Employer Guide for Hiring International Students

Note: This page is intended for non-UChicago employers only.  If you are a UChicago administrator  seeking information on hiring an international student, please refer to our OIA Administrator Training webpage.

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Introduction

Hiring a University of Chicago international student is an excellent way to bring some of the world's best talent to your organization. The many benefits of hiring international students include:

  • Broadening the diversity of ideas and perspectives of your teams through enhanced cultural understanding in a global market;

  • Enhancing your economic, scientific and technological competitiveness through increased diversity in research, innovation and knowledge;

  • Increasing understanding and knowledge of markets in STEM OPT students’ home countries and utilizing networks of such employees for the benefit of your organization.

As the office that works with international students at the University of Chicago (Office of International Affairs, or OIA), we wanted to share with you some important information regarding the employment authorization options available to our international students. Please see below for information that may be helpful to you as an employer

 

What is the F-1/J-1 status?

International Students are required to obtain a student visa to pursue their degree or exchange program in the United States.  Like most Universities, the University of Chicago currently sponsors two types of non-immigrant student statuses:

F-1 Student Status—Non-immigrant students working towards a specific degree (e.g. BA, MA, PhD, MD) and some exchange programs. Documents for these students include form I-20, F-1 visa, I-94 card or Electronic I-94 record, and Admission Stamp.

J-1 Student Status–Non-immigrant status used for international exchange. Documents for these students include form DS-2019, J-1 visa, I-94 card or Electronic I-94 record and Admission stamp.

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What is work authorization?

A common misconception about international students is that they are not allowed to work—that is simply not true! In fact, a benefit of the F-1 and J-1 status is that most students may apply for work authorization to accept a variety of employment opportunities. Best of all, it is possible for students to begin working without their employers having to provide visa sponsorship. However, some work authorization types do require an application to the government or the student's international office at their school.

Below, we have provided a brief overview of the types of work authorization available to F-1 and J-1 students. 

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F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is a type of F-1 work authorization that allows students to work off campus in cases where the employment will fulfill 1) a requirement of the student's degree program, 2) the requirement of a student's UChicago course, or 3) is part of an established co-operative educational agreement between the UChicago department and the employer. CPT eligibility requirements are quite strict and cannot be adjusted based on a student's particular circumstances. However, most UChicago degree programs provide some kind of CPT option.

Other Characteristics of CPT:

  • No employer sponsorship needed, but the application does require the employer to provide a CPT letter

  • Students must be enrolled full-time for one academic year before they can apply

  • CPT can only be used before a student completes their degree/graduates.

  • Application is initiated by the student, is processed by the OIA and takes approximately 1 week to approve.

  • Allows part-time and full-time work.

  • Student must have a job offer before they can apply.

Employer Responsibilities

When students apply for CPT, they will be required to submit a CPT employer letter. This letter is crucial to authorizing CPT and we strongly recommend that employers use the CPT employer letter template to make sure all required information is included and prevent CPT processing delays.

Approval

Once all documents are received, it will take approximately 1 week for OIA to authorize the student’s CPT. CPT Approval comes in the form of a new form I-20 which will detail the employment authorization on page 2. The form I-20 may be copied for Human Resources purposes however, the student is required to carry the original.

IMPORTANT:  Students are NOT permitted to begin their off-campus employment until their work authorization has been approved and start date has been reached. Working even one day without proper work authorization can have severe consequences on the student's immigration status and on the company.

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F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a type of F-1 off campus work authorization for degree-seeking students who wish to gain experience in jobs directly related to their major area of study.

Other Characteristics of OPT:

  • No employer sponsorship needed.

  • Students must be enrolled for one year before applying for OPT.

  • OPT may be used before or after a student completes their degree.

    • OPT acquired before degree completion is referred to as Pre-completion OPT.

    • OPT acquired after degree completion is referred to as Post-completion OPT.

  • Application is initiated by the student, is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and takes 3-4 months to be approved. USCIS does not expedite applications.

  •  Allows part-time and full-time work; students on Post-completion OPT are required to work at least 20 hours per week.

  • Eligible students have a maximum of 12 months of OPT; students who have earned a degree in a STEM-designated field may be eligible for an additional 24 months under the OPT STEM Extension.

  • Job offer is NOT required for application.

