Using the F-1 Student Visa to Help Reduce Labor Shortages


Every year, more than one million foreign national students enroll in American colleges and universities in order to gain valuable career opportunities and quality education. Though these students offer some value to these educational institutions, they can also bring opportunities for employers as well. There are several options for educational visas that international students may use, but the F-1 student visa program is a common choice for those that wish to work and study. So, knowing how the F-1 visa works and how these employees can be hired is a good idea for employers looking to hire fresh talent.

What Is the F-1 Student Visa?

The F-1 student visa offers foreign nationals the opportunity to reside in the U.S. while enrolled in a full-time academic program. During this time, these students are permitted to work. However, there are some limitations on the type and timeframes of the employment.

What Advantages Does the F-1 Visa Offer Employers?

More employers than ever before are looking for talented workers to fill gaps in their labor force. This is particularly true for roles that require knowledge in a STEM field, such as for computer-related occupations. A recent report indicated that in the fiscal year 2020, computer-related occupations accounted for almost 70% of all requests for foreign national labor. This demand increased in proportion to that of other occupations over the previous fiscal year despite the global pandemic.

How Can F-1 Visa Holders Seek Employment?

In their first academic year, F-1 visa holders are only permitted to hold jobs on-campus. However, after this, they are allowed to seek employment off-campus using one of two different programs. These include

  • Curricular Practical Training
  • Optional Practical Training

Curricular practical training (CPT) allows F-1 students to take part in partnerships between the visa holder’s educational institution and an employer. This is typically in the form of partnerships or similar opportunities that are integrated as part of the curriculum.

The optional practical training (OPT) program permits F-1 students to seek practical work experience that is related to their major for a twelve-month period. This program permits students to work for a limit of 20 hours a week throughout the school year and full-time during the rest of the year.

After the student completes their degree, they may continue to work for an employer with any time spent before completing their degree subtracted from their authorization period. However, for some degree plans, a student may be able to seek a STEM OPT extension that will add another 24 months onto their authorization period.

What Is the Process for Hiring F-1 Student Employees?

The first step in hiring an F-1 student employee is to obtain documentation that proves that the individual is authorized to work in the U.S. The employer will then have to complete the Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification. This will require them and the employee to complete several steps, including verifying and maintaining records of work authorization. The F-1 visa holder will also need to work with their school administrator and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to either obtain Forms 1-20 and, in some cases, Employment Authorization Documents.

After the F-1 visa holder’s authorized work period ends, the employment relationship will need to be terminated. However, in many cases, the employer may be able to seek an alternative employment visa such as the H-1B visa to retain the employee.

Employer Takeaways

Employers are more in need of talented foreign workers than ever, and in many cases, traditional visa routes have become too backlogged to offer a viable number of employees. Due to this, talented foreign student workers offer an excellent alternative to more traditional routes.

However, this does come with increased complexity in complying with Form I-9 requirements. The best way to handle this is with an electronic I-9 management system that can offer hiring personnel step-by-step guidance in completing the Form I-9 and correctly maintaining records for whenever they are needed again.