Employment is available only to students who are in good academic standing and maintain their non-immigrant status. With the exception of work on the UF campus, F-1 students need approval from an international student advisor (ISA) or USCIS, depending on the circumstances, before they may accept employment. Students in J-1 status must have written authorization from an international student advisor before beginning employment. It is very important that the student does not work without authorization. International students may not be self-employed prior to graduation.
Employment opportunities for international students are limited by regulations of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS). Employment includes but is not limited to on campus, off campus, part time, full time, paid, unpaid, volunteer, shadowing, externships, internships, co-ops, etc. The student should contact their ISA prior to engaging in any activity on campus which is more than 20 hours per week and prior to engaging in any off campus activity, regardless of the hours per week, and whether it is paid or unpaid/volunteer.
This section presents a brief introduction to the following situations, primarily as they apply to students in F-1 and J-1 status.
To learn about employment visas, please here.
Assistantships are paid positions in which a student assists faculty in a teaching or research capacity. Go to the Graduate School's website for more information.
- Fellowship: Fellowships do not usually have a work component, although there may be exceptions.
- Research Assistantship: Research assistants are selected for excellence in scholarship and promise as researchers. They do part-time research as a portion of their training under the direct supervision of regular faculty members.
- Teaching Assistantship:Teaching assistants have a primary responsibility in an instructional capacity. Services provided by a graduate teaching assistant may include lecturing, leading discussion groups, serving as assistants to laboratory classes, and grading tests and papers. Florida law requires all non-US students who are going to be graduate teaching assistants to prove adequate command of the English language. Before getting a graduate teaching assistantship, they must submit TSE (Test of Spoken English) or SPEAK (Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit) scores that meet the acceptable minimum set by the university. For more information on TSE and SPEAK requirements, click on this link: TSE and SPEAK Testing
- Graduate Assistantship: Graduate assistantships are available through the individual academic unit. Stipend payments are determined by the employing academic unit. Interested students should contact their academic offices to discuss available assistantships.
F-1 and J-1 students who are maintaining status may work part-time on campus while classes are in session. "Part-time" means not more than 20 hours per pay week. The official work week of the University of Florida is Friday through Thursday. However, some on-campus entities’ work weeks vary, such as Aramark/Gator Dining and UF Bookstore. The student must verify the work week start and end with the employer prior to starting employment.
F-1 students do not need special authorization to work on campus.
On-campus work is generally divided into three categories:
- Work on the school premises, employed by the I-20 issuing institution (University of Florida employment)
- Work on the school premises, employed by on-campus commercial firms [i.e. eFollet (UF Bookstore) and Aramark (Gator Dining); not W W Gay Construction, etc.]
- Work done at off-campus locations, but treated as on-campus (this is generally limited to graduate student research, but may be extended to other scenarios; the student must contact their specific F1 advisor to inquire prior to engaging in any off-campus activity, such as orientation, training, employment, volunteering, internship, externship, shadow, etc.;)
- Educational affiliation must be associated with the school's established curriculum and must be an integral part of the student's educational program, or
- Educational affiliation must be directly related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level and must be an integral part of the student's educational program.
J-1 students need written authorization from their international student advisor or responsible officer of their exchange visitor program.
Student assistantships are considered "on-campus employment" and therefore are also limited to 20 hours per week. During vacation periods and academic breaks, international students may work full-time on campus if they are returning to classes the following term. International students may not work on campus after completing their course of study. If the international student is continuing for another educational program, the student should consult their international student advisor.
For links to some of the available on-campus job search resources, click here.
For a listing of allowed work hours during the semester and during official breaks, click here.
F-1 Students: Off-campus employment is limited to students in colleges and universities who are pursuing academic studies. Working off campus requires special authorization and is only available in certain situations. The student should consult their international student advisor (ISA) for advice.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Curricular practical training is a type of employment for an F-1 student, which is an integral part of the curriculum or program. This employment may be an internship or a practicum.
Standard Optional Practical Training (OPT): Optional Practical training is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience off campus. Optional practical training is authorized by the USCIS. This authorization can take 120 days to obtain. The maximum amount of time granted to work in F-1 standard optional practical training is 12 months. Students who have completed their degree program may be employed full-time in the field of study through Optional Practical Training.
OPT STEM Degree Extension: Students with a qualifying STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) may apply for a 24 Month extension of OPT, making the total duration last up to 36 months.
Severe Economic Hardship Employment: F-1 students may request employment authorization based on severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control. These circumstances may include a loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, or unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses. Source: [8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(9)(ii)(C)-(D) and (F)].
Special Student Relief: Special Student Relief is available to F-1 students who began full-time study in F-1 status before June 10, 1998, and whose financial support comes from Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, or the Philippines. These students must be able to prove that they are experiencing severe and unforeseen financial problems due to the economic crisis in Asia.
