Navigating Conversations with Employers about Work Authorization
Conversations with prospective employers about work authorization can be tricky for international students looking for work experience in the United States. The information on this page aims to help you prepare for common questions you may get when talking with prospective employers.
How to Address Common Questions and Concerns from Employers
Our company isn’t familiar with hiring international students. What would the company have to do to hire you?
While still in their academic program, many international students are able to complete an internship using Curricular Practical Training (CPT). This work authorization is processed and managed by the school the international student is enrolled at. An employer would not need to complete any paperwork or pay anything for this service. If hired, the only thing that the international student would need from a hiring employer is an offer letter confirming the student’s position. Using CPT, the international student is able to obtain a Social Security Number and work just like any other employee. If the supervisor or Human Resources department have any questions about how this process works, they can contact NYU’s Office of Global Services.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is another option both while a student is in their academic program and as a possibility to allow an international student to work full-time after graduation using OPT. This work authorization is processed by both the school the international student is enrolled in or recently completed their degree at and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An employer would not need to complete any paperwork or pay anything for this service. If hired, the international student would then need to provide the employer with a copy of my Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) indicating the start and end dates of the student’s work authorization. Using OPT, the student would be able to obtain a Social Security Number and work just like any other employee. If the supervisor or Human Resources department has any questions about how this process works, they can contact NYU’s Office of Global Services.
What’s the difference between OPT and CPT? Would our company be responsible for sponsoring you so that you could work for us?
There is no cost to the employer and both CPT and OPT work authorization applications are entirely the responsibility of the student.
The employer’s role for students on CPT is to:
- Provide student with an offer of employment
- Request a copy of CPT I-20 from the student for I-9 purposes
The employer’s role for students on OPT is to:
- Provide student with an offer of employment
- Request a copy of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) indicating start and end dates of work authorization from the student for I-9 purposes
Both OPT and CPT are forms of off-campus work authorization for students in F-1 status. Both require the employment to be related to a student’s field of study. In both cases the employment can be paid or unpaid. Generally, students are limited to part-time employment (20 hours or fewer per week) during Fall and Spring semesters. Full-time employment is allowed during the summer for both OPT and CPT. Some PhD students might qualify for full time CPT, but that is dependent on their academic program.
CPT is off-campus work authorization for F-1 students who are currently enrolled in degree programs and have completed at least one academic year. CPT is typically used by enrolled students with offers for internships or short-term employment during their academic semester or over the summer. CPT authorization is typically given on a semester-by-semester basis. Even if a student continues on the same internship or short-term employment opportunity, they must extend/renew their CPT authorization. The CPT application is processed by NYU based on the student’s application and can take up to two weeks to get approved.
On the other hand, OPT is employment authorization for F-1 students who have completed all degree requirements for their academic programs. OPT is typically issued for full-time jobs post graduation but can also be for students who have not yet finished their academic programs and want to do off-campus work before they graduate. The OPT application is processed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on the student’s application and can take around three months to get approved. Students can be approved for OPT without an offer of employment. 12 months of employment are granted under OPT. Specific STEM majors working for eligible employers could be granted the STEM extension but any STEM OPT employment MUST be paid.
Is there a limit to how many hours per week you can work as an international student?
When classes are in progress, F-1 students may not work for more than 20 hours per week. During the summer and official University breaks, it is possible to get authorization for more than 20 hours per week.
When can you start work with our company if you don’t know when your OPT will be approved?
A student on OPT can begin working once they receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and the official OPT start date as indicated on the EAD has been reached. Typically an application for OPT takes 90 days to be approved. An international student should aim to determine a start date with their employer that is at least 90 days (typical OPT processing time) after the student sends their OPT application to USCIS. The student should inform their employer that it is difficult to determine when they will receive their EAD and that the student won't know their official OPT start date until they receive their EAD.
When choosing an OPT start date, an international student should make sure to consider their proposed job start date, class schedule (for pre-completion OPT), plans for future study at the same degree level, and potential H-1B plans. The student should also consider that OPT can take 3 - 5 months to be approved. If they apply for OPT late (fewer than 90 days before their requested start date), then USCIS might change their requested OPT start date to a later date that is anticipated.
Will you require sponsorship?
It is important to understand what most organizations mean when they ask something like “Will you require sponsorship?” as part of their application process. Many international students choose to answer “No” to this question, thinking they do not need sponsorship to work an internship or during their OPT period.
The potential problem with this approach is that no matter how the question is worded as part of an online application, most companies are actually asking if you will eventually need sponsorship if you continue to work for them long term. If a student chooses to answer “No,” employers may assume a student is being dishonest (not a positive way to begin a productive relationship with a potential employer). Many American employers don’t understand the sponsorship needs of international students, and they don’t like to be surprised with this information late in the hiring process.
If asked this question in an interview setting, it’s a good idea for a student to start by explaining that they have the legal right to work in the US for the number of months available to you under OPT (for F-1 students) or Academic Training (for J-1 students), which requires no work on their part. Then the student could share that their work authorization could later be renewed for another three to six years with an H-1B work visa. It is recommended to avoid saying the word "sponsor" when talking about the H-1B application process, instead use the phrase "petition." For example, the employer could file a petition for an H-1B work visa for the international employee.
How long can you work for our company without us having to sponsor you?
This depends on the degree a student graduated with and if the student previously used OPT at this same degree level. All F-1 students have the potential to get OPT for at least one year. For students who complete a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) field that is included in the US government’s list of eligible STEM degrees can potentially get a two year extension beyond that initial first year (for a total of three years) through STEM OPT. In order for the student to get that 24 month extension, the company they are working for must be enrolled in the government’s E-Verify system, they must be in a paid position (volunteer positions are not permitted for STEM OPT), and the work they are doing must be in the student’s STEM major field of study.
While on OPT and STEM OPT, a student does not need sponsorship from the employer nor is any cost required by the employer. The employer’s role while a student is on STEM OPT requires a few more items (beyond an offer letter from the employer). These are detailed on our information for STEM OPT employers resource page.
To continue working beyond the OPT/STEM OPT time, the employer would have to file a petition for an H1B, but often employers will find that by that time the student will have demonstrated their value for the organization.