Employment, Internships, and Volunteering

COVID-19 Information for F & J Students: Current Updates and FAQs

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:

Employment in F-1 Status
Employment in J-1 Status

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.

F-1 Status: Curricular Practical Training
F-1 Status: Optional Practical Training
J-1 Status: Academic Training

What is Volunteering?

Volunteering is donating time with an organization, and:

  • The organization’s primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian
  • You don’t receive remuneration or any other type of compensation
  • The activity is unrelated to your field of study or intended profession

F-1 and J-1 status allow this kind of volunteer activity without special permission.

Just because a position is unpaid (like an unpaid internship), it might not be volunteering according to the immigration rules.

If the activity relates to your studies or intended profession, it is likely considered training, and requires advance authorization from ISS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. See the previous section about internships and training.