  • Students must work in a job that is directly related to their degree program. 

Employer Responsibilities

Employers can choose to have little to no involvement with the OPT application process, however, students are required to report general employment information to the OIA and may request an Employment Verification Letter for travel purposes. STEM OPT carries additional employer requirements. 

Approval

OPT approval comes in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This card will state the specific start and end dates for OPT. Examples Below.

Cards issued before May 1, 2017:

Cards issued after May 1, 2017.

new EAD_0.PNG

IMPORTANT: Students are NOT permitted to begin their employment until their work authorization has been approved. Working even one day without proper work authorization can have severe consequences on the student's immigration status.  **Students on OPT must wait until they've received their EAD before they can begin working and before they can apply for a Social Security Number.**

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F-1 STEM OPT

F-1 students who have earned a degree in a STEM-designated field may be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT through the STEM Extension.

Other characteristics of the STEM OPT  Extension:

  • No employer sponsorship needed, however, employers must be highly involved in training and are responsible for completing the I-983 Training Plan, and multiple follow-up progress reports. See Employer Responsibilities for more details. 

  • STEM OPT can only be used after a student completes their initial 12 months of “regular” OPT.

  • Application is initiated by the student, is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and takes 3-4 months to be approved.  Application must be received by USCIS before regular OPT expiration date. Students must list the employer’s E-verify number on the STEM OPT application.

  • Students may apply for the STEM OPT extension no sooner than 90 days prior to the current EAD expiration date.

  • Students must work at least 20 hours per week in a position that directly relates to their STEM degree.

  • Students must be compensated for their work. Volunteer work is not permitted under the OPT STEM extension.

  • Students must have job offer from an E-Verify employer.

Employer responsibilities

Although the program’s various reporting requirements predominately apply to students and sponsoring schools, there are instances where employers must assist in tracking STEM OPT students and their practical training progress.

The employer’s responsibilities for a student’s STEM OPT include:

  • E-Verify: The STEM OPT employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify program.
  • Compensation: The STEM OPT student’s compensation must be commensurate with the pay of a U.S. citizen with the same credentials in a similar position.
  • I-983 Training Plan: The student’s direct supervisor must review and sign-off on the student’s I-983 training plan.
  • Changes to I-983 Training Plan: The direct supervisor must review and sign-off on a new I-983 training plan if there are any material changes to the student’s job (e.g. supervisor name, compensation).
  • Student Self-Evaluations: The student is required to complete two self-evaluations to monitor progress and report on educational goals - one at the mid-point of employment and one at the end. The student’s direct supervisor must review and sign-off on these self-evaluations, as needed.
  • Loss or Termination of Employment: The employer must notify OIA when the student’s employment is terminated for any reason before the end of the authorized OPT extension period. This report must occur within five business days of the end of employment and can be sent via email to international-affairs@uchicago.edu.
  • DHS Site Visits: STEM OPT regulations authorize the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to visit employers who have hired STEM OPT students to confirm that the student is adhering to the training plan on record. In most cases, DHS will provide notice to the employer at least 48 hours in advance of any site visit. For more information please refer to the Study in The States webpage.
  • Student Responsibility: Employers are expected to review and sign-off on training plans and evaluations in a timely manner, but it is the student’s responsibility to keep such documentation up to date and request review of the I-983, if needed.

To find more information about the employer responsibilities listed above, please visit the Study in the States website of the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Approval

STEM OPT approval comes in the form of a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Examples below.

Cards issued before May 1, 2017:

Cards issued after May 1, 2017.

new EAD_0.PNG

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H-1B OPT CAP-GAP Extension

The "H-1B Cap-Gap Extension" refers to the period of time between the end of a student's F-1 status (end of OPT or grace period) and the beginning of the student's H-1B status (October 1). The OPT Cap Gap extension only applies for students submitting a Change of Status petition (not consular processing) for cap-subject employers. 

If a student has an H-1B application pending with or approved by USCIS before the end of their OPT authorization, the Cap Gap extension rule automatically extends an eligible F-1 student's OPT authorization during this "gap" period until the H-1B status becomes active (October 1).

Eligibility

This extension is available to F-1 students whose OPT was approved or who:

  • Have an OPT end date on or after April 1 [current year] and

  • Have a pending or approved Change of Status H-1B petition (I-539) with USCIS.