Temporary Relief Measures: Students may need to work off campus if a disaster has affected their ability to support themselves. The disaster may occur in the United States and prevent them from working on campus or the disaster may occur overseas and affect their economic support. If the student can demonstrate that they are from an affected country or region and they have been recommended for such employment by an ISA, they may be eligible to receive employment authorization when filing the I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. For more information, click here.
J-1 Students: Exchange visitor students who are in good academic standing may obtain authorization for work off campus as part of an academic training experience or when unforeseen economic circumstances arise after the student becomes an exchange visitor. Employment as a result of unforeseen economic circumstances is limited to 20 hours per week while classes are in session but can be full-time during vacation periods and breaks. Consult the international student advisor for advice and applicable procedures.
Academic Training: Academic training is a type of employment directly related to a J-1 student's major area of study designed to apply knowledge and skills learned during the academic program. J-1 students may pursue academic training opportunities during or after their studies. Academic training must be recommended by the dean or major advisor and be authorized by the responsible officer of the exchange visitor program. In general, the student is limited to 18 months of academic training, unless one of the following applies:
The program of study is less than 18 months, in which case the academic training period cannot be longer than the course of study
The student is pursuing postdoctoral training, in which case, the student may be eligible for up to 36 months of academic training
The student has used periods of academic training earlier in his or her studies.
Unforeseen Economic Circumstances: A student may be authorized for off-campus employment when necessary because of serious, urgent and unforeseen economic circumstances that have arisen since acquiring exchange visitor status. Authorization must be approved by an international student advisor before employment begins and off-campus employment is available up to 20 hours per week.
Special Student Relief: Students in J-1 status whose means of financial support come from Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, or the Philippines, and whose financial support has been disrupted, reduced, or eliminated due to economic crises in that country may be authorized for full- or part-time employment on or off campus.
J-2 dependents: J-2 dependents are eligible for employment (for more information click here) and are required to:
Apply and be approved for full-time or part-time work authorization through USCIS.
Not work for the purpose of supporting the J-1
Reapply, in a timely manner, for renewal of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) each year
Cease working if the J-1 violates status, changes from J-1 to another non-immigrant class, or leaves the J program altogether
Many international students are interested in volunteering their time during their stay in the United States. Volunteering may take a number of forms, such as helping out in a food bank, Habitat for Humanity, or other charitable project. Others may be interested in volunteering in a company in one’s field, perhaps in order to “shadow” or observe to gain some real-world experience. Or perhaps international student has a special skill, such as computer programming, and would like to donate their time to a non-profit agency. While the issue of volunteering may seem clear-cut (“I’m not getting paid, therefore I am not working”), it is actually a complex area in which immigration regulations and labor law intersect. Some of these activities are legally acceptable, and some are not. If interested in volunteering, international students must be aware of the relevant regulations so that they do not inadvertently violate these regulations and thus be penalized for unauthorized employment.
Frequently asked questions
How do I know if the volunteer work I want to do would be considered "employment" by the Department of Labor or the Department of Homeland Security?
There are some basic guidelines that international students can use to determine whether or not the proposed volunteer activity might be considered unauthorized employment. When considering volunteering, ask these questions first:
- Are the services performed for civic, charitable, or humanitarian purposes?
- Are the services entirely voluntary, with no direct or indirect pressure by the employer, with no promise of advancement and no penalty for not volunteering?
- Does the proposed service impair the employment opportunities of others by performing work that would otherwise be performed by regular, paid employees? Are the services provided the same as services provided by someone who is paid?
- Is there any expectation of compensation either now or in the future for these services?
The international student should be able to answer “yes” to questions 1 and 2, and “no” to questions 3 and 4. If not, it is likely that the proposed volunteer activity is more likely unpaid employment, and could subject both the international student and the employer to heavy penalties.
I don't understand why the Department of Labor would be concerned if I decide to volunteer my time, as long as I am not getting paid.
Keep in mind that the Department of Labor is concerned both with the protection of jobs for United States citizens, and with the prevention of exploitation of workers. It is illegal for an employer to pressure anyone to work for free, or to engage in activities for which it is usual to be paid. While both the person and the employer might be happy with the arrangement (for example, working unpaid in a company in order to gain job experience), this is considered an unfair arrangement because that work is usually performed by a paid person. For the company to not pay the person doing the work is considered exploitation by DOL.
Remember the questions above and these basic guidelines:
- Students should not engage in volunteer work if that work is usually performed by someone who is paid.
- Students should not engage in volunteer work if there is any expectation of current or future compensation—including not only wages, but a promise of a future job, gifts, or other benefits.
This is a tricky question to answer, and goes beyond the simple measure of whether or not the person doing the work is getting paid. The Fair Labor Standards Act defines an employee as:
“(1) Except as provided in paragraphs (2),(3), and (4), the term “employee” means any individual employed by an employer….
