Most International Students in the United States are in a non-immigrant student status known as F-1 status. The federal regulations that apply to this class of non-immigrant is found in the US Code of Federal Regulations, 8 CFR 214.2(f) Academic and Language* Students. The following information applies ONLY to students who have F-1 status. The employment of non-immigrants in other classifications is allowed or restricted by regulations that apply specifically to those classifications.
(*Although the general regulations apply to both academic and English language students, only students in academic programs are eligible for employment outside of campus.)
Practical Training is the term that applies to employment of F-1 students in positions that relate to their fields of study. F-1 students must have completed one academic year in F-1 status and must continue to maintain F-1 status to be eligible for Practical Training. There are two different types of Practical Training:
The regulations, procedures, time frames, etc. vary between the two types and so will be discussed in separate sections.
Curricular Practical Training is the term for employment authorization that can be granted by the Designated School Officer of an institution pursuant to the academic approval granted to a student by an academic department or program for an off-campus internship or practicum for which the student will receive remuneration. Academic approval is based on the nature of the internship or duties to be assigned and its relatedness to the student's field of study.
The student must still be pursuing their program of study (not have graduated) to be eligible for CPT. Employment after the student has completed their program is covered in the next section on Optional Practical Training.
The minimum eligibility requirement for CPT is that the student must have been enrolled full-time for one academic year (typically 8 - 9 months) before being eligible for a CPT authorization. Additionally, the institution can require that the student meet additional criteria before being eligible. It is the student's obligation to learn what is required by his or her institution or program before applying for any off campus internship.
The CPT employment authorization is granted by the Designated School Officer (DSO) and is printed on the last page of the student's I-20 (the Certificate of Eligibility for F-1 Student Status). The authorization will show the following:
The CPT authorization on the I-20 is an appropriate document for Column C of the I-9. DSO's are authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to grant employment authorization to F-1 students.
The advantage of CPT both to the employer and the student is that authorization can usually be granted within a few days after the the employer extends the job offer. However, in no circumstances can a student begin working before the authorization is granted. For a student to work without an appropriate employment authorization is a serious violation of status and can result in the student having to leave the US.
Optional Practical Training is the term for work authorization granted by te US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on a recommendation from the Designated School Official where the student is attending. Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT at each degree level. Students who obtain a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Mathematics (STEM) may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT.
Students are eligible to apply for portions of their OPT while studying in their program, that is, while still enrolled in course work. However, the vast majority of students elect to apply for their full 12 months upon completion of their programs.
The STEM OPT Extension can be authorized by USCIS if the student
For post-completion OPT, students to USCIS during their final term of study and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) approximately 60 days after application. The EAD bears the student's name and picture and will show the exact dates that the individual is permitted employment in the US. The EAD is a Column A document on the DHS Employment Eligibility Verification form, the I-9.
Students on OPT are still classified as F-1 students. Nothing about their immigration status has changed. They still come under the jurisdiction of their school and are still responsible for reporting address and employment information to their school.
Employer Considerations and Concerns
Students with OPT are responsible for seeking employment in their field of study - chemistry majors in work requiring study in chemistry, biology majors in work requiring study in biology, business majors in business settings, etc. It is not the employer's responsibility to insure that the work is appropriate. That is the student's responsibility.
As in CPT, employers may interview, screen and offer employment using their usual HR procedures. However, unlike the process for CPT, in the case of a student on OPT, the employer does not have to complete any school paperwork nor do any reporting back to the school or to the government. All required processing to get the OPT work permit and reporting during OPT is the responsibility of the student.
Employment Options after OPT
Employment under OPT ends at the conclusion of the authorized period on the EAD card. However, F-1 students who have completed at least a bachelor's degree are eligible for H-1 sponsorship - a temporary worker status processed by USCIS.. Interested employers can research this process on the internet or consult with a immigration attorney as to the timing and processing of such an application.
Depending on the nature of the employment, F-1 students can be placed on regular company
payrolls or paid as contractors - commonly called 1099'd.