  • The H-1B petition was filed in a timely manner with USCIS, according to the acceptance period, and

  • The employer is subject to the H-1B cap  (is not exempt from the cap)

In most cases, USCIS automatically adds the cap-gap extension to student’s records who are eligible. If a student believes the cap-gap should be added to their record but it was not, they should contact their OIA advisor for more information.

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J-1 Academic Training

Academic Training (AT) is an off-campus authorization that allows J-1 students to work in jobs and internships that are directly related to their degree programs. Students have to work with their academic departments and their school's international office to apply for AT.

Other characteristics of Academic Training:

  • No employer sponsorship needed, but the application will require a letter from the employer. See Employer Responsibilities for more information.

  • Student must have a job offer before they can apply.

  • AT may be used before or after a student completes their degree.

    • AT acquired before degree completion is referred to as Pre-completion Academic Training

    • AT acquired after degree completion is referred to as Post-completion Academic Training.

  • Application is initiated by the student, is processed by the OIA and takes approximately 1 week to approve.

  • Allows part-time and full-time work.

  • Post-completion Academic training requires that the student be compensated for their work. If they will not be compensated, they should contact OIA to discuss other ways to prove financial ability to remain in the U.S. while on AT.

  • Doctoral students may be eligible for up to 36 months of authorization, while bachelors and masters students are eligible for up to 18 months. Exchange students are eligible for AT corresponding to the amount of time in their program (e.g., 90 days of study = 90 days of AT eligibility).

Employer Responsibilities

When students apply for AT, they will be required to submit a "job offer letter". This letter is crucial to authorizing AT and we strongly recommend that employers use the AT employer letter template to make sure all required information is included and prevent AT processing delays.

 Approval

Once all documents are received, it will take approximately 1 week for OIA to authorize the student’s AT. AT approval comes in the form of a new DS-2019 which will detail the employment authorization on the first page. The form DS-2019 may be copied for Human Resources purposes however, the student is required to carry the original.

IMPORTANT: Students are NOT permitted to begin their employment until their work authorization has been approved. Working even one day without proper work authorization can have severe consequences on the student's immigration status.

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Other types of work visas

Please note the information below is not intended to serve as legal advice; it is for informational purposes only. Content is subject to change. Employers are advised to consult with an experienced immigration attorney or area hiring professional with any additional questions.

Federal regulations require that a student end their employment once their practical or academic training has expired. However, in some cases, students in F-1 or J-1 status may be eligible to apply for a change of status to a work visa, such as the H-1B or TN visa.

H-1B visas are granted to foreign nationals who will work in “specialty occupations”. A specialty occupation requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge to fully perform the required duties. Specialty occupations require a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific field as a minimum for entry in to the occupation.

Maximum eligibility in H-1B status is 6 years (with exceptions made for individuals in process of applying for Legal Permanent Residence).

The H-1B application is employer-based, meaning only the employer can sponsor an individual for H-1B status.

TN status permits qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to seek temporary entry into the United States to engage in business activities at the professional level. Canadian and Mexican citizens can be admitted to the United States in TN status in increments of up to 3 years. Extensions of stay are also granted in up to 3-year increments. There is no cumulative total limit on the time a Canadian or Mexican citizen can be in TN status. Status can be renewed each year indefinitely, provided that the stay remains temporary in nature.

Please note: The OIA is not able to advise students on visa types outside of the F-1 and J-1 status. Employers can find more information on work visa types on the USCIS website. Students are also encouraged to consult with an immigration attorney (if possible) when applying for their change of status.

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H-1B FAQs

Can the student file their own H-1B petition?

No—the H-1B does not allow self-sponsorship. The employer must file the petition. 

What is the “H-1B cap”?

The H-1B cap is a yearly limit on the number of new visas that can be granted to H-1B workers. The cap is currently set at 65,000.  An Additional 20,000 are available to those who have earned a master's or higher degree from a U.S. institution.

The cap numbers become available each year on the first day of the U.S. government’s fiscal year—October 1st. Cases may be filed up to 6 months in advance of the requested start-date, making April 1st the earliest date a cap subject employer may file the H-1B petition with an October 1st start-date.

What does it mean to be “Cap exempt”?

