International Students arrive in the U.S. with a dream of making the most out of their education and no college education is complete without any practical knowledge. The international students landing in the U.S belong to either F-1 or J-1 Visa status which comes with eligibility to work after proper clearance from concerned departments.
Many employers have a misconception regarding hiring international students. In some cases, all that the employer has to do is furnish an offer letter to the international student as per the template. That being said, having a look through the process to get a better understanding of the work eligibility status of an international student will be helpful for you as the employer.
The international student who holds the F-1 visa status can take part in CPT during the period of graduation and OPT during or after their graduation. The benefits for employer hiring international students in their organizations are:
- International students bring a diverse culture into the organization’s working environment which helps in bringing out a newer perspective.
- Bringing diversified culture into your workspace will help you gain a better outlook of the global market and work towards achieving that end.
- With knowledge from diverse cultures, your organization will be able to innovate through your higher competitive edge brought out due to international students.
Many organization has started taking on International students under OPT for covering the temporary jobs/ part-time jobs. OPT is a work authorization provided for international students holding F-1 Visa. Let us look at some points important from an employer’s view regarding hiring OPT students.
- OPT training requires no employer sponsorship.
- Applying for OPT doesn’t require an offer letter.
- Students must work in a job along the line of their major area of study.
- To be eligible to apply for OPT, the student must have been enrolled for at least 1 year of academic education.
- A student can apply for OPT before or after the completion of their degree, the former being called pre-completion OPT and later being called post-completion OPT.
- An international student can avail up to 12 months of OPT work permit. For certain categories of studies, a further extension is possible under STEM extension for up to 24 months.
- The student initiates the application. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorizes the application through a process which might take up to 3 – 4 months and cannot be sped up.
- The Pre-completion OPT jobs are part-time whereas post-completion OPT jobs can either be part-time or Full time depending on the students’ choice. Pre-completion jobs can have about 20 or fewer hours of working per week. Post completion jobs can have about 20-40 hours of weekly work with a minimum of 20 hours of weekly work.
- For Pre-completion OPT jobs, the employer must consider the students’ academic schedule for classes, exams, and providing duties which can be fulfilled within 20 hours.
- The calculation of part-time OPT working duration from the available 12 months of OPT working is obtained by halving the total working duration.
- For fields categorized under STEM, qualified students are eligible for an extension of 24 months as per OPT STEM Extension. The minimum working hours are 20 hours a week.
These are the few things that need to be understood on the part of the employer. Let us now look into the documentation that needs to be cleared before hiring an international student.
- The authorization of OPT processing is received in form of an Employment Authorization Document i.e. EAD card which mentions the start date and the end date of employment as preferred by the student.
- The employer must strictly see to it that the students are not enrolled to work before this start date and is not kept hired after the end date.
- The student needs to raise the I-765 form on the basis of which the Designated school Office of the concerned university will raise the I-20 form, an employment endorsement form that takes about 1 – 2 weeks to be processed.
- Once the details mentioned in the I-20 form are logged into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an EAD card gets generated in the name of the student.
The following post-hiring documentation needs to be taken care of, on behalf of the employer:
As soon as the hiring is done, the student needs to update their employment in SEVIS. To this end, providing an offer letter would be quite beneficial. If not possible, provide all the details regarding the job profile, their duties, and your company.
This form is provided to verify the identity of the employee. The EAD card is more than enough for this verification of OPT students with which you can fill up the details in the I-9 form, inclusive of the card number and the end date.
If the EAD card expires while the STEM extension application is being processed, the student automatically gets 180 days extension during which you must re-verify the details of the employee.
F-1 STEM OPT:
For students working in jobs which come under the category of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), they can apply for an extension of 24 months of OPT training under STEM Extension.
The points needed to be taken care of by the employer are as follows:
- STEM OPT students don’t require employer sponsorship.
- STEM OPT students must be provided with an offer letter.
- The employer must be enrolled in the E-verify program as the student needs to mention the employer’s E-verify number on their STEM OPT application.
- STEM extension can be used after the student uses up the 12- month standard OPT period. The student is allowed to apply for STEM extension only when the EAD card expiration has 90 days or less remaining.
- As seen in the case of Post-completion OPT, the student needs to work at least 20 hours per week in a field related to their major area of study.
- STEM OPT employees must be provided with compensation as voluntary work isn’t allowed under STEM extension.
- As per STEM OPT rules, Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) is authorized to visit an employer who has hired STEM OPT students to see whether the training plan is being followed. A prior notice of at least 48 hours is issued to the employer before the visit.
- There might be a worksite inspection from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to assess the formulated training plan.
Let us now look into the documentation that needs to be cleared for a STEM OPT candidate and post-hiring:
The motive of this form is to clarify that the student is being exposed to all the training needed for validating the 24-month extension claimed. See to it that as the employer, all the details regarding the training plan are mentioned, in compliance with STEM rules, and duly signed by the supervisor in charge.
During the tenure of 24 months, if there is any asset change in the training plan such as a change in supervisor or compensation provided, then there is a need to re-verify the I-983 form, which the student needs to duly request from the employer.
Self- evaluation forms
The student must complete two self-evaluation, one during the middle of the employment duration and one at the end of it, to oversee that the goals maintained are achieved, duly signed by the supervisor in charge.
Reporting Employment termination or loss
You, as the employer, are supposed to notify OIA if the student is terminated from their work for reasons other than the authorized end of the extended OPT period within five working days after the end of employment.
See to it that proper records of OPT students are maintained which showcase the remuneration, performance, shift timings, work hours, and leave.
The document authorizing STEM OPT candidates:
A newly printed EAD card with the extended dates will be provided to the candidate
Concerning other details:
All the foreign students having a payroll are subjected to pay taxes as per the rules applicable to them unless exempted under any tax treaty. The document needed to be filled up with regards to this is the W-4 form under which the employer is authorized to withhold the ascertained tax of the employee in concern.
2. Social Security Number
It is very important to check that your F-1 Visa holder employee working on payroll has an SSN. If not, then make sure that they have applied for it soon after joining your organization.
They can apply for it, not before 30 days of joining the organization. The student needs to present proof of employment. The OPT students must provide their EAD card and wait until their start date to be eligible for SSN.
General hiring tips to facilitate recruiting the best fit:
- Prior to opening a recruitment drive see to it that the job position being opened has all its roles properly demarcated alongside proper pay and its further development.
- Understand that the students approaching you comes from a wide range of universities or colleges and undertake a proper evaluation of their documents and their credentials. Note that OPT students can only work in a role that aligns with their major area of study.
- Look for people who are hardworking than just focusing on academics. The best employee is the one who puts efforts to learn and better themselves.
- Evaluate all your potential candidates with a mindset of positive values. This will help in maintaining a good cohesive workspace among employees.
- Understand all the legalities tied up with the potential candidates and be aware of all the verification process in tune with the governance laws.
The recruitment of OPT and STEM OPT students is much easier than the counter belief among employers. Acquisition of talent from various parts of the world will help you better your organization at a faster pace. Keep in mind, maintain all the basic records to ensure your proper working with regards to legalities. Finding a candidate with a good skill set and cross-cultural thoughts will help you shield your firm from ambiguity, stress, non-constructive work, and maintain a positive atmosphere for all workers.
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