Employing International Students

In the College of Engineering, approximately 10% of undergraduate students and about 60% of graduate students are foreign born. These students represent numerous countries around the world and bring tremendous talent and diversity to the ISU campus and to the workplaces of many employers. About 35% of international students complete a co-op or internship while studying engineering at ISU and many others wish they had the opportunity to experience professional employment in the U.S.

When hiring an international student, employers experience no additional cost or paperwork and the process is the same as making any other college student hire. It is the student’s responsibility to complete the required paperwork and follow all related employment regulations. This information was prepared to help employers understand the benefits of and process for employing international students.

Benefits of Employing International Students

In addition to all of the common benefits of employing an ISU engineering student or alumnus, international students offer some unique benefits.

  • They add an additional layer of diversity of thought to discussions and team projects.
  • Their presence enriches the workplace as they share their experiences and stories from a different culture. This also helps to break down stereotypes.
  • They can provide a global perspective and understanding of unfamiliar business cultures to facilitate growth in markets.
  • They can use language skills to overcome communication challenges with global suppliers and/or customers.
  • They are generally exempt from Social Security and Medicare contributions, which saves an organization money.
  • They often become proponents of a company and supportive ambassadors of American culture when they visit their home countries.

Student VISAs and Work Authorization

Most international students are in the U.S. on an F-1 visa (nonimmigrant, student) or J-1 visa (nonimmigrant, cultural and educational exchange).  These visas permit students to accumulate a certain amount of work experience related to their major both while a student and following graduation.  The table below summarizes the amount of employment permitted before and following graduation.

Visa Type Degree Level Amount of Employment Permitted Prior to Degree
(Co-op and Internship Positions)
Amount of Employment Permitted
After Receiving Degree
F-1
(Most Common at ISU)
Bachelor,
Master, &
Doctoral
364 Days 12 months plus an additional 24 months (STEM extension) if employed with a company that is a member of “E-Verify.”

Note: 12 month eligibility is repeated for each degree level and the STEM extension can be used twice in a lifetime at two different degree levels.

J-1 Bachelor &
Master
Up to 18 months or the length of your time in J1 status, whichever is shorter.  For example, a nine-month program means nine months of academic training (work) eligibility. Any remaining portion of the academic training not used prior to receiving degree
Doctoral Same as above Any remaining portion of the academic training not used prior to receiving degree plus an additional 18 months (36 months total)
Other A small number of students may hold visa other than the ones mentioned here.  Contact Engineering Career Services if you have an interest in employing one of these students.
Process for Employing International Students in Co-op and Internship Positions
The process for employing an international student in a co-op or internship position before they receive their degree is the same as employing any other ISU engineering student.  Once a candidate is identified through normal recruiting processes (career fair, interviews, etc.), all that is needed from the employer is a written offer of employment.  The student and the International Students and Scholars Office at ISU handle the necessary paperwork to authorize Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for F-1 visa holders and Academic Training (AT) for J-1 visa holders.  Once the student provides the necessary information, authorization generally takes less than ten business days.

Employers must simply provide the student with a written job offer on company letterhead that includes:

  • Name and address of company
  • Supervisor’s name and contact information
  • Address or location where student will be working (if different from above)
  • Job title
  • Brief explanation of job duties and responsibilities
  • Start and end dates
  • Number of hours per week

During employment, international student/employees should be treated similar to all other employees in terms of pay, performance expectations, termination, etc.

Process for Employing International Students after they Graduate
The process for employers is exactly the same as summarized above. The student and the International Students and Scholars Office at ISU handle the necessary paperwork.  Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 visa holders must be authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on a recommendation from the designated school official (DSO) in ISSO at ISU.   Academic Training for J-1 visa holders is authorized by the ISU ISSO before the student receives his or her degree and employment.

Retaining International Students beyond the Term Allowed by Student Visa
If an employer wants to extend the employment of an international graduate beyond the period authorized by his or her student or exchange visa, it is possible to petition and secure an H-1B visa. H-1B visas have a three-year duration and can be renewed for an additional three years. This is an extremely popular work visa that is available to foreign nationals who (a) have at least a U.S. Bachelor’s Degree or foreign equivalent and (b) will be working in a job that requires at least a Bachelor’s Degree.

H-1B Quota

There is a quota of 65,000 H-1B visas available for undergraduates each year, plus an additional 20,000 for international students that graduate with a master’s degree or higher from an American university. The H1-B visa is valid only for employment with the company that petitioned for them, so individuals that change jobs must work with their new employer to resubmit an application to USCIS. Positions at universities, non-profits affiliated with universities, and non-profit research organizations are not subject to the quota either.

