International students living in the United States have plenty of unique skills and perspectives to offer employers—although they are oftentimes strictly limited in the type of work they are allowed to perform based on their student status. Individuals with an F-1 visa, for example, may only work with employers through what are known as “practical training” programs, where they stand to benefit by gaining valuable experience related to their chosen field of study.
As an employer, you may have already met F-1 international students who could potentially become great assets to your company. Naturally, you may also have questions about the steps involved in hiring an F-1 visa holder. You’ll need to understand the two main types of practical training, Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT), and make sure you comply with the laws and regulations surrounding the hiring of international students on an F-1 visa. Here’s what you need to know about practical training in order to legally protect yourself, your company, and your new hires.
What Is Practical Training?
The F-1 visa for international students places limits on the student’s ability to accept employment in the United States. The classification allows students to live in the US temporarily while maintaining the minimum course load for a full-time student. As a nonimmigrant, or someone who is neither a citizen nor a permanent resident, the student can only find work under certain conditions. Practical training legally allows F-1 visa holders to obtain paid work within the country, as long as they meet certain requirements.
Generally, international students seeking practical training must have completed one academic year while in F-1 status. They can work while they are still in school or immediately after they graduate, as long as they maintain F-1 status. Students may apply for one of two types of practical training: Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT must relate to the student’s major or area of study. If you’re looking to hire F-1 students, keep in mind they can apply for 12 months of OPT at each level of education. They can work for a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session. You can assign them full-time hours during the summer (or “vacation” periods when school is not in session) or after they have graduated. If a student’s request for OPT is approved, USCIS will provide them with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Your new F-1 hires may not begin work until they have received the EAD.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
As the name suggests, CPT must be integral to the student’s curriculum (or major). The aim is to let them gain experience that relates to their program of study. While OPT is authorized by USCIS, CPT must be approved by the student’s academic institution. A designated official will review the school’s policies and decide whether the student can work for your company as part of a cooperative education, work study, practicum, or internship program. Students can work on CPT either full-time or part-time, though 12 months or more of full-time CPT makes them ineligible for OPT after they graduate.
Any F-1 students you hire will need to observe specific start or end dates, and they will have to apply for extensions, if eligible, to work beyond the allowed time frame. Make sure you take these dates into consideration before they start working. As long as you understand everything that is legally required of you and take the appropriate steps when hiring F-1 students for practical training employment, your company should will be able to benefit from such hires. In order to ensure compliance when hiring F-1 students, you should always speak with a qualified immigration attorney before taking any action. Williams Immigration can put your concerns to rest with our knowledgeable and personal approach to immigration law. Give us a call to learn more.