If you've hired a foreign worker you know how complicated the process can be.
Unfortunately, the process for hiring an international student isn't any easier. International students can be an important and valid source of labor for a small business–as long as the students are qualified for to work in the US.
For a foreign citizen to study in the US, they must apply for and receive either an F-1 or a J-1 non-immigrant student visa. Both F-1 and J-1 students can qualify for employment and the paperwork requirements for employers of foreign students are minimal. All paperwork is handled by the students, the school and the USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Service).
However, as an international student employer it is important to understand the employment limitations associated with each student visa category.
F-1 Student Visa Workers
To receive an F-1 visa, students must demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to cover their schooling and living expenses while they are in the United States. This eliminates the need for F-1 students to pursue employment in the US as a way to provide for themselves or their families. However, the USCIS does allow F-1 students to work in the US if the employment is part of the education process.
Students are required to have completed one academic year and maintain F-1 status to qualify for study-related employment, or what the USCIS terms "practical training". There are two types of practical training: Optional (non-required) and curricular. Consult the USCIS website for details, but optional practical training is substantially more restrictive than curricular practical training.
J-1 Student Visa Workers
J-1 student visas are more lax than F-1 visas in terms of international student employment. For J-1 visas, practical training is called "academic training", even though it essentially amounts to the same thing. International students on J-1 visas are eligible for up to 18 months of academic training and some J-1 program participants are allowed to work part time during the academic program. J-1 visas are also available for international student work-travel programs.