For many different companies in the United States, hiring international students can be a great way to foster new ideas and fresh perspectives in the workplace. It also helps international students network and build professional connections as they start their careers in the U.S. If you’re interested in hiring an international student for an open position at your company, it’s important to understand the immigration implications and your responsibilities as the employer. Here’s what you need to know about hiring an international student:
Can F-1 Student Visa Holders Work in the U.S.?
Most international students in the U.S. are on an F-1 student visa, a non-immigrant visa category that allows foreign nationals to come to the U.S. to study at accredited colleges, universities, and other academic institutions. Before you can hire someone on an F-1 visa, it’s important to understand their work authorization options.
International students in the U.S. on F-1 visas are permitted to participate in “practical training,” which refers to authorized work opportunities related to their field of study in the U.S. Practical training allows international students to take paid positions while they are still pursuing their degrees or right after graduation.
To be eligible for practical training, students typically need to have completed at least one academic year under F-1 visa status and must continue to maintain their F-1 status.
Practical training offers valuable opportunities for F-1 students to gain experience in their chosen field, which can enhance their resumes and help prepare them for future careers. However, it’s important for students to adhere to the specific rules and regulations associated with practical training, as failure to do so can result in immigration violations.
One of the most common forms of work authorization through practical training for F-1 students is Optional Practical Training, or OPT.
Understanding Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment benefit for eligible international students in the U.S. who are on F-1 student visas. If you’re interested in hiring an international student on OPT, here are some key features of OPT to be aware of:
- Eligibility: To be eligible for OPT, F-1 students must have been enrolled in an academic program for at least one year. They can apply for OPT before or after completing their studies.
- Duration: Students can typically work under OPT for a maximum of 12 months. However, students with STEM degrees may be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
- Authorization: OPT employment authorization is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To legally work in the U.S. during their OPT period, students must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS.
So what is required of U.S. employers hoping to hire international students on OPT? Since there is no sponsorship process required for students on OPT (like there is for other work visa programs), employers simply need to extend an offer of employment once the student has received their EAD. It is important to pay close attention to the details of the EAD, as the document will clearly outline the dates the individual is eligible to work in the U.S. under OPT status.
You can learn more about the OPT program in Boundless’ guide.
Benefits of Hiring International Students on OPT
Once an international student receives an EAD from USCIS and is legally authorized to work in the U.S., there are many hiring benefits for U.S employers:
- Diverse Perspectives: International students can bring unique perspectives, cultural diversity, and a global mindset to the workplace.
- Language Skills: Many international students are multilingual or proficient in English and other languages, making them valuable assets for companies with international operations or diverse customer bases.
- Specialized Skills: OPT participants often have education and skills in specific fields that are in high demand (including STEM), which can fill talent gaps within a company.
- Global Market Insights: International students may have firsthand knowledge of international markets and trends, which can be invaluable for businesses looking to expand their global presence.
- Adaptability: Having navigated the U.S. immigration system and moved to a new country already, international students are generally adaptable and capable of working in dynamic and fast-paced environments.
- Talent Pipeline: Hiring international students on OPT can serve as a talent pipeline, potentially leading to sponsorship for longer-term work visas (like the H-1B) or employment-based green cards for those who wish to settle in the U.S. permanently.