Getting permission for international students to work in the U.S. is not as difficult as many employers think. Most international students are in the U.S. on non-immigrant student visas (F-1 and J-1), and these international students are eligible to accept employment under certain conditions.
San Francisco State University currently enrolls approximately 2,500 international students on non-immigrant visas. These students are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents ("Green Card" holders). Although the U.S. Immigration Service limits the employment of international students, they are eligible to apply for permission to work under "practical training."
- Practical Training for F-1 Students
- Academic Training for J-1 Students
- Minimal Paper Work for the Employer
- Everyone Benefits!
- Proof of Work Authorization (Form I-9)
- Continuing Employment After the Practical/Academic Training Period
- What About Taxes?
- For Your Reference
- For Further Information
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Optional Practical Training
- Curricular Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) must be authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on a recommendation from the designated school official (DSO) at the school which issued the form I-20, a government document which verifies the student's admission to that institution. The term "optional" means that students can opt to use all or part of their total practical training allotment of a maximum of 12 months. OPT can be authorized by the USCIS: (1) during vacation when school is not in session -full time employment is allowed; (2) for part-time work, a maximum of 20 hours per week, while school is in session; (3) after completing all course requirements for the degree; or (4) full-time after completion of the course of study. Students who have received OPT permission will be issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by the USCIS. Their name, photo and valid dates of employment are printed on the EAD. Employers should note that the average processing time for USCIS to issue the EAD is two or three months, and students may begin employment only after they receive the EAD which will indicate the starting and ending dates of employment.
Curricular Practical Training may be authorized by the institution (NOT by USCIS) for F-1 students participating in curricular-related employment such as cooperative education, work study, practicum and internship programs. Authorization is written on the back of the I-20 student copy and will include the name of the company, beginning and ending date, and signature of the designated school official (DSO). Since each institution has different policies related to curricular-related employment, students should speak with an International Student Advisor at SFSU's Office of International Programs. Processing time for the authorization of CPT varies at each institution. Employers should check with the SFSU Office of International Programs for an approximate turn-around time. International students on F-1 visas are eligible for both curricular practical training before finishing their studies, as well as 12 months of OPT. However, students who work full-time on curricular practical training for one year or more are not eligible for OPT. Those engaging in OPT prior to graduation may work for a maximum of 20 hours per week during their school term and 40 hours during their break period.
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Practical/Academic Training is designed to allow international students the opportunity to gain work experience directly related to their major field of study. As a result, they stand to gain from the employment they receive from you, but in return, your organization benefits greatly from their unique skills and new approaches to challenges.
Obtaining permission for them to work in the U.S. is not as difficult as many employers may think. Therefore, we urge you to seriously consider hiring an international student from San Francisco State University for the cultural and practical benefits that s/he can bring to your organization.
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Students in F-1 status who have been authorized to engage in Curricular Practical Training will present USCIS form I-20 (page 3) with a notation indicating the dates during which Practical Training has been authorized. Those students in F-1 status who have been authorized for Optional Practical Training will have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card issued by USCIS. This laminated card will include the individual's photograph and fingerprint and will provide additional proof of work authorization
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Individuals may work in the United States for a maximum of six years under an H-1B visa. This visa is valid only for employment with the company that petitioned for them. They must re-apply to the USCIS if they wish to change employers. As soon as the initial job offer is made, they should petition for an H-1B visa if employment is likely to extend beyond the practical training period.
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Generally, F-1 and J-1 students are exempted from social security and Medicare tax requirements. However, if F-1 and J-1 students are considered "resident aliens" for income tax purpose, social security and Medicare taxes should be withheld. Chapter 1 of Internal Revenue Services Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens explains how to determine the residency status of international students.
More information on social security and Medicare taxes can be found in Chapter 8 of Internal Revenue Services Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens and in Section 940 of Social Security Administration Publication No. 65-008, Social Security Handbook.
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F-1 students: 8CFR 214.2 (f) (9) &(10)
J-1 students: 22CFR 62.23 (f)
CFR Title 8 citations governing IRCA requirements are:
F-1 students: 8CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iii) and 8CFR 274a.12(c)(3)(i)
J-1 students: 8CFR 274a.12(b)(11)
Copies of Code of Federal Regulations are available from the Superintendent of Documents in Washington D.C. or from the web site:
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Isn't it illegal to hire international students because they do not have a green card?
No. Federal regulations permit the employment of international students on F-1 and J-1 visas within certain limits. These visas allow students to work in jobs related to their major field of study. F-1 students can work on "practical training." J-I students may work on "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 of them are exempt from Social Security (FICA) and Medicare tax requirements.
How long can international students work in the United States 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 following graduation, or a combination of the two. However, if they work full-time for one year or more of curricular practical training, they are not eligible for Optional Practical Training.
Students with a J-1 visa are usually eligible to work up to 18 months following graduation. They may also be eligible to work part-time during their program of study. The Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) will evaluate each student's situation to determine the length of time for which they are eligible to work.
Don't international students need work authorization before I can hire them?
No. International students must have the work authorization before they begin actual employment, but not before they are offered employment. In fact, J-1 students must have a written job offer in order to apply for the work authorization. Many F-1 students will be in the process of obtaining work authorization while they are interviewing for employment. Students can give employers a reasonable estimate of when they expect to receive work authorization.
What does the work authorization look like?
For Optional Practical Training, F-1 students receive from USCIS an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a small photo identity card that indicates the dates for which they are permitted to work. For Curricular Practical Training, F-1 students receive authorization from the school (NOT from USCIS) on the back of the student's I-20. "No Service endorsement is necessary" - per 8CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iii). J-1 students receive work authorization in the form of a letter issued by the RO or ARO at their institution.
What if I want to continue to employ international students after their work authorization expires?
With a bit of planning ahead, an employer can hire international students to continue to work for them in the H-1B visa category for a total of six years (authorization is granted in two three-year periods). The H-1B is a temporary working visa for workers in a "specialty occupation." The application procedure to the USCIS is straightforward. The job must meet two basic requirements:
1) The salary must meet the prevailing wage as defined by the Department of Labor
2) A bachelor's degree is a minimum normal requirement for the position.
Doesn't an employer have to prove that international students are not taking jobs from a qualified American?
No. American 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 under an F-1, J-1 or H-1B visa. Employers must document that they did not turn down a qualified American applicant for the position only when they wish to hire foreign citizens on a permanent basis and sponsor them for a permanent resident status ("green card").
Can I hire international students as volunteer interns?
Normally, if the internship involves no form of compensation and is truly voluntary, the students may volunteer without having to do any paperwork with USCIS. If, however, the internship provides a stipend or any compensation, students must obtain permission for practical training or academic training prior to starting their internship. Students should check with their employers to ensure that the company is allowed by law to offer unpaid internships.
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