As the end of the school year approaches and summer begins, employers utilizing the services of foreign students as employees should take a moment to review the work authorization of those individuals. It is important to remember the student's presence in the U.S. doesn't necessarily mean the student is authorized to work. In addition, those students with work authorization may have an expiring work authorization which is equally problematic for employers.
Foreign students in the U.S. typically obtain work authorization through one of two vehicles -- CPT or OPT. CPT stands for curricular practical training and OPT stands for optional practical training. The authority to work under CPT and OPT are dramatically different. CPT is work authorization provided through the university for a specific employer for a limited time period (typically a semester). Think of CPT as an internship while going to school. Also remember that while CPT has a short approval length, the university can typically provide additional semesters of CPT time. OPT is typically used by students upon completion of a degree program. Students taking OPT time are not limited to a specific employer and receive an employment authorization document allowing work at any employer. OPT is also generally for a twelve month period and in most cases cannot be renewed/extended.
The key message for employers is to keep an eye on the types and expiration dates for work authorization. Allowing a student to continue working after the expiration of the CPT or OPT time can result in fines for employers and immigration status problems for the student.