As summer approaches, new graduates are entering the workforce, and college students are seeking to supplement their education with internships and summer employment. This article provides our top tips for employers hiring a new graduate or summer intern who is a noncitizen on Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) status. OPT and CPT allow noncitizen students on F-1 status to engage in “practical training” or employment in a field related to their degree program with a United States employer. OPT and CPT are a win-win for F-1 students and employers – providing valuable work experience for noncitizen students and giving U.S. businesses a talent pool for hard to fill positions in STEM fields, research and more.
While OPT and CPT are well-established employment avenues for noncitizen graduates and students, employers should be aware of special considerations for OPT and CPT employees.
Five Tips for OPT and CPT Employers
- Make sure the job title matches the field of study – especially in technology fields. Labor theorists say many jobs of tomorrow don’t exist today. That logic applies to today’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Technology moves fast – and USCIS has had a hard time keeping up with emerging industries, especially for IT, IoT and SaaS employers. Fields like data engineering, systems architecture and development operations don’t always line up with degree fields like MIS and Electrical Engineering. Working to align the job/degree requirements with degree programs of your preferred candidates can save you from Request for Evidence (RFE) filings.
- Familiarize yourself with the I-9 Documents. While you should never ask an employee for specific documents in the I-9 process, the most common Section 1 and 2 documents for F-1 status are: an EAD card (OPT); I-94 record; foreign passport; and Form I-20. Anyone handling these documents should be familiar with their purpose in the I-9 process. For an in-depth look, see this informational video by FordMurray Founding Partner Russell Ford.
- Is your company registered for E-Verify? Employers registered in E-Verify can support F-1 OPT students working in STEM fields to extend their OPT status for up to three years. This allows the E-Verify employer to have additional opportunities to file H-1B applications under the H-1B lottery and/or support the employee for a “green card” through employment. Learn more about the green card process here.
- Have a plan for keeping your employee on board. OPT provides work authorization for up to 12 months for most employers and, as stated above, up to 36 months for employer registered in E-Verify employing an OPT worker in a STEM field. After that, employers risk losing the training and skills developed by their OPT employee. The most common form of sponsorship following OPT is H-1B sponsorship; other options include sponsoring on O-1 extraordinary ability visa, or sponsoring for lawful permanent resident status.
- Found the perfect candidate? Consider H-1B sponsorship early, and often. If you found a great candidate for a position, someone who melds seamlessly with your team and adds value with their expertise, consider H-1B sponsorship as soon as possible. As it stands, the H-1B lottery is a numbers game. Electronic registration for the H-1B lottery has lowered the barrier of entry – requiring only a $15 registration fee to enter the H-1B lottery. Savvy employers don’t want to wait until the final year of employment to enter an employee into the H-1B lottery.
New to OPT or CPT employment? Would you like to learn more? We offer complimentary consultations for employers – sign up for yours today.