According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2021, labor force participation has grown in diversity with an increased number of race and ethnicity groups making up the employed population. Along with a rise in diversity, there's also been a steady incline in the number of foreign students graduating from American colleges and obtaining authorization to work in the U.S., especially among those in STEM fields. So, what's the best way to hire candidates with student visas?
Although the process of hiring international entry-level talent is complex, passing over these candidates is a missed opportunity for employers. International students add diversity to the company's labor force, bringing new perspectives to business problems and supporting the organization's ability to find innovative solutions. Moreover, international talent makes it easier for companies to venture out into global markets more confidently, as they can help bridge linguistic gaps and help employers integrate themselves with local communities while maintaining the authenticity of their products and services.
While there are certain considerations employers should keep in mind when it comes to recruiting early talent with student visas, it shouldn’t discourage them from sourcing student visa holders. A quick review of student visa basics before bringing international students on board ensures that employers can find the most eligible candidates for the job. Here’s how to do it.
Basic Guide to F1 Student Visas
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services define the F 1 visa as a visa for students that allows them to enter the United States, as long as they are enrolled in an accredited college, language training program, or university as a full-time student in a program or course of student that culminates in a degree or diploma. With this visa, students are eligible for on-campus work, as long as it doesn’t go over 20 hours per week and school is in session. Be aware that there will be a visa issuance fee before you're able to obtain the F 1 visa.
Watch Out: The most important limitation of this visa is its restriction on students to work off-campus. Currently, F1 student visas do not allow off-campus work unless the student can demonstrate severe economic hardship occurring after the student enrolls in an academic program and they’ve been enrolled for at least one full academic year. A visa interview may be required to maintain status.
What Constitutes a Severe Economic Hardship?
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office (USCIS), the circumstances must be unexpected and beyond their control. These include:
Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment (if the student is not at fault)
Large increases in tuition or living costs
Substantial decrease in the relative value of currency the student depends upon to pay expenses
Unexpected changes in the financial conditions for a student's sources of financial support
Unexpectedly large medical bills not covered by insurance
Other substantial, unexpected expenses
Switching Status: Form I-20 "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status"
Working off-campus on an F 1 visa is not entirely impossible. While there are stipulations placed on students with F1 visas limiting their work to on-campus opportunities, for students able to prove extenuating circumstances, a switch of status can allow them to work off-campus.
Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” is a primary document used by colleges and universities that shows students have been admitted to school in the United States and that they’re allowed to apply for admission to the United States in F1 class of admission. With this form, students endorsed by USCIS can file form I-765 “Application for Employment Authorization” which approves them to work off-campus for one year.
Off-Campus Work Options for Students
Once students can obtain their employment authorization and have been enrolled in an academic program for one year, they can seek off-campus employment opportunities that fall into one of the following three categories:
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) - These jobs are created through a partnership between outside employers and the school. Employers offer internships, cooperative education, or other practicums that are integrated into the curriculum. Under these circumstances, the Designated School Official (DSO) completes a Form I-20 as verification of the student's work eligibility.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) – While not directly integrated into the curriculum, OPT employment is related to the student's academic major. Students who receive authorization to work in an OPT capacity have restrictions on their hours. When the academic institution is in session, they can only work 20 hours per week, though they can work full-time when school is not in session. They are permitted to work for a maximum of 12 months unless an extension is granted.
STEM Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT) - Similar to the Optional Practical Training, this category of employment focuses on students participating in qualifying STEM degrees at a higher educational level. They are permitted to work for a period of 24 months, with the option to extend for an additional 24-month period for earning a master’s degree in a STEM-related program.
In all three cases, employers are not responsible for completing paperwork or assisting prospective employees in obtaining work authorization. Students work with their school administration and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to obtain appropriate documentation.
Employers are responsible for reviewing student visa holders' documentation, and they verify they have done so through the process of completing employee I-9 forms. The I-9 form is required for every US employee upon hire, as it verifies each worker's identity and eligibility to work in the US.
Completing an I-9 for an F 1 Visa Holder
When completing the I-9 process and verifying identity and eligibility of employment for F1 visa holders, the following documents are required:
Form I-20 with the Designated School Official's endorsement for employment.
