Hiring International Students

Looking for talented, driven individuals to join your team? Consider the vast pool of qualified candidates studying in the U.S. with F-1 visas! International students bring a wealth of diverse perspectives, global experience, and strong academic backgrounds to the table. This site will equip you with the knowledge and steps needed to navigate the process of hiring F-1 students, from understanding work authorization to finding top talent. 

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How Do I Hire F-1 International Students?

Before Graduation

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a form of work authorization that allows qualifying F-1 students to work off campus for a U.S. employer on a full- or part-time basis for a specified period. CPT must be integral to an established curriculum.

Employer Role: Applying for CPT is the sole responsibility of the student. Depending on the school, employers may be required to provide a simple offer letter on letterhead including details on the offered job, job duties, location of the work, start and end date of employment, and number of hours per week.

Student Role: Request CPT with DSO and complete required forms and discuss with academic advisor. Enroll in the relevant internship/co-op/other course and receive updated immigration documentation (i.e., updated I-20 form) from DSO.

Costs & Processing Time: FREE to both students and employers. CPT requests can take up to 2 weeks if requested during a high demand time. CPT is authorized based on the semester a student is registered for the related course. CPT authorization dates are approximately the same as the semester and cannot exceed 4.5 months per authorization. International students cannot begin work until they have their new CPT I-20. Work prior to the start date on this I-20 is in violation of their status.

After Graduation

After completing a degree program, students are eligible to apply for a form of work authorization called Optional Practical Training (OPT), allowing them to work for employers for an initial 1-year period, with an additional 2-years available for STEM OPT candidates, for a total of up to 3 years of work authorization. Work related to studies is permitted. Students can apply up to 90 days prior to graduation.

Employer Role: Applying for OPT is the sole responsibility of the student. For the first initial 1-year OPT period immediately following graduation, no employer action is required. To hire or continue employing a student after the 1st year of OPT, the student can apply for the 2-year STEM OPT  extension, which requires the employer to be enrolled in E-Verify, a free web-based system hosted by USCIS that allows employers to verify the employment eligibility of new hires.

Student Role: During the final semester, students discuss the OPT application with DSO, obtain updated I-20 form, and send OPT application to USCIS. Students cannot work on OPT until USCIS has approved the application and the student has received the actual OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card from USCIS.

Costs & Processing Time: FREE to employers, minimal filing fee for students. Application is sent to USCIS processing center & typically takes 3-4 months to approve. Application is sent to USCIS processing center & typically takes 3-4 months to approve. USCIS’s Premium Processing fee can be paid by the student, if desired, which guarantees USCIS takes action on the application within 30 calendar days of receipt.

Long-Term Employment

The H-1B is a work visas status granted for 3 years (renewal for 3+ yrs thereafter) that authorizes an employee to work for a specific employer. 65,000 H-1B visas are available annually for candidates who completed U.S. bachelor degrees or the equivalent, and an additional 20,000 H-1Bs for those who completed a U.S. master’s degree or higher. H-1Bs can be approved for full- or part-time employment in a “specialty occupation”, a position that requires the minimum of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a specific field or fields of study.

Employer Role: The employer is responsible for registering for the H-1B lottery for the available 85,000 visas and for filing an H-1B application. Many employers utilize experienced immigration attorneys/law firms to facilitate the process.

Costs & Processing Time: Total cost can range between $5-8k, including attorney and required USCIS filing fees (note, the $5-8k is not incurred unless and until selection in the lottery occurs). The earliest available start date on H-1B status for a selected and approved H-1B application is
October 1 in the year of selection. Applications typically take 2-4 months to be decided by USCIS. Premium Processing is available but typically unnecessary due to the earliest start date being October 1.

Information provided by IMLaw.

Key Immigration Terms

F-1 visas allow foreign/international students to pursue a qualifying academic program of study or language training in the U.S. The student must be accepted by and enrolled full-time at an accredited U.S. academic institution or language training program. The institution must also be approved by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), which is run by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). The student must be proficient in English or enrolled in classes working toward proficiency, demonstrate sufficient funds for their living and educational costs for the entire course of study, and maintain a residence abroad. F-1 students can work in the U.S. under certain circumstances.

