The immigration regulations about employment and internship experience are complex. Be sure to carefully review the regulations so that you do not accidentally violate any laws or start unauthorized employment. Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of F-1 or J-1 status, so it is important to learn what employment is allowed before you consider a potential job or internship.
What is Employment?
Generally, employment is defined as providing services to a person, organization, or company in exchange for compensation. This includes not just salary, but other forms of compensation, such as free room and board. Review the regulations about what kind of employment you are allowed to do, and how to apply for permission:
What is an Internship (Paid or Unpaid)?
An internship is an experiential learning opportunity that takes place in a workplace environment. It allows a student to do one or more of the following:
- Integrate academic learning with practical or “hands-on” experience
- Develop or refine specific professional skills
To be considered an internship, rather than a part time job, the experience must have an intentional and significant focus on student learning and a defined beginning and end date. Internships often center around defined projects with clear objectives, rather than routine unit operations.
Both F-1 and J-1 status allows students to apply in advance for "training" authorization for internship participation.
What is Volunteering?
Volunteering is donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation. F-1 and J-1 students are allowed to do volunteer service as long it is for humanitarian purposes. For example, it would be okay to volunteer at a local homeless shelter, charitable food pantry, or American Red Cross.
Just because a position is unpaid (such as an unpaid internship), it might not be volunteering. If the work relates to your studies, it is likely considered training, and requires authorization. See the previous section about internships.