Employment that is exempt from the need for a cap number is referred to as cap exempt. Cap exempt employment includes employment by or at universities, university nonprofit affiliates, nonprofit entities related to or affiliated with institutions of higher education, and governmental research organizations.

Cap exempt employers may sponsor an unlimited amount of H-1B visas and may apply at any time of the year.

What is the general process to file an H-1B like?

Once the Employer has determined their H-1B needs, they will file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor. Once the LCA has been approved, they then submit the I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with USCIS along with all supporting documents. Employers subject to the cap are generally required to submit their petition on or around April 1st   and before the “end-date” of the H-1B window, which is usually 5 days later.

Since USCIS typically receives more H-1B applications then the amount of H-1B visas that are available, the petition will likely be entered into a random lottery. If the petition is not selected in the lottery, then the petition and all fees will be returned to the employer and another petition may be filed next year. Cap exempt employers are not subject to the lottery.

If the petition is chosen, USCIS will begin processing each selected petition.

How long does it take for H-1B approval?

Each step of the H-1B process has its own timeline, however once the application has been submitted the processing time can be several months. Factors such as how complete the petition is, how busy the USCIS service center is, qualifications of the applicant, and the qualifications of the position can affect the length of the processing time.

Premium Processing—Premium Processing provides expedited processing for H-1B applications for an additional fee of $1,225. Specifically, USCIS guarantees a decision within 15 calendar days.

On April 3, 2017, USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions. However, effective immediately, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) will resume the expedited Premium Processing service for certain cap-exempt H-1B petitions. Please visit the USCIS website for more information. 

How much does it cost to file the H-1B?

The base filing fee for the I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant worker is $460. However, several other fees such as the USCIS Anti-Fraud Fee ($500), ACWIA Education and Training fee (depending on number of employees, could be $750 or $1500) and/or Public Law fee ($4,000), could apply.  Further information regarding these fees can be found on the USCIS website. Employer is responsible for paying any applicable training and fraud fees.

The H-1B and TN doesn’t meet our needs—what are our other options?

Other Non-Immigrant Temporary Worker Visas are listed below. For details please the Department of State Website

  • E-3: Specialty Occupation Visa for Australians
  • H-1B1: Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Professional - Chile, Singapore
  • H-2A: Temporary Agricultural Worker
  • H-2B: Temporary Non-agricultural Worker
  • H-3: Trainee or Special Education visitor
  • L-1: Intracompany Transferee
  • O: Individual with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement
  • P-2/3: Artist or Entertainer (Individual or Group)
  • Q-1: Participant in an International Cultural Exchange Program

There are also other visa categories that allow immigrants to work in the U.S. on permanent basis. More information on these visa types can be found Department of State Website

How can the student find an attorney?

Students may request a list of area immigration attorneys from the OIA by e-mailing us at international-affairs@uchicago.edu .

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Taxes, SSN and Other Resources

Taxes

Unless exempted by a Tax Treaty, International students who earn an income will be subject to applicable federal, state and local income taxes. More information on this topic can be found on the IRS website— International Tax Payers/Foreign Students and Scholars.

Social Security Number

Once an F-1 or J-1 student has obtained a job offer, they become eligible for a Social Security Number. If an international student has never worked in the US prior to your job offer, they will need an SSN but are not required to have it before they begin working. If necessary, employers can obtain a letter from the SSA confirming a student has applied for the SSN—more information on this can be found on their website.

Students may apply for the number at their local Social Security Administration and may apply up to 30 days prior to their employment start-date.

When applying, students will be required to present proof of employment. For students on CPT or Academic Training, this means presenting their I-20/DS-2019 with approved work authorization.

Students on OPT must show their Employment Authorization Document (OPT card) and must wait until their start date has been reached before they become eligible for the SSN.

Students can read more about the SSN procedures on our website.

Employers can read more about the SSN for foreign workers on this Social Security Administration webpage.

Other Resources

Do’s and Don’ts for Employers and other FAQs:

I-9 guidance

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet on Internships

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

U.S. Department of State

E-Verify

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Questions? You may reach us by phone at 773. 702.7752, by fax at 773.702.3058 or by e-mail at international-affairs@uchicago.edu. Our office hours are: Monday- Thursday from 9 AM to 4 PM and Friday from 10:30 AM to 4 PM

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