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Teachers College Policy Library
Hiring and Paying Foreign Nationals
Owner: General Counsel
Teachers College often hires foreign nationals -- individuals who are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents -- to work at TC, either as employees or as independent contractors. Hiring foreign nationals is critical to our work and the College’s international focus. It is, however, governed by strict and often confusing immigration and tax regulations. This guidance is intended to help those who seek to hire foreign nationals. Please contact those identified below with any additional questions.
• Citizen. A citizen, by birth or naturalization, of the United States.
• Permanent resident or “green card” holder. A non-citizen authorized to work in the U.S. Indefinitely. (“Green cards” are now pink.)
• Foreign national. Anyone who is neither a US citizen nor a permanent resident.
• Employee. Most individuals who provide services to Teachers College.
• Independent contractor. A self-employed individual who provides services to TC.
• Resident alien. An IRS category for non-citizens who must pay taxes as citizens.
• Non-resident alien. An IRS category of individuals, including most foreign nationals, who are subject to special tax rules not applicable to citizens or resident aliens.
Authorization to Work
No one may work at or be paid by TC without demonstrating the legal right to work here. TC must verify the employment authorization and identity of all new employees – citizens, permanent residents, and foreign nationals. See section 1, below. No foreign national may work for or be paid by TC until he or she has completed and provided TC with all necessary immigration and tax forms. Federal processing of those forms is frequently time-consuming. All required documents must be submitted to the Office of the General Counsel 5 to 6 months in advance. For example, obtaining prevailing wage rates from the US Department of Labor takes at least 60 days from the date all documents are submitted to the government; USCIS processing/approval of an H-1B visa/status typically requires two to four months and even more costly expedited handling by USCIS can take two to six weeks. Hiring or paying an individual who is not authorized to work here exposes TC and sometimes individuals involved in the hiring process to potential liability.
Employee vs. Independent Contractor
Federal law also requires that all workers be treated as employees unless (a) they qualify as students or scholars with specified immigration status and work only to the extent that status permits or (b) they qualify as independent contractors under the IRS’s strict test for independent contractor status. An individual cannot be classified as an independent contractor based on convenience, the source of funding or the number of hours worked. Inaccurate classification of individuals as independent contractors is illegal and also risks liability.
Complex tax-withholding requirements apply to most foreign nationals (“non-resident aliens” for tax purposes). As a general rule, TC must withhold 30% federal taxes from payments made to any such employee or independent contractor unless that individual demonstrates (through use of the IRS form 8233) the applicability of a more favorable tax treaty between his or her home country and the US.
It is not lawful to hire foreign nationals as volunteers or unpaid interns or trainees in an effort to avoid immigration and tax regulations. Indeed, there are only limited circumstances in which even citizens and permanent residents may be permitted to work as “volunteers” at Teachers College. Please contact Human Resources with any questions about any proposal to accept volunteers or other unpaid workers.
Where to go for help
This memorandum is intended to help those seeking to hire foreign nationals by directing them to the office that can most efficiently guide them through the hiring process. There may be special situations in which you will need to be referred to a different office, but the individuals identified below can recognize such situations and send you to the appropriate office.
1. If you are hiring a US citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder) as a faculty or staff member, Human Resources is responsible for processing employment papers and can answer your questions. Please contact your HR representative or the HR office at x3175 or www.tc.edu/hr with any questions about employment eligibility.
TC must verify the employment authorization and identity of all new employees (even citizens). Current law requires completion of a “Form I-9” within three business days of an employee’s first day of work. Failure to meet this deadline may result in significant fines, which are the responsibility of the hiring office. Part-time or temporary employees are not exempt from this requirement; employees who are hired to work for less than three business days must complete and submit Form I-9 before or on their first day of work. Completing a Form I-9 requires, among other things, that the prospective employee provide original documentation of identification and citizenship or immigration status (in forms authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) to the HR Office. For more information, see www.tc.edu/i/a/document/9829_040809NEWI9.pdf.
2. If you want to hire an individual who is not yet eligible to work at TC as a faculty member or full time instructional or professional employee, Viktoria Potapova of the Office of General Counsel can help you evaluate the options and answer your questions. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or X6637 for more information on the employment visa sponsorship process.
Scholars and other individuals with specialized skills may be eligible for H-IB or other visas that permit them to work in the United States for limited periods of time. The process of obtaining an H-1B can be long and uncertain, so you must submit all required documents at least five months in advance of anticipated employment start date and longer when possible. (Expedited processing is available for an additional fee; that process can take as little as two weeks but can require two months.) For more information please contact Viktoria Potapova at email@example.com or X6637. Permanent residency (a “green card”) may be an option for full-time faculty and, rarely, some full-time professional staff, but because it is extremely time-consuming and expensive, TC generally seeks an H1-B visa first. See “Petitions for US Permanent Residency” in the attached appendix. Please note that these procedures do not supersede standard recruitment processes; the College provides immigration assistance only after the appropriate faculty or staff recruitment procedures have been followed.
 Canadian, Mexican and Australian nationals may be eligible for TN visas (Canada, Mexico) or E visas (Australian) based on offer letters. Such visas are issued based on offer letters and do not require TC to file a petition. Individuals arriving at TC with TN or E visas should contact HR immediately. Office of the General Counsel will prepare visa support documents for these visa categories. For more information please contact Viktoria Potapova at firstname.lastname@example.org or X6637.