CPT is a form of employment authorization that allows F-1 students to work off campus for a U.S. employer on a full- or part-time basis for a specified period. The employment may take the form of an internship, work-study, co-op, training, or other practical work experience with a specific employer. To qualify for CPT, the employment must be directly related to the student's major area of study and integral to the program/curriculum. F-1 students authorized for CPT must still maintain a full course load for the specified CPT period. Students that receive CPT authorization for an aggregate of 364 or less days a year on a full-time basis will still be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

OPT is a form of employment authorization that allows F-1 students to work off campus for a U.S. employer on a full- or part-time basis for an initial 12-month period, with an addttional 24 months of employment authorization for qualifying STEM OPT students (for a total of three years of employment authorization). OPT employment must be related to the F-1 student's major area of study.

There are three main categories of OPT:

  • Pre-Completion OPT: F-1 students who have been enrolled for one full academic year on F-1 status or on a different temporary/nonimmigrant visa status may work 20 hours or less per week while school is in session and 40 hours per week when school is not in session. Pre-completion OPT is available for a maximum of 12 months.
  • Post-Completion OPT: F-1 students may apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before completing their degree, and no later than 60 days after completing their degree. F-ls must apply for post-completion OPT within 30 days after the DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into SEVIS. Post-completion OPT is valid for a maximum of 12 months. F-1 students who have already received 12 months of full-time pre-completion OPT are not eligible for post-completion OPT.
  • STEM OPT: STEM OPT provides 24 months of employment authorization in addition to the initial 12-month post-completion OPT work authorization to F-1 students graduating with a degree in a SEVP-designated STEM field who are employed by a U.S. employer enrolled in USCIS's free E-Verify program. F-1 students may apply for post-completion STEM OPT up to 90 days before they complete their initial one-year initial OPT period. F-ls must apply for post-completion STEM OPT within 30 days after the DSO enters the recommendation into SEVIS.

The H-1B is a temporary work visa which allows foreign nationals to work full- or part-time for a specific U.S. employer in a "specialty occupation." "Specialty occupation" refers to an offered position that requires the minimum of a U.S. bachelor's degree or equivalent in a specific field or fields of study. For cap-subject H-1B visas, there is an annual limit or "cap" on H-lBs of 65,000 visas, with an additional 20,000 visas available to individuals possessing a U.S. master's or higher degree. Currently, USCIS conducts a pre-filing registration and computer-generated, random lottery process annually in the month of March to select the 85,000 H-18 visas. Once selected, U.S. employers can submit H-18 applications and supporting documents for the foreign national in question within a 90-day period beginning April 1st of each year. Employers must pay H-1B workers the higher of either the actual wage paid to employees in the same position possessing similar experience and qualifications OR the prevailing wage as determined by the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL). H-1B work visa status can be approved for up to three years at a time, for a maximum of six years, although many H-1B workers obtain extensions beyond the six-year limit through employer green card sponsorship.

Certain employers are exempt from the annual H-1B cap altogether, including higher education institutions (i.e., colleges and universities) as defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965; nonprofit entities affiliated with or related to higher education institutions; nonprofit research organizations primarily engaged in basic research and/or applied research; and governmental research organizations. In addition, certain for-profit employers can also be cap-exempt if the H-1B worker will physically work at the institution of higher education or affiliated or related nonprofit entity, and there is a close link between the work performed and the normal purpose of the nonprofit entity. U.S. employers can file cap-exempt H-1B applications at any time of the year with no limit or cap on the number of applications that can be approved. The specialty occupation and wage requirements discussed above also apply to H-1B cap-exempt cases.

A Designated School Official (DSO) is the individual at an SEVP-certified college, university, or seminary who is responsible for reviewing and approving F-1 student requests for Curricular Practical Training (CPT}, Optional Practical Training {OPT) and on campus employment. The DSO is also responsible for entering and updating required information and documentation in SEVIS, a web-based system for tracking and monitoring F-1 students in the U.S. and maintaining required student data. The DSO is also responsible for issuing the required 1-20 form to an F-1 student. The 1-20 form dictates the key terms and conditions for the particular program of study including the name of the student, name of university, level and type of degree program, program start date and end date, and anticipated tuition and costs for the academic school year or language training program in question.

When F-1 students apply for OPT or STEM OPT, once approved, they receive an EAD card which authorizes them to work in the U.S. for the specified period on the EAD. The EAD qualifies as a List A document on Form 1-9, which U.S. employers are required to complete for each newly hired employee.

Additional Resources

Page last modified June 4, 2024