In today’s global economy, hiring international students is a smart move for employers. The University of Arizona has an enrollment of approximately 2,600 extraordinarily talented international students on non-immigrant visas, representing a broad spectrum of academic majors. These students are the cream of the crop from their home countries. Many of these highly motivated students have expressed an interest in using their knowledge and skills with American firms and employers would do well to consider them for future employment.
Federal laws governing whether U. S. companies can hire non-U.S. citizens are complex. Understandably, employers may be uncertain whether they can be hired at all. Although there are time limits upon their employment. the bottom line is: international students ARE allowed to work within the United States.
Once you overcome the question of whether or not you can legally hire international students, the next hurdle may be your concerns and questions about the complexity of doing so. With all the benefits that come from creating a more diverse workforce, taking time to understand the process is a smart move.
There are certain restrictions regarding the work that international students can do and we’ve briefly outlined the rules below. Because of the complexities of hiring international students, it is important that you consult with your legal consul or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Student Visas and Employment
International students generally hold either an F1 (student status) or J1 (exchange visitor) visa. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will allow these visa holders to work while in this country if the work is related to their field of study. In special circumstances, the USCIS also grants work authorization due to unforeseen economic hardship. Eligible students are not required to change their visa category to accept these types of employment.
Employment Possibilities Broken down by Visa Type
Employment Possibilities for F- 1 Visa Holders include:
Practical Training: Practical training may be authorized for an F1 student who has been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis one full academic year. A student may be authorized 12 months of practical training, and becomes eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a type of work permission that allows students to accept employment in their major field of study. The employment must be either required or an integral part of the curriculum to include internship or practicum offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the university. The student must meet eligibility requirements to be granted CPT permission.
Optional Practical Training (OPT): Unlike Curricular Practical Training, F1 students must obtain authorization for OPT from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An F1 student may apply for Optional Practical Training to the USCIS, for authorization of temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major. If authorization for OPT is granted by the USCIS, the student must also obtain the Employment Authorization Document from USCIS prior to beginning employment. The student may not begin OPT until the date indicated on his or her Employment Authorization Document. The student must meet eligibility requirements to be granted OPT permission.
Employment Possibilities for J1 Visa Holders include:
Academic Training: Academic Training is employment related to the student’s academic program and can be done before or after completion of their studies. Students are eligible for 18 months of academic training or the equivalent of the total time the student has been enrolled full-time, whichever is shorter. Students engaged in postdoctoral training are eligible for 36 months of academic training. Students must meet eligibility requirements to be granted Academic Training permission.
Economic Hardship Cases
Another possible avenue to working in this country for International Students is proof of economic hardship. If an F1 or J1 student experiences unforeseen economic hardship, he or she may apply to the USCIS for permission to work for any off-campus employer; however, such authorizations are granted on a very limited basis. If authorized, the student would present his or her Employment Authorization Document as proof of their eligibility.
What Does this Mean for Long-term Employment Options?
Federal regulations require that practical training or academic training end at the conclusion of the authorized period; however, an F1 student (or J1 student who is not subject to a two-year physical presence requirement) may continue to be employed, provided that a petition and a change of status application are filed with and approved by the USCIS. Such a petition is usually filed for H-1B (Temporary Worker) status. The H-1B status is valid for up to six years, and is intended for professional employment. The application process can take several months, and legal assistance with filing of the application may be helpful. You should contact your legal counsel or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for assistance with this process.
What is your Responsibility as an Employer?
When employing F1 or J1 students, there is very little paperwork involved for the hiring organization. All paperwork is filed by the student and the University of Arizona’s Office of International Student Programs and Services or the J1 student’s program sponsor. The hiring organization may be involved to the extent that a letter may be required to verify employment. Labor certification, prevailing wage statements, or letters proving that no U.S. citizen was qualified for the position are not required of the employer when practical training, academic training and economic hardship applications are filed.
Verifying Employment Eligibility
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires anyone hired by a U.S. employer to complete an I-9 form and present proof of identity and employment eligibility.
Students with F1 status will present either an I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility) form endorsed on the back (for curricular practical training) or an Employment Authorization Document (for optional practical training and economic hardship). The Employment Authorization Document is a laminated photographic card that provides beginning and ending dates of employment authorization.
Students with J1 status will present a letter from their program sponsor authorizing the employment for a specific time period. These documents, plus a valid passport, are sufficient for I-9 requirements.
F1 and J1 students are subject to all applicable federal, state and local income taxes. In some cases, tax relief may be available to individuals from countries that have entered into tax treaties with the U.S. Information regarding tax treaties can be found by consulting the Internal Revenue Service Publication 901, US Tax Treaties.
F1 and J1 students are exempt from FICA (Social Security tax withholding) for their first five years in the U.S. as students. See Internal Revenue Service for an explanation of this exemption.
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