The complexities of hiring international entry-level employees can sometimes discourage staffing professionals from sourcing student visa holders. However, passing over these candidates is a missed opportunity. 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. As a group, these individuals are goal-oriented and adventurous, and they often have language skills that are hard to find in other candidates.
There are some caveats to hiring candidates with student visas, as a number of regulations apply to the F1, J1, or M1 visa programs. A quick review of student visa basics before bringing international students on board will ensure that only individuals eligible for the job are hired.
Employer Guide to F1 Student Visas
The F1 Student Visa program allows international students to live in the United States while they are enrolled in a full-time academic or degree program at a school, college, or university. These individuals can take on-campus jobs without restriction, but there are limitations to the off-campus jobs they can hold. One of the most important limitations is a restriction on working off-campus during the first year of academic study. Students may not work for any off-campus employer, without exception, during their first year of school.
After their first year of school, students with F1 visas can seek off-campus employment that falls into one of the following two 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 school 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.
In both 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 F1 Visa Holder
When completing the I-9 process and verifying identity and eligibility of employment for F1 visa holders, the following documents are required:
- Unexpired passport.
- 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.
Employer Guide to J1 Student Visas
There are two main differences between F1 and J1 student visas. The first is related to how the student's education is funded, which has no bearing on off-campus employment. The second does impact employment options, as it states that J1 student visa holders may only work in positions that qualify as Academic Training. Academic Training refers to work that is directly related to students' academic majors, extending their understanding and expanding their hands-on skills in their field of study.
J1 programs are coordinated by sponsoring academic institutions, who provide the appropriate documentation showing that the student is authorized to work. 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.
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 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.
- 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.
Complying With M1 Student Visa Requirements
Students who are visiting the U.S. on an M1 Visa are here to participate in non-academic or vocational study. Though they are enrolled in a formal educational program, these visas carry different regulations than the F1 and J1 programs. Specifically, M1 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 the purpose of 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.
Managing Taxes for Employees With Student Visas
F1 and J1 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
- When posting your role, consider using a tool such as Symplicity Recruit that allows you to include screening criteria that ask students whether or not they are legally authorized to work in the US. Have follow-up questions to drill down their exact work status.
- Include this standard question on all employment applications: Can you provide documentation showing you are authorized to work in the United States?
- Though student visa holders should be aware of their employment eligibility, inquire about the type of visa during screening interviews.
- 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 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.
IRS. (2017). About Notice 1392, Supplemental Form W-4 Instructions for Nonresident Aliens. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-notice-1392
IRS. (2017). Social Security/Medicare and Self-Employment Tax Liability of Foreign Students, Scholars, Teachers, Researchers, and Trainees. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/foreign-student-liability-for-social-security-and-medicare-taxes
Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security. (2017). Official Site for Travelers Visiting the United States: Apply for or Retrieve Form I-94, Request Travel History and Check Travel Compliance. Retrieved from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
US Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. (2017). J1 Visa Basics. Retrieved from https://j1visa.state.gov/basics/other-u-s-visas/