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International Internship Program - Visa and Immigration Keys to Success

A White Paper prepared by NEI Global Relocation and Newland Chase

Published: Dec 18, 2019

Corporate internships at all higher education levels have been around for quite a while, but student competition for acceptance into such programs – and the growing importance of internships to a student’s resume and career prospects – have never been stronger. 

International internships involving students temporarily working outside of their home country have become highly sought-after opportunities, providing students and recent graduates with excellent, hands-on training in their fields and may offer students a pathway to employment with the company in which they interned. Often, students seek immersive, work-related experiences that differentiate them from other graduates and help them stand out to future employers. Such opportunities also give students a trial run at what a future international assignment or career with a specific company could feel like.

“Employers value internship experience when making hiring decisions, and the added layer of international internship experience allows students to develop highly desirable and transferrable skills, while helping them stand out in a competitive job market,” says Amanda McFadden, Director, Academic Programs and International Services at the University of Iowa. “Whether students plan to work domestically or internationally after they graduate, an international internship provides a rich learning experience which benefits their future career.” 

Changing Legislation for International Intern Work Authorizations

International internships, however, are not without their challenges. Each depends greatly on a country’s unique laws and requirements that change frequently. Just as it is important for international assignments,  paying close attention to visa and immigration requirements is a key for success.

No matter what the situation, it is imperative for international interns and the companies by which they will be employed to follow each country’s detailed immigration and work permit procedures … and plan well in advance to allow ample time for government processing.

“We’re in a period of both significant opportunity and significant challenge in international business,” says Rob Moorhouse, SVP, North America for CIBT and Newland Chase.  “Globalization is presenting companies with more opportunities in terms of markets and pools of talent, but with this comes fast and frequent changes in visa and immigration laws, coupled with increased capabilities for enforcement by authorities. Compliance with visa and immigration laws has probably never been more critical.”

With the increased interest in international internship opportunities, countries around the world have been reforming their visa and immigration laws to accommodate the demand. A quick survey of destinations with recent changes include the following examples.

  • China:  In China, foreign students holding X1 Visas who are invited to work temporarily in China can now extend their internships for up to one year for internships approved through their schools.
  • Germany:  In June of this year, the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) in Germany waived preapproval requirements for internships of up to 90 days in a 12-month period.  While non-EU nationals applying for internships will no longer be required to complete the preapproval process for internships of less than 90 days, they are still required to meet the legal requirements of the training intern category.
  • United Kingdom: Perennially one of the most popular international internship destinations, the United Kingdom, under the Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa, now allows non-EU nationals to work in the UK for up to 12 or 24 months (depending on the scheme they are applying for). International students in the UK can apply for the Tier 5 (Government Authorized Exchange) visa to undertake work experience and internships in the UK after their studies.
  • European Union (EU) Member States:  Most EU member states -- including France, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Finland and others – are now implementing the EU Students and Researchers Directive (2016/801) that relaxes criteria and provides eased mobility for non-EU/EEA students, scientific researchers and interns.
  • Australia: In Australia, international students wanting to work in Australia are typically accommodated under the Temporary Activity (Subclass 408) visa. However, there are several other pathways that can also be used for the purposes of gaining work experience in Australia. The Graduate (Subclass 485) visa provides work authorization for two to four years to international students who have completed at least two years’ study In Australia and have a bachelor’s degree. The Training (Subclass 407) visa can be used by professionals to gain additional training and experience.
  • United States:  The most popular destination for international internships remains the United States, despite recent trends toward tightening immigration requirements.
    • Under the J-1 Visa Academic Training (AT) work authorization, students are eligible for off-campus work related to their program of study for up to 18 months for bachelor’s and master’s students or length of academic program whichever is shorter and up to three years for doctoral students. Exchange students can be eligible for AT corresponding to the amount of time in program, i.e. 90 days study equates to 90 days AT eligibility. However, this work authorization is based on a job offer, so students must have a job lined up before graduation.
    • The U.S. F-1 Visa Optional Practical Training (OPT), allows undergraduate and graduate students to opt for a period of work towards practical training in their field. F-1 visa holders are eligible after completion of one year of study for up to 12 months per educational level of full-time off-campus work authorization related to their program of study. This option can be used either during or after the program of study. It requires an application and fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and processing takes three to four months. This option does not require a job offer, so students can use it after graduation to look for a job. However, exchange students are not eligible.
    • Since 2016, Students pursuing STEM fields degrees have been eligible for a 24 Month STEM Extension. Those who will complete a degree in USCIS-approved science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields may be eligible for this 24-month work authorization extension, allowing them a total of 36 months of OPT. However, to qualify for this extension, students must have a job offer from an employer.
    • Companies should also be aware that the USCIS-stated “surge” in requests for OPT has created a backlog and delays to the standard 90-day processing time.  Wait times are now running from four weeks to five months, per the agency.  InsideHigherEd.com indicated that the increase in processing times for international students applying for work authorization through the OPT program has left many with job or internship offers where they are unable to start their positions on time.

Preparing Your Program for International Intern Success

It’s becoming increasingly challenging for companies to move their employees globally from an immigration perspective.  As described above, this includes the changing immigration rules and often longer processing times for international student interns.

From a planning perspective, this means additional time must be allotted for the immigration process. Failure to plan may result in challenges for companies: including negative impact on business plans, delays and cost overruns, non-compliance penalties, and unsuccessful recruitment efforts for interns and future full-time positions.

NEI’s goal, and that of our immigration service partners, is to protect your company and relocating employees working outside their home countries from the risks of non-compliance. This includes managing the fully outsourced immigration process for clients and tailoring the exact student intern communication and coordination process per each client’s unique preferences.

Because visa and immigration requirements and timing vary significantly by country, it is critical to be both flexible and sensitive regarding country nuances. For such expertise, NEI partners with trusted and proven service partners, such as Newland Chase. This strong partnership provides necessary documentation and effective communication between company and assignee – ensuring that everyone is on the same page before departure. With this approach, assignees can have exciting, safe and career enhancing experiences.

Only the Tip of the Iceberg

Clearly, visa and immigration compliance are critical when starting and designing a best practice international internship program – but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. A true global relocation partnership should address all international intern benefits: including tax compliance, expense reimbursement, travel, housing, furniture rental, payroll and reporting integration, etc.  

A company’s relocation partner should also have proven experience making rental payments, paying all expense reports, and ensuring interns are comfortable. The costs associated with these moves should be reported in a separate category from other relocation expenses.

NEI is adept at providing relocation services to students hired as international or intra-country interns and can assist in developing programs that work for the unique needs of your company.  As a result, client administrators can focus more time on attracting and retaining the best talent for their programs and less time managing assignment logistics and compliance. 

We Sweat the Small Stuff, So Our Clients Don’t Have To

For stress-free, productive international internship management, attention to the smallest details is critical.  Success is accomplished when all parties understand processes, expectations are clearly set, and results are monitored and measured as key events occur. When concerns are quickly identified and addressed, NEI’s clients can avoid becoming bogged down in logistics and compliance, leaving them free to focus on their core job responsibilities.  

By working together as true partners with a shared goal, meaningful and beneficial employer-student internships can take place.

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