U.S. Employer Tips for Hiring Hopkins International Students 

Disclaimer: The following does not constitute legal advice. Employers should consult their general counsel and/or qualified outside immigration counsel for guidance on all immigration employment matters and develop a hiring strategy that includes international candidates. 

I just interviewed an international student who is the perfect candidate for a position at my company – what do I need to know about their situation? 

Contrary to popular belief, hiring an international student for a position is not daunting or incredibly expensive, and it is not as tough as the rumor mill makes it out to be. Most international students reside in the U.S. under two non-immigrant student visa types, F-1 and J-1, allowing them to work in the US under certain conditions. 

Understanding the few extra steps required to hire an international student is essential to diversity and inclusion initiatives and works to reduce latent ignorance and prejudice that may lie in your hiring practices. Additionally, international students bring a wide range of benefits to the workplace, ranging from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, educational experiences, and much more! 

What are the most common visa statuses I am likely to encounter when hiring and how does visa type affect the hiring process? 

F-1 is the most common visa status for international students studying in U.S. and is one of the most common visa types you’ll encounter when looking to hire an international student during or after completion of their academic program. F-1 visas are issued to students accepted for study at accredited U.S. academic institutions and coming to the United States to pursue academic studies at a school with an F-1 program that has been designated by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  

F-1 visa holders may work on campus throughout their studies and during school vacations incident to their F-1 status and without special authorization if otherwise maintaining the terms of their status. Off-campus work requires eligibility for and advance authorization of one of two types of practical training. 

There are two types of practical training for F-1 international students: 

  1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) 
  1. Optional Practical Training (OPT) 

Below, we cover the most important details you’ll need to know regarding hiring a student under CPT or OPT. 

What is F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and what should I know about it? 

CPT is a form of practical training available to most students during a student’s academic program that authorizes work for one specific employer for a set amount of time. CPT must be directly related to the student’s major field of study. Potentially, a student could possess multiple CPT authorizations simultaneously, and thus, could work for multiple employers at the same time, provided the combined activities stay within the weekly hour limitations. Most CPT is authorized after the completion of one full academic year for up to 20 hours per week except during school break and vacation periods or under very rare academic circumstances. 

It is necessary for students to have already secured a job offer from the employer prior to applying for CPT. However, students cannot start working until CPT approval has been obtained from their university.  

The diagram below summarizes the process of obtaining work authorization through CPT. 

The CPT Authorization Process. Step one: Obtain Work. Student receives confirmation of employment. Step two: Apply for CPT. Student applies for CPT authorization for the specific training/work opportunity. Step three: Get CPT Approval. Student receives CPT authorization for the specific opportunity for a set amount of time (may never exceed the end of their academic program). Step four: Start Work! Student can begin work at specified place until CPT authorization expires.

JHU students contemplating an internship or practicum must consult the JHU Office of International Services for guidance or their university’s equivalent office. 

How long does CPT last? 

There is no set time limit for CPT authorization; however, CPT can only be authorized for employment occurring prior to the end of the student’s program of study. For example, a rising sophomore pursuing a 4-year bachelor’s degree could obtain CPT authorization for up to 3 years. CPT is typically authorized on a term-by-term basis due to the requirement for students to concurrently enroll in a course with a practicum component for each authorized period of CPT. 

What are the requirements for the CPT employer letter? 

Provide the student a letter from the company that includes the following details: 

  1. Start and end dates of the internship/practicum 
  2. Number of hours worked per week 
  3. Name and address of workplace 
  4. Name and title of supervisor 
  5. Student’s job title 
  6. Description of student’s duties and their relationship to the university’s degree program 

How much will it cost me? How long will it take to process? 

There is no cost to employers or students. You should expect a CPT processing and approval time of up to 10 business days after a student’s submission of a completed request to JHU or their specific university.  In most cases, JHU issues authorization for up to one semester at a time due to concurrent enrollment requirements. 

Can CPT be extended or renewed? 

Yes! Students can re-apply for CPT under the same employer for another set period of time, so long as they have not graduated from or otherwise completed their program of study. 

What is F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)? 

OPT is a form of practical training that authorizes work for any employer for up to 1 year (up to 3 years for those pursuing a higher education STEM degree). OPT may be secured pre-completion or post-completion of the student’s academic program, though pre-completion OPT is exceedingly rare.  Students can only possess a single OPT authorization at a time, and with this single authorization students can work for multiple employers at a time.  There is no maximum weekly limit on the number of hours worked during post-completion OPT. Students with OPT authorization will be issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), or “EAD card,” by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which authorizes them to work for US employers in their field of study throughout the validity period. 

OPT differs from CPT in several ways: 

  1. The student does not need to have a work opportunity secured prior to applying for OPT. 
  2. Students can only apply to USCIS for OPT with a recommendation from their designated school official (DSO). 
  3. OPT authorization can be granted before OR after the end of the student’s program of study, though overwhelmingly it is secured for post-completion employment. 

The diagram below summarizes the process of obtaining work authorization through OPT: 

The Post-Completion OPT Authorization Process. Step one: DSO Recommendation. Student receives a recommendation for OPT from their designated school official (DSO). Step two: EAD Issued. Student obtains OPT authorization from USCIS and is issued an EAD card. Step three: Start Work! Student can work for any employer (for up to 12 months), so long as it's relevant to their program of study. Step four: Keep Working!  Students with qualifying STEM degrees may be eligible to apply for an additional two years of work authorization.

How long does it last? 

Standard OPT lasts for up to 1 year. Students with qualifying STEM degrees may be eligible to apply for an additional 2 years of work authorization (see “Can it be extended or renewed”). 

How much will it cost me? How long will it take to process? 

There is no cost to employers. USCIS typically processes OPT in about 60 days (about 2 months), but it can take upwards of 3 to 4 months or more during peak OPT processing season. Students may apply for OPT up to 90 days (about 3 months) before and no later than 60 days after completion of their studies (e.g.; the window for spring graduates starts in February each year).  Students may pay extra to expedite USCIS processing. 

Can it be extended or renewed? 

Yes, OPT can be extended for upwards of 2 additional years (for a total of 3 years of work authorization) for students with qualifying STEM degrees under the OPT STEM Extension. For example, a computer science undergraduate student can potentially be hired to work for up to 3 years with no employer sponsorship or employer costs. More on this below. 

F-1 OPT STEM Extension 

The STEM OPT Extension grants students in F-1 status––who have graduated with an approved STEM (science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics) degree––up to 2 years of additional OPT work authorization (for a total of 3 years). This allows students to continue to gain additional practical work experience related to their STEM field. Unlike standard OPT, STEM OPT is employer-specific, which we’ll outline below.  

What Employers need to do for Student STEM OPT Extensions: 

Though there is still no cost to the employer, there are several things the employer must do for a STEM OPT Extension to be authorized. Follow the guidelines below for an in-depth review of employer responsibility: 

  1. The employer must be enrolled in and in good standing with E-Verify (administered and determined by SSA and USCIS). If you have not done so already, you can enroll in E-Verify and learn more about what it is by following the hyperlinks provided. 
  1. The employer must be prepared to comply with the terms and conditions for hiring a student on STEM OPT. A government agent may conduct a worksite visit to verify STEM OPT program requirements are being met. What does this mean and what are the terms and conditions? 
    • The employer has a genuine employer-employee relationship with the applicant student. 
    • Th employer has sufficient resources and personnel available to provide appropriate training in connection with the specified opportunity. 
    • The STEM OPT student is not replacing a full- or part-time, temporary, or permanent U.S. worker. 
    • Employee training will assist the hired student in attaining their training goals outlined by the employer. 
  1. The employer must prepare and implement a formal training plan to support the student’s academic learning through practical experience. This is documented on the Form I-983 Training Plan, which must be customized to the student and their training goals. Two self-reports of the student’s progress must be signed by the employer and submitted to the student’s international student services office at least 10 days prior to the deadlines
    • The 12-month (1 year) mark; and 
    • The conclusion of the STEM OPT or at the conclusion of the specific position, if it ends before the end date of the STEM OPT authorization. 
  1. The employer must report any termination of employment to the student’s university’s international student services office within 5 business days. 
  1. The employer must employ the student in a paid position, working at least 20 hours a week. 

Post-OPT status under the H-1B Cap-Gap regulations: What is this and how is it relevant to me? 

The H-1B Cap-Gap provision extends a student’s F-1 status to essentially bridge the gap between the OPT or OPT STEM work authorization end date and the start date of a cap-subject H-1B on October 1. This allows the student to remain in the US during the gap period. Depending on the timing of the H-1B petition filing, the student’s work authorization may be extended through September 30.  In cases where the H-1B petition was filed and received by USCIS during the student’s F-1 grace period, the student’s F-1 status may be extended but they cannot work during that period. They can, however, remain in the United States. 

An employer’s immigration specialist or their qualified legal representative must prepare and file a petition with USCIS for sponsorship of the individual for employment. Students must work with their F-1 sponsor AND the individual filing the H-1B petition for guidance on the H-1B cap gap.  For more information on the H-1B Cap-Gap, how it applies to your (potential) employees, extensions, qualifications, and so on, you can follow this USCIS link on the application of Cap-Gap for F-1 visa holders. 

The J-1 visa status is a lot less common than F-1 visa status but is still prevalent enough that you may encounter several students under this visa status. Under J-1 status, international students can work for up to 1.5 years (for a period equal to the duration of their academic program or 18 months, whichever is less) through work authorization known as academic training. Post-doctoral students are eligible to apply for an additional 1.5 years beyond the original 1.5 years, for a total of 3 years. 

What is J-1 Academic Training (AT)? 

Academic Training (AT) is authorization that allows a student to participate in practical training directly related to their field of study. AT applies to training or practical experience and is available at any point in the student’s study program, whether they are currently studying or recently completed their program. AT must be authorized by the student’s J-1 program sponsor before the end of the student’s degree program and must begin within 30 days following the student’s program end date. Students should consult their J-1 program sponsor for more information about eligibility.   

How long does it last? 

AT work authorization can be approved for up to 1.5 years for non-doctorate holding students, or for the length of their program, whichever is shorter. It can be approved for up to 3 years for post-doctorates. 

How much will it cost me? How long will it take to process? 

There is no cost to the employer or student and no necessary action for the employer to take other than providing the student with an offer letter.  If JHU is the student’s J-1 program sponsor, the offer letter should include the following: 

  • Description of the position, including major responsibilities 
  • Start and end date for the position 
  • Number of hours per week 
  • Amount of financial compensation, or a confirmation that it’s unpaid 
  • Street address of the organization where the training will take place  

The student handles obtaining authorization from their program sponsor.  If JHU is not the J-1 sponsor, the student should consult their sponsor regarding AT eligibility and process. The approval process typically takes about 10 business days. 

The international student working for me has graduated and their J-1/F-1 status has expired. I want them to continue working for me. What’s next? 

After a student has worked for you for X number of years, keeping them employed can become a slightly greater investment. Nonetheless, the money saved from having to train a new employee and the risk of potentially losing irreplaceable talent may be worth it in the end. International graduates can remain employed under H-1B Visa status. This does have a cost, and this does involve sponsorship. 

H-1B temporary worker Visa Status: The next stage in student employment (Post-J-1/F-1) 

H-1B visas are for temporary employment in a position that meets the USCIS definition of a “Specialty Occupation.”  These visas may be approved in increments of up to 3 years at one time, and renewable up to a total of 6 years.  

H-1B Visa Authorization Process. Step one: Expiration. F-1 or J-1 status expires. Step two: Petition. Employer petitions for H-1B visa status on behalf of the international employee. Step three: Start Work! International employee can work for up to 3 years under H-1B status. Step four: Stay Working! Work authorization can be extended for another 3 years if employer re-petitions for the employee.

What Employers need to do for H-1B petitions: 

An employer’s immigration specialist or their qualified legal representative must prepare and file a petition with USCIS for sponsorship of the individual for employment. H-1B positions are employer and employment specific.  The employer’s primary job is to prepare and file the H-1B petition (USCIS Form I-129) on behalf of the international employee

How long does it last? 

H-1B status may be approved in increments of up to 3 years at one time, renewable up to a total of 6 years.  

How much will it cost me? How long will it take to process? 

Depending on several factors, H-1B petition costs can range from $1,000-$7,000 or more. There is an optional fee for USCIS Premium Processing, which expedites the processing time and requires USCIS to take action within 15 calendar days from the time of submission. Without premium processing, it can take anywhere from 5 weeks to over 5 months or more for H-1B petitions to be approved. Employers should contact their legal representation to see if Premium Processing is preferable for their circumstances. With advance planning and an early start, premium processing fees might be avoidable.  All fees associated with the preparation and filing of an H-1B petition must be paid by the employer and may not be reimbursed by the H-1B worker. 

Can it be extended or renewed? 

Yes! H-1B visa status can be renewed for up to a total of six years. This requires the employer to prepare and submit a new petition for H-1B employment for the international employee. In limited circumstances, an H-1B may be extended beyond the six-year limit if the beneficiary is in advanced stages of the permanent residency process. 

Is there anything else I should know? 

Fortunately, there is minimal paperwork for an employer hiring a student in F-1 or J-1 status. Moreover, for the first year of OPT, all paperwork is handled by the students, the school, and USCIS. Employers should also be aware that hiring and renewal processes for CPT and OPT are of no cost to them, and any fees incurred are the student’s responsibility. 

Employers should consult their Office of Human Resources or Legal Counsel regarding I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification requirements. I-9 processing must be completed within 3 business days of the start date of employment

An SSN is not required to begin employment, but will be necessary soon after for payroll, tax, and withholding requirement of all employees. If the job is on-campus, the JHU Office of International Services (OIS) will provide the student with a letter to take to the Social Security Administration (SSA). If it is not on-campus, the student will work directly with SSA or request an SSN when applying for OPT. Start-up companies are advised to secure qualified counsel for this process. In most cases, students will already have SSNs from prior employment in the U.S. 

No. So long as the proper work authorization is completed and verified, and the filed applications/forms were properly reviewed and provided accurate information on your employee, there are no legal barriers or trouble you would face when hiring an international student or employee. 

Most international students who do not fall under U.S. Citizenship or Permanent Resident status enroll in academic programs under F-1 or J-1 non-immigrant visa statuses, with F-1 being the most common. 

This varies but is typically dependent on the length of the student or principal visa holder’s status. For more information on other/less common visa types, you can visit these U.S. Government pages to review their immigration resources:  

  1. The U.S. Department of State 
  2. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and 
  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Unfortunately, it’s relatively complicated (and varies by country) to hire a student who is living outside of the US to intern for an organization in the US. Employers should consult their Office of Human Resources or qualified global immigration legal counsel. Legally employing individuals working from abroad requires expertise in the immigration rules of the host country, tax law, export controls, and more. We encourage you to reach out to the appropriate group to learn more about how this would be possible for your situation and that of your foreign national intern/employee.

By Kayla Goldstein
Kayla Goldstein