Hiring Students Through Optional Practical Training

Adding Diversity and New Talent

By Susan Tinnish Advisory Group Chair, Vistage | 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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. 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.