Use your browser's "Back" button to return to the original page. Or go to HomeDeptsBack

Show Links

MSU Departments

Employing an International Student

[Download handout (PDF)*]

This information will assist prospective employers in understanding some basic work options for internationals who may want to work for their company.

Many employers are concerned about liability issues related to the employment of international students in the United States due to changes in federal laws governing non-citizens. Getting permission for international students to work in the U.S. is not as difficult (or as costly!) as many employers think. Most students are eligible to accept employment under certain conditions. The most common methods of hiring international students include Practical Training (Academic, Curricular, or Optional) and the H-1B Temporary Worker Visa.

In addition to the information below, please refer to the "Employer's Guide for Hiring International Students (PDF)*" to learn more about the benefits of hiring international students as well as their various work authorization options.

F-1 Visa Holders

The F-1 visa status is a temporary non-immigrant student visa. F-1 visa holders must obtain work authorization before beginning employment off-campus. Individuals holding F-2 visa status are dependents of the F-1 visa holder and are not, under any circumstances, allowed to earn income in the United States.

J-1 Visa Holders

J-1 student visa status is granted to students who participate in international exchange programs between Michigan State University (MSU) and universities in other countries, or whose education in the U.S. is financed directly or indirectly by the U.S. government, the government of the student's home country, an international organization of which the U.S. is a member, or by another institutional sponsor. J-1s have some work authorization options that must be pre-approved.

Employers do not incur processing costs for employment authorization of international students while they are on F-1 or J-1 visas.


On Campus Limitation

Students in F-1 and J-1 status are required to be full-time students and may work on-campus up to 20 hours or in the "practical training" options below.

Practical Training Options

International students are eligible for temporary work authorization that permits them to engage in part- or full- time employment in their field of study.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is temporary employment authorization directly related to a F-1 student's academic program and granted by the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS). CPT is typically authorized on a part-time (up to 20 hours a week) basis during the school year and can be authorized on a full-time (over 20 hours a week) or part-time basis during vacation periods. CPT gives students the possibility to work off-campus or to work for more than 20 hours a week on campus if certain qualifications are met.


Required for the degree program: In order for training to be considered "required", all students in the degree program must be required to complete an internship or practicum in order to receive their degree. A few programs at MSU have such requirements.

Integral part of an established curriculum: If the internship/work experience is not required, then it must be taken for academic credit. Students will work with their academic advisor to fill out the "CPT Authorization Form" issues by OISS. Please see the following link for more information:*

The student must receive a job offer before securing the employment authorization, and thus will be unable to provide documentation at the interview stage. OISS needs a signed, written offer of employment on the company's letterhead as part of the CPT application requirements.

Proof of Work Authorization: The employer and dates for which the student is authorized to work will appear on the student's Form I-20 (certificate of eligibility). Students cannot begin work before the start date on the Form I-20, or continue working after the end date. CPT authorization may be renewable if the student continues to be eligible.

J-1 Academic Training

J-1 students may apply for temporary work authorization called "Academic Training" (AT) either prior to or after completion of studies to accept positions within their field of study.

Students seeking or completing bachelor's or master's degrees are eligible for 18 months of AT. Students seeking or completing doctoral degrees are eligible for 36 months of AT. Non-degree (exchange) students are eligible for AT authorizations matching the length of time they have spent studying in the U.S. Example: A one-semester (4-month) exchange student is eligible for up to 4 months of AT.


The U.S. government allows students to apply for authorization to gain practical work experience to supplement their academic programs. Many employers find this to be a useful opportunity to hire a student with valuable international perspectives.

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is defined as "temporary employment authorization directly related to the field of study". F-1 students are eligible for up to 12 months of employment authorization under this category.

For students whose majors are given the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) designation, employment may be extended for an additional 17 months, if the F-1 visa holder is employed by an E-Verify employer.

OPT is recommended by OISS at MSU and granted by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application process can take several months.

Proof of Work Authorization: Students on OPT will receive an employment authorization document or EAD card. USCIS issues the EAD and it specifies the dates of authorized employment.

J-1 Academic Training: see the "before graduation" section.


Beyond CPT, OPT, or AT, there are options for employing internationals.

Temporary Worker (H-1) Visa

The H-1B visa allows foreign nationals to work in the United States in specialty occupations. The H-1B visa category has the following key requirements:

Applicant must have theoretical and practical application of a highly specialized body of knowledge and must have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree or its equivalent in a specialized field. The company is the petitioner of the H- 1B and the international is the beneficiary. The company should consult their HR and legal counsel when completing these petitions.

The employer makes an H-1B visa petition to the Department of Labor and USCIS. An employer may petition for H-1B status for a maximum of 3 years at a time. An individual can hold H-1B status for up to a maximum of six years. It is advised to plan petition applications early as timing of filing is critical due to H-1B visa limits.

O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability to Achievement The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, among other fields, and are recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. An O-1 petition has an initial period of stay of up to 3 years. Subsequent extensions may last for no more than one year at a time. There is no limit to the number of extensions.

Nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional (TN) Visa The TN visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico, as NAFTA professionals, to work in the U.S. in a prearranged business activity for a U.S. or foreign employer. Permanent residents, including Canadian permanent residents, are not able to apply to work as a NAFTA professional. Both Canadian and Mexican citizens can be admitted to the United States in TN status in increments of up to three years. There is no cumulative time limit on TN status. Status is renewable indefinitely, provided the stay remains temporary in nature.

E-3 Certain Specialty Occupation Professionals from Australia The E-3 classification applies only to nationals of Australia. The specialty occupation requires theoretical and practical application of a body of knowledge in professional fields and at least the attainment of a bachelor's degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum, for entry into the occupation in the U. S. There is no cumulative time limit on E-3. It is renewable every two years indefinitely, provided the stay remains temporary in nature.

Intra-Company Transfer (L) Visa

L Intra-company Transferees who, within the three preceding years, have been employed abroad continuously for one year, and who will be employed by a branch, parent, affiliate, or subsidiary of that same employer in the U.S. in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity may be eligible for an L Visa.


Lawful permanent residency is a status granted by the U.S. government to citizens of other countries. One option to obtain PR is through an "employer-based petition". For example, the employer may document the need for a person's occupational skills, or the individual must prove international recognition is his or her field. While an employer may sponsor an individual, USCIS makes the final decision. Make no promise or guarantee to the employee.

*Adobe Acrobat Reader Opens in new window is required to read PDF documents.

© 2014-2018 Michigan State University Board of Trustees