Hiring Students Through Optional Practical Training

Adding Diversity and New Talent

By Susan Tinnish Senior Strategist, Minding Your Business | January 31, 2016

Many hotels are concerned about liability related to the employment of international citizens in the United States due to changes in federal laws governing non-citizens, particularly the Immigration Reform and Control l Act of 1986 (IRCA) and the Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT90). However, gaining permission for international students to work in the U.S. is not as difficult as many employers think. Most international students are in the U.S. on non-immigrant student visas. (See sidebar for definitions.) International students completing associate, bachelors, masters or doctorate degrees and non-degree students completing structured programs or certificate programs are eligible to receive permission from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to be employed for a period of one year as part of their F-1 student visa. This employment authorization, called Optional Practical Training (OPT), is defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study.” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) records indicate approximately 70,000 students currently employed under OPT (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, n.d.). The focus of this article is on OPT because of the ease of hiring students through this method.

B – Tourist Visa - Issued for short,1 – 6 week programs where no academic credit is granted. Employment is not available.

F – Non-immigrant Student Visa - Issued for students who are enrolled as full-time, degree seeking students in the U.S. All students can work on campus upon arrival to the U.S. Off campus employment is restricted to authorized internships in their field for academic credit. Students who have completed one academic year can apply for pre-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) which allows them to work part-time in their field and is counted against the amount of time they have for full-time post completion OPT.

J – Non-immigrant Student Visa - Issued for a variety of educational exchange programs including non-degree seeking students and short-term scholars. Participants are generally required to return home immediately after completing their program. Unlike the F-1 visa, it requires a sponsor, i.e., the receiving institution or someone other than the person paying the majority of the tuition. OPT is not an option.

HB-1 - is a non-immigrant visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Under the visa, the duration of stay is three years, extendable to six years. For the fiscal Year 2016, H-1B visas are restricted to a congressionally mandated cap of 65,000.

I-20 - Form I-20 is filed in order to obtain an F-1 Student Visa. As part of the student visa process, students must demonstrate that they have sufficient financial resources (scholarships, loans, grants, subsidies, family or personal resources) available to pay for school and living expenses.

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.