 Expedited processing applies to USCIS (it does not include TC or Department of Labor processing time).
3. If the individual will be coming to TC as a student and any employment will be secondary to student status, the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) can assist you. Please refer the student to: www.tc.edu/international. You may also contact the OISS staff at x3939 or email@example.com with questions about employment restrictions.
International students generally arrive at TC on F-1 or J-1 visas, although there are some permissible exceptions. OIS guides prospective students through the process to ensure that they have appropriate visas. The applicable laws limit the work that F-1 and J-1 students can do as employees or independent contractors. OIS offers employment workshops throughout the term, and TC strongly recommends that all international students attend at least one session. All employment of international students must be approved through OIS before work may begin. For more information, see F1 visa employment or J1 visa employment.
4. If you wish to host an international colleague with a doctoral or equivalent degree to do his or her own scholarly work at TC but you will not be hiring that person as an employee or an independent contractor, your visitor may be eligible for Visiting Scholar status. Please contact the Office of International Student and Scholars (OISS), x3939, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To accommodate the needs of international colleagues and recognize their contribution to the intellectual life of TC, Visiting Scholar status may be conferred on behalf of the Provost and Dean of the College by the Director of the Office of International Services to the extent consistent with TC policy. If the individual will need TC visa sponsorship, please contact the Office of International Services to process the J1 visa documents after your visitor has been granted VS status by the College. For more information, see http://www.tc.columbia.edu/policylibrary/vice-provost/visiting-scholars/
5. If you wish to invite an international scholar for a brief visit to give a lecture or participate in a symposium, your visitor may be eligible for an honorarium and associated travel expenses. Please contact the Office of General Counsel, x6637 or email@example.com.
Individuals traveling on B-1 visas or visa waiver (WB) may be paid honoraria and associated travel expenses for traditional academic work (such as giving lectures or participating in symposia) if they meet certain requirements. Among other requirements, they must work at TC for no more than 9 days and must not have been paid more than five times during the prior six months for similar work in the U.S. A form for use in such situations can be found at Honoraria for Foreign Individuals. The College is legally obligated to withhold taxes when making payment of honoraria (but not travel expenses) to foreign residents unless they provide an IRS form 8233 establishing the right to more favorable tax treatment. Visitors who do not have a social security number (SSN) or a U.S. tax identification number (ITIN) should be encouraged to apply for SSN or obtain an ITIN before visiting so they can complete the 8233 and avoid taxation. See Taxes, below.
6. If you wish to hire anyone else to do work at TC, TC must treat that person as an employee unless the circumstances of the individual’s work meet the IRS test for independent contractors.
HR processes employment documents. For more information, contact your HR representative or the HR office at x3175 or www.tc.edu/hr. If you are not certain whether a potential employee has the proper immigration status for that employment, please check with OIS at x3939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foreign independent contractors (consultants), like employees, may not work in the U.S. unless they have visas or work authorizations permitting such work and legally are qualified as independent contractors. If you wish to treat a foreign national as an independent contractor, please submit a completed Independent Contractor Questionnaire (ICQ) form to the Office of General Counsel at least three weeks before the individual is to arrive at TC. The ICQ form must be accompanied by an appropriate Visa and should also include completed IRS Form 8233. (see “Taxes” below) Additional lead time is necessary to ensure that we can comply with all immigration regulations. Immigration law provides limited options for independent contractors. Please contact the Office of the General Counsel at email@example.com or X6637 before hiring a foreign independent contractor.
Taxes and Why they Matter to TC as well as to Foreign Nationals
U.S. tax laws are complex even for citizens and permanent residents. They are more complex for “non-resident aliens,” an IRS category that includes most international students and scholars. Non-resident aliens must comply with different tax rules and file different tax forms than U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Foreign nationals in the TC Community will find useful information at https://www.tc.columbia.edu/international/current-students/employment--taxes/taxes-and-social-security/ and at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/isso/tax.
Absent proof of resident alien status, TC is required to assume that foreign nationals are non-resident aliens. Most such employees are covered by favorable tax treaties, but tax laws require TC to withhold 30% of compensation for federal taxes unless the individual has, by filing a properly completed Form 8233, demonstrated the applicability of a more favorable tax treaty. Non-resident aliens who wish to work for or be paid by TC must submit IRS form 8233( www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8233.pdf) along with evidence of immigration status to permit TC to determine whether they can be hired and paid and, if so, what taxes must be withheld. Form 8233 instructions are at www.irs.gov/instructions/i8233/ch02.html. In order to complete a Form 8233, the foreign national must have a social security number (SSN), a copy of an application for an SSN or an individual tax identification number (ITIN). An ITIN can be obtained by filing IRS form W-7(www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf). Instructions are at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/iw7.pdf.
Employees should submit the form 8233 to the Office of Human Resources. Netra Macon, firstname.lastname@example.org can answer questions. For independent contractors and those to be paid honoraria, please submit the Form 8233 along with the International Honoraria form to the Office of General Counsel. In the absence of a valid Form 8233, TC must withhold taxes from any compensation or honoraria to be paid to the foreign national.
Responsible Office: General Counsel
Effective Date: January 2011
Last updated: September 29, 2015
Last edited: June 18, 2020