F-1 & J-1 Student Employment Overview
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides that F-1 students must be coming to the United States solely to pursue a full-course of academic, language, or other non-vocational study. Nevertheless, F-1 students may work under certain circumstances. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations define "employment" as services or labor for wages or other renumeration. Essentially, F-1 student employment can be divided into three distinct categories: on-campus, off-campus, and practical training.
Practical training is available to F-1 students who have been attending a college, university, conservatory, or seminary full time for at least nine consecutive months. High school and English language program students are ineligible for practical training even if the program is part of a college or university.
Practical training is divided into two types, curricular and optional. Curricular practical training (CPT) provides for employment which is an "integral part of the established curriculum" and is usually required or for credit. Optional practical training (OPT) provides for employment "directly related to the student’s major area of study".
For J-1 Students
J-1 student employment essentially can be classified in four ways:
Scholarship, Fellowship or Assistantship
This is employment that is required in return for receiving a scholarship, fellowship or an assistantship. Such work usually occurs on campus with the school as the employer. In certain circumstances, however, the work can be done elsewhere for a different employer. For example: exchange visitors may work in a government or private research laboratory if the exchange visitor’s major professor (e.g. department chair) has a joint appointment at one of those locations, and the employment is supervised and counts toward the exchange visitor’s degree.
The Exchange Visitor Program regulations allow for on-campus jobs that are related or unrelated to study, which stipulate that the work can be done "on the premises" of the school. This means that the school does not have to be the employer. For example: exchange visitors may work for a commercial company, such as a food service, operating on the campus.
Exchange visitors may be authorized for off-campus employment when necessary due to "serious, urgent and unforeseen economic circumstances" that have arisen since the exchange visitor’s sponsorship on the J-1 visa. Such employment will be authorized in writing by a Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) at the school, indicating the name and address of the employer and the dates of employment.
Academic Training (ACT)
Academic Training is authorized employment which is related to a student's field of study. It is intended to provide hands-on, practical experience complementary to the academic degree. J-1 students are eligible for up to 18 months of Academic Training upon completion of the degree (3 years for post doctoral training). Exchange students not completing a degree are entitled to Academic Training that is equal to the number of days spent enrolled for classes. Academic Training must be authorized before employment may legally begin.
An application for Academic Training must be made no later than the date of completion of the program of study as indicated on the DS-2019 form. The student MUST have a job offer related to his/her field of study in order to request Academic Training.
Requests for Academic Training will take 5 working days to process from the date that the recommendation from your advisor is received. See our J-1 Academic Training page for information on how to apply.
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Social Security Tax
During the first 5 years of study, lawfully employed nonresident F-1 visa holders are not subject to social security withholding or reporting requirements. Therefore, wages received by nonresident F-1 status holders working on the campus they are authorized by DHS to attend, performing off-campus work with DHS permission, or undergoing approved practical training should not have taxes withheld until they become resident aliens for tax purposes. This generally does not occur until their sixth tax year in the U. S.
Occasionally social security tax is withheld in error. Students may not request a refund on their income tax return (Form 1040 NR or 1040 NR-EZ). Instead, they must contact the employer who withheld the tax for assistance. The employer must correct their Form 941 Employment Tax Return for the term(s) in question. If the employer is unable to provide a refund, the student must complete IRS Form 843, "Claim for Refund and request for Abatement," and submit it with copies of their Form W-2 for the years in question, a copy of the Form I-94, and proof of permission to work to the Internal Revenue Service Center where their employer files tax reports. They must also submit Form 8316. If they do not know the location of their employer’s IRS service center, they should submit their request for refund to:
Students must include a statement from the employer showing the amount of the refund they requested and the amount (if any) reimbursed by the employer, or obtain a statement from the employer that they are unable to assist the student with the refund.
Federal Income Tax
Many students may be eligible for exemption from federal income tax withholding based on a tax treaty between the United States and their home country. Exemption amounts vary by country and requests for exemption must be made annually. Exemption from federal taxes based on a treaty in the U. S. is made on Form 8233 (with appropriate letter) through the employers’ payroll office.
You can view a video tutorial that outlines the process of student employment below: