International Students - Information for Employers

Most International Students in the United States are in a non-immigrant student status known as F-1 status. The federal regulations that apply to this class of non-immigrant is found in the US Code of Federal Regulations, 8 CFR 214.2(f) Academic and Language* Students. The following information applies ONLY to students who have F-1 status. The employment of non-immigrants in other classifications is allowed or restricted by regulations that apply specifically to those classifications.

(*Although the general regulations apply to both academic and English language students, only students in academic programs are eligible for employment outside of campus.)

Practical Training

Practical Training is the term that applies to employment of F-1 students in positions that relate to their fields of study and thereby have an educational dimension.

There are two different types of Practical Training:

  1. Curricular Practical Training – permitted while a student is enrolled in academic studies
  2. Optional Practical Training – available after a student completes a program of study

The regulations, procedures, time frames, etc. vary between the two types and so will be discussed in separate sections. Information related to Income tax, FICA and Medicare withholding is the same for both types of employment and are covered in a separate section.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training is the regulatory term for employment authorization that can be granted by the Designated School Official (DSO) of an institution. At Pomona College, the DSO is the International Student Advisor.

Student Eligibility Constraints

  • The student must still be pursuing their program of study (not have graduated).
  • The student must meet certain eligibility requirements. It is the student's responsibility to learn what is required by his or her institution or program before applying for any off campus internship.

The CPT employment authorization is granted by the Designated School Official (DSO) and is printed on the 2nd page of the student's I-20 (the Certificate of Eligibility for F-1 Student Status). The authorization will show the following:

  1. That it is for CPT
  2. Whether for part-time employment (20 hours per week or less) or full-time employment – more than 20 hours per week (NOTE: students can only work part-time during the academic year and either part-or full-time in the breaks.  For the 2023-2024 year this means students are eligible to work up to full time December 16, 2023 - January 15, 2024, March 10-16, 2024, and May 11 - August 25, 2024)
  3. The beginning and end date of the authorization (Work authorizations are generally granted by academic terms, but can include the break between terms.)
  4. The name of the employer
  5. The city and state where the student will be performing his/her duties

When required, the CPT authorization on the I-20 is an appropriate document for Column C of the I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. (DSO's are authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to grant CPT employment authorization to F-1 students.).  Employers are not required to be enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program for CPT authorization.

The advantage of CPT to both the employer and the student is that authorization can usually be granted within a few days after the employer extends the job offer. However, in no circumstances can a student begin working before the authorization is granted. For a student to work without an appropriate employment authorization is a serious violation of status and can result in the student having to leave the US.

Hiring Procedures

  1. The employer may interview, screen and offer employment using their usual HR procedures. The position does not have to be identified by the employer as an internship position. It can be any activity or project that provides a supervised learning opportunity in the student's field of study and does not violate any Department of Labor regulations. A written job offer letter is required.
  2. The student prepares a school Request Form to provide the company name and address and the projected dates for the activity.
  3. When required, the student prepares a Learning Agreement for the school in which the students states 1) what knowledge and skills learned in classes s/he expects to use during the internship; 2) what new knowledge or skills the student hopes to acquire; 3) how the experience will impact the student’s career plans; and 4) how the student expects the experience will enhance their liberal arts education. .
  4. To comply with federal regulations, the employer is asked to sign* the Learning Agreement (if presented) on which the employer agrees to provide adequate supervision, mentoring and support so that the intern may carry out agreed upon responsibilities and realize stated goals. *If providing a signature is problematic, the employer can satisfy this requirement by providing additional details of the internship arrangement in the original offer letter or a subsequent letter detailing the nature of the internship.
  5. The student reports to work.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Post-Completion Optional Practical Training is the term for 12 months of work authorization granted by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the conclusion of a program of study. Students are eligible for 12 months of post-completion OPT at each degree level. Students who obtain a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Mathematics (STEM) may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT referred to at the STEM Extension OPT.

For both post-completion and STEM Extension OPT, students receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by USCIS. The EAD bears the student's name and picture and shows the exact dates that the individual is permitted employment in the US. The EAD is a Column A document on the Employment Eligibility Verification form, the I-9. Employers are not required to be enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program for OPT authorization.

The STEM OPT Extension can be authorized by USCIS if the student

  1. Is on post-completion OPT utilizing the knowledge and skills acquired in a program in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics, and
  2. Has a job or a job offer from an employer. Employers are required to be enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program for STEM OPT Extension authorization.  The student will need the employer's E-Verify number when they apply for the STEM OPT Extension.

To apply for the STEM Extension, the student, in cooperation with their employer, must complete an I-983 form, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. Note:  These documents are only required for the STEM Extension OPT application and not for post-completion OPT.  The application window for the STEM Extension OPT is 90 days before the post-completion OPT end date. See STEM OPT Reporting on the Study in the States website.

Students on either post-completion and STEM Extension OPT are still classified as F-1 students. Nothing about their immigration status has changed. They still come under the jurisdiction of their school.

Employer Considerations and Concerns

Students with OPT are responsible for seeking employment in their field of study - chemistry majors in work requiring study in chemistry, biology majors in work requiring study in biology, business majors in business settings, etc. It is not the employer's responsibility to insure that the work is appropriate. That is the student's responsibility.

As in CPT, employers may interview, screen and offer employment using their usual HR procedures. However, unlike the process for CPT, in the case of a student on their initial 12 months of post-completion OPT, the employer does not have to complete any school paperwork nor do any reporting back to the school or to the government. The student is responsible for all the required processing to get the initial OPT work permit and all subsequent reporting obligations. For a STEM Extension OPT application, see statement above concerning employer participation in a STEM Extension application.

Employment Options after OPT

Employment under OPT ends at the conclusion of the authorized period on the EAD card. However, F-1 students who have completed at least a bachelor's degree are eligible for sponsorship by their employer for H-1B status - a temporary worker status processed by USCIS. Interested employers can research this process on the Internet or consult with an immigration attorney as to the timing and processing of such an application.

Income Tax, FICA and Medicare

Depending on the nature of the employment, F-1 students can be placed on regular company payrolls or paid as contractors - commonly called 1099 Employment.

F-1 non-immigrants are subject to US tax laws but not necessarily in the same way as US citizens or Green Card Holders. Depending on the time the student has studied in the US, he or she may be classified as either a resident or a non-resident for taxes. Generally, students who have been in the US for less than six years are non-residents for taxes. IRS Publications 15, 515, 519 and 901 address the tax status of non-immigrants in the US and the particular provisions for those classified as non-residents for taxes.

Income Tax

F-1 students earning income under practical training are subject to applicable federal, state, and local income taxes. As with all other employees, students complete W-4's to declare their allowances for income tax withholding.

Social Security and Medicare Withholding

Non-residents for tax purposes are exempt from Social Security and Medicare withholding.  That, of course, also excuses the employer from having to pay the employer portion of these taxes. See IRS Publication 519, Section 8 – Students and Exchange Visitors.