students can use the document below to monitor their progress and report on the educational goals achieved during their work experience. You must submit this evaluation at the mid-point of your work experience and again at the end of your work experience. Your direct supervisor will review these self-evaluations as needed.
- If the student’s employment ends for any reason before the end of the authorized OPT period, the employer must notify OIA.
- To ensure that the STEM OPT training plan is being followed, DHS inspects employers that have hired STEM OPT students at least twice a year to confirm the student is adhering to the agreed-upon training plan. The employer will typically be given at least 48 hours notice before the inspection visit.
- Employers are required to review and sign off on their students’ training plans and evaluations. Nevertheless, it is up to you to keep the employer informed of your progress and ask for a review if you need one.
H-1B OPT CAP-GAP Extension
The gap between the end of a student’s F-1 status and the beginning of their H-1B status is referred to as the “Cap-Gap.” The Cap-Gap extension rule automatically extends an eligible F-1 student’s OPT authorization during this gap period until the H-1B status becomes active.
This extension allows international students whose Optional Practical Training (OPT) was approved or who:
- You must have an OPT end date on or after April 1 [current year].
- If you have a pending or approved Change of Status H-1B petition (I-539) with USCIS, we would like to speak with you.
- ACCORDING TO THE ACCEPTANCE PERIOD, the H-1B petition was filed within the required time limits with USCIS.
- Employers applying for H-1B status are subject to the cap.
- The OIA automatically adds the cap-gap extension to most students to their records. In case a student believes the cap-gap should be added, but it was not, they should contact the OIA for more information.
J-1 Academic Training
Academic Training (AT) is a work authorization for J-1 students to train in off-campus jobs and internships. Students must work with their academic departments and the university’s international office to apply for AT.
Other characteristics of Academic Training:
- No employer sponsorship is required for the application, but a letter from your current or most recent employer will be needed.
- Students need to get a job before they can apply.
- AT can be used before or after a student finishes their degree.
- Students initiate the application process by the OIA and need only one week to approve.
When you apply for AT, you will need to provide a letter of employment from your employer. This letter is necessary to authorize AT, and we advise employers to use the AT employer letter template to ensure all information is included, preventing processing delays.
Once all university requirements are met, OIA will need approximately one week to issue a new DS-2019. The student must keep the original in their possession at all times.
IMPORTANT: Students must wait for their social security number and work authorization before employment. Working even one day without these can have severe consequences on the student’s immigration status.
THANKS FOR READING! 🙂