International students attending U.S. colleges and universities can work in their fields of study during academic sessions, vacation periods and after completion of study, without lengthy application procedures or fees. Each year Western Michigan University hosts approximately 1000 international students from over 100 countries. Our international students speak more than 50 different languages. Many of these students are pursuing degrees in technical and business subjects, which can help meet the needs of U.S. business, manufacturing and service industries. WMU offers the following general guidelines for hiring WMU international students who are eager to gain experience in their fields of study. This information is intended to provide basic clarification on hiring international students, but it is not intended as legal counsel.
Q: How do I hire enrolled international students?
A: International students are eligible for degree-related work off campus (Curricular Practical Training). Employers can hire non-U.S. citizens for internships/co-ops just as they would hire a student who is a U.S citizen. It is the student’s responsibility to have the employment approved as a “related experience” through the WMU Office of International Admissions and Services and the academic department. For example, a computer science student may do an internship with a consulting firm or manufacturing facility as long as the work relates to computer science. Students will have documentation to present to employers to verify their eligibility to be hired.
Q: If I do hire a WMU international student, what are my obligations?
A: As an employer, you may be asked to verify that the experience is related to the student’s academic training. A job letter/offer addressed to the student describing the responsibilities of the position is standard. The student will submit the letter to the academic advisor for approval as an internship site. Employers are not required to provide any special documentation.
Q: What restrictions do international students have regarding pay and availability?
A: International students may receive pay for internship experience as long as it is related to the major field of study and is equal to that of other employees in the same role. They must have social security numbers, which are typically obtained with the assistance of International Admissions and Services. It is the responsibility of the students to verify the amount of time they are eligible for any full-time positions. Authorization for them to work for you will be documented and should be presented to you when they begin work. The authorization will indicate if they can work full-time (40 hours per week) or part-time (up to 20 hours per week).
Q: Are international students eligible to work after they graduate from WMU?
A: Most international students are eligible to work for at least one year immediately following graduation in the field of study for which the degree was granted (Optional Practical Training). Students themselves apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for work authorization and will possess a wallet-sized “Employment Authorization Document” bearing their photograph.
Q: How long can an international student work in the United States?
A: It is up to the employer and the international employee to decide to continue the working relationship. After the Optional Practical Training, the employer can agree to sponsor the employee. The employer would apply to the Department of Homeland Security to secure an H-1B visa for temporary worker status for the employee. H-1B status is available in two 3-year increments, and can be renewed beyond six years if the beneficiary has started the application process for permanent residency.
Q: Are the legal aspects of retaining a good employee as complicated as it seems?
A: It is recommended that H-1B application process begin as soon as you determine the future value of an international employee’s work - three or four months after hiring. Time is a factor, as there are limits to the number of visas granted each year. However, with the assistance of an attorney, the process can be expedited. Some companies have an attorney on site. Otherwise, the graduates/employees can secure their own attorneys to work with them in making these arrangements. Some of the legal fees could be the responsibility of the employee. Some companies who do not retain attorneys on staff consider negotiating within the graduate’s salary a way to help cover legal fees.
Q: Why should I hire international students?
A: Temporary work visas are bound to the sponsoring employer, and visa holders are not likely to leave for positions during the period of the visa. International students possess language skills, eagerness to learn, exceptional work ethic, and experiences with acculturation. They bring diversity, expertise, and global thinking to enrich U.S. workplaces and organizations. They become international business persons and advocates, and ideal future contacts. They make excellent candidates for transfer to home country locations, having acquired an insightful understanding of U.S. work patterns, goals and ethics.
Q: Whom do I contact if I have questions?
A: Contact the International Admissions and Services, 4255 Ellsworth Hall, (269) 387-5866 with questions about work eligibility of any WMU international student. Contact WMU Career and Student Employment Services or the Career Center at the Haworth College of Business as you normally do to pursue on-campus interviewing, resume referrals, career fairs, or other ways of identifying talent you are seeking.