A valid Form I-94 or I-94A Arrival-Departure Record completed by the Department of State confirming F1 status.
Basic Guide to J1 Student Visas
Although similar to the F1 visa, the J1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the U.S. This type of visa is suited for students looking to partake in work-and study-based cultural exchange program, like au pair, internships, research scholar, summer work travel, and teaching opportunities. J1 student visas provide opportunities for students to gain more experience through experiential learning opportunities, as well as travel opportunities across the United States.
J1 programs are coordinated by sponsoring academic institutions, who provide the appropriate documentation showing that the student is authorized to work and enrolled in an exchange program. Employers are not responsible for partnering with government agencies to secure J1 students' work permits. This is handled by the student and the school, and employers are only responsible for reviewing documentation as required by the standard I-9 process.
Restrictions with J1 Visas
One of the main factors that set this visa apart from the F1 visa is that it requires students to do something called the “two-year home-country physical presence requirement.” Under these requirements, students are required to return to their home country for two years after the completion of the exchange visitor program. Without fulfilling the two-year home-country physical presence requirements after the exchange visitor program, students are unable to change or adjust their visa status, receive an immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, or receive a temporary worker (H), intracompany transferee (L) or fiance (K) visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Additionally, J1 student visa holders are typically restricted to 18 months of work, which can extend past graduation. However, students who wish to continue their Academic Training work in the U.S. after graduation must have a job offer before graduation.
Completing an I-9 for a J1 Student Visa Holder
Students who hold a J1 visa do not need an EAD (Form I-766) from the USCIS. Instead, obtain the following documents to confirm identity and eligibility to work in the U.S. through the I-9 process:
Unexpired passport/valid passport.
A valid Form I-94 or I-94A Arrival-Departure Record completed by the Department of State confirming J1 status.
A Form DS-2019 prepared by program sponsors specifying the type of work students can perform.
An employment authorization letter from the program sponsor.
Basic Guide to M1 Student Visas
Students who are visiting the U.S. on an M1 Visa are here to participate in non-academic, language training program, or vocational study. Though they are enrolled in a formal academic institution, these visas carry different regulations than the F1 and J1 programs. Specifically, M1 student visa holders are not permitted to work, which means any M1 visa candidates must be turned away by employers.
The only exception to this regulation is when the work is for practical training after the academic portion of the program is complete. In this situation, students are permitted to work for a maximum of six months. Work for practical training is coordinated by the school, and M1 visa holders must be given authorization by the Designated School Official and the USCIS before starting any job. A visa interview may be required to process this visa.
Managing Taxes for Employees with Student Visas
F1 and J1 student visa holders are typically exempt from U.S. Social Security and Medicare taxes, as long as the work being performed is permitted under the requirements of their visas. They are often exempt from withholding of income taxes as well; however, a licensed tax advisor is the best source of detailed information on individual situations. Employees with student visas should complete a W-4 form using an alternative set of instructions:
Check the "Single" marital status on line 3 (regardless of actual marital status).
Do not claim "Exempt" withholding status on line 7.
Write "Nonresident Alien" or "NRA" above the dotted line on line 6 of Form W-4.
Checklist for Hiring Candidates with Student Visas
Hiring candidates with student visas is not impossible, but the process often requires important steps to comply with all the requirements necessary before the first day of work. Use this checklist to help you keep everything in order when hiring early talent with student visas.
When promoting entry-level roles, make sure to include screening criteria that ask students about their eligibility to legally work in the U.S.
Upon hire, ensure students complete I-9 forms with appropriate identification documents.
Complete W-4 document.
Review W-4 with tax advisor and payroll servicer to ensure correct calculation of taxes.
Maintain I-9 documents through standard record storage processes.
Follow up when work authorization expires to determine the next steps regarding the student's employment status.
Once the student is no longer eligible to work through the F1 and J1 visa programs, employment must be terminated. If students elect to stay and work in the United States after graduation, they will apply for a change in the type of visa they hold from a student visa to an H1-B visa.