Guidance for Employers
The University of Houston-Clear Lake is excited that you are considering employing one of our international students. Employing foreign nationals can seem overwhelming at first, but the process is much less complicated than it appears.
International students (students on F-1 visas) have multiple types of employment authorization that they can seek. The two main types of employment that you, as an off-campus employer, might be involved in are Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Exchange students (student on J-1 visas) also have a variety of employment opportunities available to them. For more information please refer to J-1 employment.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is employment authorization that the student needs to legally work in an internship or co-operative education experience. This means that the student is gaining academic credit in his/her major while working for your company. CPT is legal work authorization granted by the university to work full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours or less) at a particular company. For students to gain this work authorization, they will need an internship or co-op offer letter, as well as some additional documentation with which they may require assistance, in order to outline their learning objectives. Once the documentation is complete, the student will be issued an immigration document called an I-20 from his/her International Student Advisor. This I-20 will have the date, location, and duration of authorized employment.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorization granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that international students are eligible for under their student status. Students who are approved for OPT receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that shows how long they can work. Once authorized to work, students must work directly within their fields of study. This work authorization is not related to any academic credit, and usually occurs after the student has completed his/her academic program. Students can be authorized for up to 12 months of OPT. Most OPT authorization is granted for full-time, meaning that students can work more than 20 hours per week. Employers should keep track of the OPT end-date, as this is the last legal day that students are authorized to work in the U.S.
Optional Practical Training STEM Extension
The Optional Practical Training STEM Extension is a 24 month extension of the student's first OPT. This can be granted to students in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. To qualify for this type of employment authorization, students have to work for a company that participates in E-Verify. E-Verify is a federal government program that allows employers to verify the legal eligibility of an employee.
Students who want to apply for the STEM Extension must have their employer's E-Verify number before they can apply. Once students are approved for the OPT STEM Extension they will receive an EAD showing their work authorization. As an employer, you should be aware that under the terms of this work authorization, you agree to report directly to the university any termination of employment. You should report this information by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: A student whose application is pending with the govern ment can continue to work for up to 180 days, according to 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C) and 8 CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iv).
Employment authorization between OPT and H-1B
H-1B (Specialty Occupations) is a common type of work visa for which many international students qualify, once they have completed their degrees in the U.S. In some cases, H-1B work authorization does not begin until October 1st. Occasionally, a student's OPT authorization may end before the H-1B begins. In this case, there is a “Gap” between employment authorizations. The government has established that if the student meets certain requirements, he/she can continue to work under the “Cap Gap.” These requirements are as follows:
- The employing company has filed a pending or approved H-1B application, which verifies that work would begin on October 1st under the cap.
- The student has graduated, and is currently on OPT or an OPT STEM Extension when the H-1B application is filed.
- The student's OPT or OPT STEM Extension does not end before April 1st.
Cap Gap allows students' OPT to be extended until a decision has been made in regard to their H-1B request. If approved, they are authorized to begin work on October 1st. Students who qualify should contact the Office of International Admissions and Programs to receive an updated I-20, which notes their legal ability to continue working in the U.S. Students whose companies file the H-1B request during the grace period (the 60 days following the end of OPT) may be eligible to stay in the country, but NOT to continue their employment. Employment can only continue under the Cap Gap if the H-1B request is filed and accepted by the USCIS before the end of a student's OPT.
For more information, employers can refer to:
- H-1B Specialty Occupations
- Information for Employers on the Cap-Gap Extension of Optional Practical Training
Other types of work authorization
Many times companies want to hire international students for longer than CPT or OPT allows. These companies often decide that they want to petition (sponsor) for students' work visas. The University of Houston-Clear Lake does not give legal advice regarding other types of work visa authorizations. We recommend that companies that are considering other work visa options contact an immigration attorney or human resource specialist for more information on the topic.
Social Security Numbers
Employers frequently ask for a Social Security Number in order to perform required background checks. International students do not always have Social Security Numbers. However, once a company hires a student who has acquired the proper work authorization (CPT or OPT), the student can apply for a Social Security Number. The Social Security Administration confirms that international students are eligible to work as long as they have applied for a number.
When performing background checks on international students, you should take into consideration that a Social Security Number may be new, and therefore will not produce much information.
I-9 and Tax Information
If you have questions about social security, taxes, or I-9 Form issues, please refer to the government's website.
Who can I contact for more information?
If you have questions regarding international students, you can contact the Office of International Admissions and Programs at 281-283-2740. You will be directed to an International Student Advisor for more information. Please note that International Student Advisors will not be able to give out legal advice for work visas or provide information about particular students without the student's authorization.