Hiring international students on the F-1 visa has enormous benefits for companies trying to build their global workforce with burgeoning talent in the field. The process of hiring international F-1 visa students with OPT work authorization has a number of steps and requirements for employers, especially if the student is eligible for the OPT STEM extension. Here are answers to some of your most pressing questions about how to navigate the F-1 visa and STEM OPT.
What is OPT for the F-1 visa?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available for all international F-1 student visa holders who have graduated from higher education in the U.S. OPT allows students to gain real-life experience for a minimum period of one year, as they train and work in a field related to their area of study.
What is the STEM extension for OPT?
While the number of international students in the U.S. studying STEM fields grows, employers can tap into this widening pool of exceptional talent. Certain F-1 visa holders graduating with a degree in a STEM field in math, science, technology or engineering are eligible to apply for an OPT STEM extension of 24 months, permitting them to train and thus work in the U.S. in their field of study for a total period of up to three years.
What is CPT?
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is authorization for a student who has been enrolled in higher education studies for at least one year for temporary practical training. Training can take place during the academic year, while the student is enrolled full-time at a higher education institution, and during annual vacations. CPT can be part-time or full-time and includes employment as well as paid and unpaid internships, but must be related to the student’s field of study as indicated on the original Form I-20.
Who can supervise F-1 OPT students?
The personnel who supervise and train the student must be either you, your employees or retained by the employer directly for training. In other words, trainers cannot be hired by clients or outside external parties that have hired your organization to provide services or as their vendor.
What are the employer OPT STEM extension requirements?
Employers must participate in E-Verify and complete a training plan with the OPT STEM extension eligible employee. Also, students with the STEM extension cannot be used to replace a full or part-time U.S. worker.
What is E-Verify?
E-Verify is an internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. The system compares information contained in the Employment Eligibility Verification, Form I-9, with records contained in the systems databases to help employers verify identity and employment eligibility of newly hired employees (foreign nationals, as well as U.S. workers). If you are not currently enrolled in E-Verify, be sure to discuss this with your general counsel as you will be required to use E-Verify for all I-9 purposes going forward. The F-1 student with OPT will be required to submit your E-Verify company identification number in order to apply to USCIS for the STEM extension.
How do I complete a training plan?
The training plan for the F-1 employee must be completed with the student via Form I-983. This form is then submitted to the student’ designated Department of Homeland Security school official, usually located in the college or universities’ international student office. The training plan does not need to be elaborate, rather it just sets the expectations for the period of employment and communicates the goals and objectives of the training.
Where can the F-1 OPT STEM student be employed?
The training sessions must also take place at the same location where the foreign national will be working, as indicated on your form I-983. Recently USCIS made clarifications regarding the required location of the STEM OPT location. An F-1 OPT STEM EAD holder cannot work at third-party sites, including client sites.
What happens to my employee after CPT or OPT ends?
You may be able to sponsor your employee for employment-based work through a visa or green card. It’s essential to plan in advance, since some visas are only available at certain times during the year, and some students may be able to skin an employment visa altogether and move straight into the green card process if they are eligible for a STEM extension. Even if you’re planning to make a long-term offer of employment, it’s critical to understand your options and timeline if you choose to move forward with sponsorship. Speak with your legal counsel or contact Envoy so an attorney can start helping you develop an employment plan for your student now.
Interested in how to navigate other U.S. visas for employees? Read our H-1B Visa Alternatives Guide for tips and guidance on relevant visas beyond the H-1B.