Employer Guide for Hiring International Students

Hiring a UC Santa Cruz 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
  • Enhancing your economic, scientific, and technological competitiveness
  • Increasing understanding of markets in students’ home countries and utilizing networks for the benefit of your organization

ISSP has compiled important information regarding the employment below.


What is work authorization?

A common misconception about international students is that they are not allowed to work. 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. Also, 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 an overview of the types of work authorization available to F-1 and J-1 students.

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) Experience is considered integral to the student’s studies. CPT eligibility requirements are quite strict and cannot be adjusted based on a student’s particular circumstances.

More information about CPT.

Employer Responsibilities

When students apply for CPT, they will be required to submit a CPT employer letter. This letter is crucial to authorizing CPT.


Once all documents are received, it will take approximately 7-10 business days for ISSP 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.

Note: Students are not permitted to begin their off-campus employment until their work authorization has been approved and a 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 is 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 (this can be multiple jobs to meet the requirement).
  • 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.
  • A 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 ISSP. STEM OPT carries additional employer requirements.


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

Cards issued after May 1, 2017.

new EAD_0.PNG

Note: 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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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 ISSP 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 istudent@ucsc.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 a 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.


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

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 to 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).


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 ISSP advisor for more information.

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Other types of work visas

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 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 the 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 into the occupation.

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

Note: ISSP is not able to advise students on visa types outside of the F-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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Taxes, SSN, and Other Resources


All international students and scholars present in the U.S. must file a Form 8843 each year, regardless of whether they were employed in the U.S. or not.

Learn more on our Filing Taxes webpage.

Social Security Number

All students and scholars lawfully employed in the U.S. are required to apply for an SSN.

Some students or dependents not yet eligible for SSNs can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). 

Learn more on our SSN & ITIN webpage.

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Last modified: Dec 07, 2023