Application Timing and Costs

USCIS begins accepting applications on April 1 for the next award cycle which runs October 1 through September 30.  Since this is a very popular visa, employers should petition for an H-1B visa as soon after April 1 as possible. Submitting an H1-B petition can cost employers anywhere from $2500-$6000. Check with the Department of Labor for the most up-to-date information.  Normal processing times can vary depending on the work location.  However, CIS has special “premium processing” which guarantees processing in 15 days.  Premium Processing requires an extra $1,000 filing fee.

The Petitioning Process and Employer Obligations:

The employing company, serving as the petitioner of the H1B visa petition, must submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (Form ETA 9035). The LCA contains a number of important attestations that the employer must make. The employer must attest that:

  • the foreign national will be paid the same wage and provided the same benefits as U.S. workers in similar jobs.
  • the foreign national will not adversely affect the working conditions of other similarly employed workers.
  • the Department of Labor will be informed of any strikes, lockouts or work stoppages that develop in the company.
  • the company will provide notice of the LCA to their employees by posting the LCA on the premises in two different conspicuous locations for at least ten business days.
  • a public access file will be maintained that contain documentation showing that the employer is complying with the above requirements.

An employer must fulfill two additional requirements if it is considered dependent on H-1B workers. Employers are considered to be H-1B dependent if they have less than 25 workers and more than seven H-1B workers; between 26 to 50 workers and more than 12 H-1B workers; or more than 50 workers with 15% or more of them being H-1B foreign nationals. An H-1B dependent employer must attest:

  • that they will not be displacing any U.S. worker for a similar position within 90 days before or after filing a H-1B petition and hiring a H-1B worker
  • to making good faith attempts to recruit U.S. workers and offering prevailing wages for the position.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to hire international students?
Yes. Federal regulations permit the employment of international students on F‐1 and J‐1 visas within certain limits. These visas allow students to work in jobs related to their major field of study.  For F‐1 students it is called ”practical training” and for J‐ students it is called “academic training.”

Is hiring an international student expensive and time consuming?
No. The only cost to the employer is the time and effort to interview and select the best candidate for the job. The student and the ISU International Students and Scholars Office process the paperwork required for work authorization.

Do international students need work authorization before accepting an offer?
No. International students must have the work authorization before they start working, but not before they accept an offer of employment. In fact, for Curricular Practical Training (F-1 visa) and Academic Training (J-1 visa), a written offer of employment is required by the ISSO before work authorization will be granted.

How is work authorization documented?
For Curricular Practical Training (CPT), F-1 visa holders receive authorization on their I-20 form from ISU’s ISSO.  The I-20 form is a document issued by a government approved, U.S. educational institution certifying that a student has been admitted to a full-time study program and that the student has demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the U.S.

For Optional Practical Training (OPT) following graduation, F-1 students receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. An EAD is a small photo identity card that indicates the dates that the holder is permitted to work.

When Academic Training for a J-1 student is approved, a new DS-2019 with AT authorization will be issued by ISU’s ISSO. The DS-2019 form documents an individual’s acceptance into an exchange program sponsored by a State Department designated Exchange Visitor Program sponsor.

How many hours per week must an intern or co-op student work?
Generally, summer internships must be full-time positions (40 hours per week).  Semester-long co-ops may be full-time or part-time positions involving at least 20 hours of work per week.  When participating in a part-time co-op (AKA parallel co-op) international students must also be enrolled in at least six credits of coursework in order to maintain their full-time student status.

What is the E-Verify program and what is the process to register for the program?
E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S. E-Verify is fast and easy to use – and it’s the best way employers can ensure a legal workforce. There is no cost to register in the E-Verify program. Information on E-verify and the enrollment procedure can be found at the USCIS website at: https://www.uscis.gov/e-verify

What are the Tax Obligations for Individuals on F-1 and J-1 Visas?
Generally, F‐1 and J‐1 students are exempted from social security and Medicare tax requirements. However, if F‐1 and J‐1 students are considered “resident aliens” for income tax purpose, social security and Medicare taxes should be withheld. Chapter 1 of Internal Revenue Service’s Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens explains how to determine the residency status of international students.  More information on social security and Medicare taxes can be found in Chapter 8 of Internal Revenue Service’s Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens and in Section 940 of Social Security Administration Publication No. 65‐008, Social Security Handbook.

Does an employer need to prove that international students are not taking jobs from a qualified American?
No. Employers are not required to document that a person working under an F‐1, J‐1 or H‐1B visa did not take a job from a qualified American. Employers must document that they did not turn down a qualified American applicant for the position only when they wish to hire foreign citizens on a permanent basis and sponsor them for a permanent resident status (“green card”).

Additional Information

U.S. Employer’s Guide to Hiring International Students (pdf) prepared by ISU’s International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

E-Verify Information

Legal Disclaimer: This material is not intended as and does not serve as legal advice.  It is for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional legal advice.  Content is subject to change, and employers are advised to consult an experienced U.S. Immigration Attorney for advice and further information.  For more information on regulations regarding hiring international students, see www.uscis.gov.