F-1 non-immigrants are subject to US taxes laws but not necessarily in the same way as US citizens or Green Card Holders. The tax status of F-1 students, whether they are treated as US residents or non-residents for taxes, is dependent on a variety of factors - length of time in the US as F-1 students, whether they come from a country which has a tax treaty with the US, and several individual factors. IRS Publications 15, 515, 519 and 901 address the tax status of non-immigrants in the US.
F-1 students earning income under practical training are subject to applicable federal,
state, and local income taxes. In Texas, which has no state or local income taxes,
F-1 student employees placed on regular company payrolls are subject only to withholding
for federal income tax.
As with all other employees, students complete W-4's to declare their exemption status. But having said that, the situation then gets more complicated.
It is not the responsibility of the employer to know or advise in these matters.
This information is provided here just to show that in taxes, there is not one policy
that fits all. Again it is the student's responsibility to seek tax advice and assistance from
Generally speaking, University of Dallas students will be provided a letter to be presented to the employer providing 1) the legal basis for the employment, 2) information concerning the I-9 process, 3) advice about the income tax status, and 4) a determination as to whether the student is subject to FICA and Medicare withholding - See next section.
Social Security and Medicare
Non-residents for tax purposes are exempt from Social Security and Medicare withholding. That, of course, excuses the employer from having to pay the employer contribution for these employees.
A. No. Federal regulations permit the employment of international students in F-1
status within certain limits. Students in F-1 status are allowed to work in jobs
related to their field of study under the Practical Training regulations for CPT (Curricular
Practical Training) or OPT (Optional Practical Training).
Q. Even if it isn't illegal to hire international students, doesn't it involve a lot of paperwork and government application fees?
A. No. The only cost to the employer hiring inernational students is the time and effort to interview and select the best candidate for the job. The International Student Office and the student handle all of the paperwork.
Q. How long can an international student work for my company?
A. If the authorization is for CPT - Curricular Practical Training - the school determines within its internal policies how long a student can work for one employer. Typically authorization is granted by academic terms. Extensions beyond the first term will depend on those institutional policies. The student should be able to learn those policies and communicate that to their employer.
If the employment is during OPT - Optional Practical Training - the student will be able to work only until the expiration date on their EAD - Employment Authorization Document - whether during their basic 12 month OPT period or the STEM Extension. Employment beyond this date will require employer sponsorship for a work visa.
Q. What if my company doesn't offer "trainee" positions? Can I still offer employment to an international student?
A. The nature of permitted employment under CPT is the prerogative of institutional policies. At the University of Dallas, the job does not have to be classified as a "trainee" position or "entry level" position to qualify for CPT. For OPT, the student is responsible for seeking and accepting appropriate employment.
Q. Don't international students need work authorization before I can hire them?
A. No. International students must have work authorization before they "begin" actual employment, but not before they are offered employment. In fact, a student must have been offered a job in order to receive CPT authorization. For employment during OPT, the student may or may not already have their employment authorization, but regardless, should be able to provide the employer a reasonable date as to when they are able to begin work.
Q. How much should an international student be paid?
A. Student's should be paid a reasonable wage commensurate with their duties, education and position within the company. Typically students who are still working toward their degrees are paid less than fully-qualified (Degreed) workers in the same field. Typical wages for an intern are $15 to $20 per hour, but it is not uncommon to see wages of $12 to as high as $25 per hour. Students who have completed their studies and received their degree or other qualifying credential should be paid accordingly.
Q. Doesn't an employer have to prove that international students are not taking jobs from a qualified American?
A. 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 visa. Even if sponsoring a student for an H-1 visa, the employer only has to certify that the conditions of employment of a foreign national are the same as those of an American employee. (Employers should seek the advice of a qualified immigration attorney when considering sponsoring a student for an H-1 visa.) It is only when sponsoring a foreign national for a permanent position and a green card must the employer document that they did not turn down a qualified American applicant.