(2) In the case of an individual employed by a public agency, such term means –
(A) any individual employed by the Government of the United States – (i) as a civilian in the military departments (as defined in section 102 of title 5, United States Code), (ii) in any executive agency (as defined in section 105 of such title), (iii) in any unit of the legislative or judicial branch of the Government which has positions in the competitive service, (iv) in a non-appropriated fund instrumentality under the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces, or (v) in the Library of Congress;
(B) any individual employed by the United States Postal Service or the Postal Rate Commission; and
(C) any individual employed by a State, political subdivision of a State, or an interstate governmental agency, other than such an individual – (i) who is not subject to the civil service laws of the State, political subdivision or agency which employs him; and (ii) who – (I) holds a public elective office of that State, political subdivision, or agency, (II) is selected by the holder of such an office to be a member of his personal staff, (III) is appointed by such an officeholder to serve on a policy making level, (IV) is an immediate advisor to such an officeholder with respect to the constitutional or legal powers of his office, or (V) is an employee in the legislative brand or legislative body of that State, political subdivision, or agency and is not employed by the legislative library of such State, political subdivision, or agency.
(3) For purposes of subsection (u), such term does not include any individual employed by an employer engaged in agriculture if such individual is the parent, spouse, child, or other member of the employer’s immediate family.
(4) (A) The term “employee” does not include any individual who volunteers to perform services for a public agency which is a State, a political subdivision of a State, or an interstate government agency, if – (i) the individual receives no compensation or is paid expenses, reasonable benefits, or a nominal fee to perform the services for which the individual volunteered; and (ii) such services are not the same type of service which the individual is employed to perform for such public agency.
(B) An employee of a public agency which is a State, political subdivision of a State, or an interstate governmental agency may volunteer to perform services for any other State, political subdivision, or interstate governmental agency, including a State, political subdivision or agency with which the employing State, political subdivision, or agency has a mutual aid agreement.”
(Section 3 (e), Fair Labor Standards Act)
A volunteer is defined thusly:
a) An individual who performs hours of service for a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered, is considered to be a volunteer during such hours. Individuals performing hours of service for such a public agency will be considered volunteers for the time so spent and not subject to sections 6, 7, and 11 of the FLSA when such hours of service are performed in accord with sections 3(e)(4)(A) and (B) of the FLSA and the guidelines in this subpart.
(b) Congress did not intend to discourage or impede volunteer activities undertaken for civic, charitable, or humanitarian purposes, but expressed its wish to prevent any manipulation or abuse of minimum wage or overtime requirements through coercion or undue pressure upon individuals to “volunteer” their services.
(c) Individuals shall be considered volunteers only where their services are offered freely and without pressure or coercion, direct or implied, from an employer.
(d) An individual shall not be considered a volunteer if the individual is otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same type of services as those for which the individual proposes to volunteer.
(29 C.F.R. 553.101)
While we cannot provide here every possible example of permissible and non-permissible work, here are some general examples of volunteering.
“Candy striper” in the hospital, literacy tutor, helper in a soup kitchen, builder for Habitat for Humanity, crisis line counselor for domestic violence or rape crisis phone hotline.
These positions are “pure” volunteer activities; they are performed as acts of charity to benefit the community. They do not displace an American worker, and they are not usually performed by someone who is paid for the service.
A person skilled in computer programming volunteers his/her services to a nonprofit/charitable organization such as a substance abuse counseling center to help them design a computer based intake system to log their calls.
While the "work" of computer programming would normally be a paid activity, note that in this circumstance it is performed for a nonprofit/charitable organization which traditionally depends on "gifts in kind" (items, resources, or services donated) to conduct its business. The programming is a gift of time and talent to an organization that depends on such gifts, with no expectation of payment or a future job.
The director of a local non-profit, such as a literacy organization, soup kitchen, or domestic violence shelter, if that position is usually paid.
Even if the position is for a non-profit organization that engages in charitable work, if the position is usually a paid one, volunteering as an international student is not permissible. To volunteer in a position that is usually paid would be considered to be unauthorized employment.
Unpaid work in a company to gain on-site job experience, if the activities/responsibilities would usually be paid.
Again, if the activities/responsibilities would normally be performed by a paid worker, this could be considered a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and immigration law. For example, “volunteering” as a lab technician in a company in order to gain work experience in that field if a paid worker does the same thing. The only time that this would be acceptable is in a true “training program,” in which the person is closely supervised and the employer is getting no measurable “work” from the activities.
The student should consult with the international student advisor to discuss any questions about the specific activity in which he or she wishes to engage.
“Can Suzy Volunteer until her Visa is Approved? ‘Volunteering’ in the crossroads of immigration and labor law.” Presentation at NAFSA Region VIII Conference, Bethesda, Maryland, Nov. 22, 2002. By Murray Welsh and Helene Robertson.
“Volunteering.” Duke University International Office. Frequently Asked Questions web resource.