Employers looking to hire foreign college students, whether an undergraduate or graduate student, need to be aware of these three topic areas in order to comply with the law.
1. Optional Practical Training vs. Curricular Practical Training for Foreign College Students
Foreign college students may obtain permission to work with either Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
Only college students who have been enrolled for one full academic year may participate in OPT or CPT. If the student qualifies, they obtain permission at their university from the Foreign Students Officer.
Things to know about Optional Practical Training
- Pre-completion OPT takes place before graduation. Students may only work part-time, 20 hours per week or less, while school is in session. On academic breaks, such as winter break or summer break, students may work full time.
- Post-completion OPT takes place after graduation (this can be for either undergraduate or graduate students). Students working as part of post-completion OPT may work full time or part time.
- OPT is allowed only for a total of 12 months and accumulates. Any time spent working in OPT before graduation counts toward that 12 month total and will determine how long the student can work in post-completion OPT.
- Once the college or university gives permission, the student must still apply with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
- The EAD must be shown to the employer in order for the student to begin work.
Things to know about Curricular Practical Training
- Curricular Practical Training is similar to an internship. If the student’s course of study or major requires the completion of an outside internship, then the CPT is a good choice.
- A CPT job may be full or part time.
- Because an employer is agreeing to provide employment that will fulfill internship requirements, the employer must sign off on the program of work at the beginning.
- If the student uses 12 months or more of full time CPT, they are ineligible for any post-completion OPT. However, if their CPT is part-time, they are still eligible for post-completion OPT.
2. The STEM Extension Option
Students who have graduated in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) may be allowed a 24 month extension of post-completion OPT. In order to qualify for this extension students and employers need to meet these additional requirements:
- The student’s STEM major must be a specific major as listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List
- The student must be in F1 status
- The employer must be enrolled in and using E-Verify
- The student’s original OPT must be based on the STEM degree and they must have an EAD card approved by the USCIS
3. Apply Early and Often for the H1B Visa
The third area employers need to be aware of when employing foreign students and recent graduates is the H1B process and application deadlines. If they have a recent graduate employee working for them via post-curricular OPT (with its one year limit) then an employer should consider applying for the H1B Visa at their first opportunity, the first April after graduation.
If a student or recent graduate employee working with the STEM extension is not approved for the H1B when they apply that first time, they can apply again the following April.
Applying early ensures they can take advantage of a second chance to apply for the H-1B lottery, if needed.
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