International students on F-1 and J-1 visas have specific rules to follow if they want to work while studying in the U.S. Students should review all information about employment on the ISS website before pursuing any work or internship opportunity.
Working without authorization or “unauthorized employment” is a serious violation of F-1 or J-1 status and can have an impact on a student’s future visa status in the U.S. After reviewing employment information on our website, students are encouraged to contact an international student advisor for further advice.
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 (Training)?
An internship is an experiential learning opportunity that takes place in a workplace environment. It can be paid or unpaid, and allows a student to do one or more of the following. 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 allows 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. Check the previous section about internships and training.