As a F-1 or J-1 student your primary purpose in the United States is to complete an academic program. However, there are specific circumstances when a student, with the permission of ISSS and other immigration agencies, may seek paid or unpaid employment.
Before considering employment, please remember the following:
- You cannot begin any work off-campus, paid or unpaid, until you have authorization from ISSS and other relevant agencies to do so. You may apply for jobs but cannot actually start until immigration authorization has been issued (if authorization is appropriate).
- For purposes of immigration it is your physical location while employed that matters. If you are in the United States and employed you need employment authorization.
- When determining what type of work authorization you need we consider where you are working: on or off campus. If you are asked to complete an I-9 anywhere other than UAlbany's Human Resources office you must consult ISSS before beginning any employment.
- If you plan to do CPT or OPT all employment must directly relate to your academic major.
- Failure to adhere to employment regulations can result in a violation of status and/or impact future applications you make for benefits or statuses.
- The Center for Career and Professional Development provides extensive resources and advising for students needing assistance with their internship or career search. Their office is located in SL G-50, next to the ISSS office.
- Review this Powerpoint presentation, "Making Money in the U.S. Legally," put together by immigration attorney Art Serratelli for more information on working in the U.S. and if/when work authorization is needed. And as always, speak to an ISSS advisor before starting any work.
Please select the titles below for additional information on each topic.
F-1 students are permitted to work part-time on campus (up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session, full time during school breaks and vacations).
J-1 students have the same opportunity but must additionally obtain a work authorization letter from ISSS (or their outside sponsor, such as Fulbright).
Graduate students with assistantships must seek approval from the Dean of Graduate Studies via their academic department to be eligible for additional employment, whether on or off campus.
Note: Students in some visa categories, such as H-4 in most circumstances, are prohibited from working in the U.S. at any job. It is the responsibility of the employer (Human Resources, Research Foundation, Chartwells, etc.) to verify a student’s eligibility for employment.
How to Look for an On-Campus Job
- On the “Campus Life” tab on MyUAlbany you can search for Student Assistant openings (F-1/J-1 students are not eligible for federal work study positions)
- Search Career Services' Handshake platform for on-campus opportunities (be careful to filter your search for on-campus jobs only)
- Graduate students can search graduate assistantship vacancies.
Social Security Numbers
F-1 and J-1 students are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) up to 30 days before they start authorized paid employment. A SSN number is required for I-9 purposes. The employer hiring a student must write the student an official offer letter which the student should take to ISSS to obtain a status letter.
Students who need to apply for a SSN should review how to request a SSN status letter from ISSS.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training, or CPT, is a type of off-campus work authorization for F-1 students. F-1 students engaging in an off-campus internship or employment- whether paid or unpaid- must obtain authorization prior to beginning that employment from ISSS. A student is only eligible for CPT after completing two semesters full-time (a fall and spring term).
For a student to be eligible, the CPT employment/training must be an integral part of the student's academic program. The internship must relate to the student's major. Please review the CPT Work Authorization Application page for further details.
CPT will only be authorized one semester at a time (fall, spring and summer terms). If a student needs additional time for the internship the student must reapply each semester and obtain verification from the academic department that the employment is still integral to the student’s program. More than 20 hours per week is considered full-time employment for CPT. Restrictions on full-time employment are explained in detail on the CPT Work Authorization Application page.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of off-campus work authorization for F-1 students. This authorization must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved USCIS issues the student an EAD card proving work authorization. Before a student can apply through USCIS he or she must obtain a new I-20 from ISSS recommending OPT. USCIS takes on at least 90 days on average to process and approve an OPT request.
In most cases a student will choose to do OPT post-completion (after completion of all degree requirements). Unlike CPT students are not required to have a job offer before applying for OPT authorization.
OPT employment must directly relate to a student's field of study (e.g. his or her major). ISSS does not determine an employment situation's relevance to an academic program. We recommend that the student consult the Career Center and/or the academic department to determine if the position is within the student's field of study.
Before applying for OPT students must watch a required OPT workshop.
J-1 Academic Training
Academic training is a form of off-campus work authorization for J-1 students. J-1 students engaging in an off-campus internship or employment, whether paid or unpaid, must obtain authorization from ISSS or their J-1 program sponsor (such as Fulbright) prior to beginning that employment.
Students must have an offer letter prior to obtaining academic advisor approval and approval from ISSS.
J-1 students may choose to use their Academic Training authorization while they are an enrolled student or after they have completed their program. The training may be for up to 18 months (cumulative) or a period equal to the full course of study (cumulative), whichever is less. Up to 36 months of Academic Training can be granted at the doctorate level inclusive of all prior Academic Training done at that or lower levels of study. Employment must begin no later than 30 days after the student’s program end date and must be authorized by the ISSS prior to the student's program end date.
Volunteering and Unpaid Experiences
It is common for international students to confuse volunteering with unpaid experience - practicum, internship, or field placement - and therefore conclude that no work authorization is necessary for engaging in an unpaid experience. However, there is a difference between volunteering and engaging in an unpaid internship or experience for maintaining F-1 and J-1 immigration status.
Volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable, civic, or humanitarian in nature. In addition, the activity performed by the individual must meet the following criteria:
- No expectation of compensation
- The volunteer cannot displace a genuine employee
- Is not a position that would be paid if the individual had work authorization
- The services provided by the volunteer should not be the same services for which he or she was previously paid and/or expects to be hired and paid for in the future
For example, it would be acceptable to volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate time with the American Red Cross. The Department of Labor website contains resources on what constitutes legitimate volunteer activities. F1 Students do not need work permission to volunteer their time in a charitable, civic or humanitarian capacity.
It is advisable for students who are engaging in bona fide volunteer activity, to get documentation from the organization explaining the nature of their work. Students should keep the documentation with their other immigration records.
Unpaid internship or experience
Practicum, internships or field placement(referred to below as "experience") may be paid or unpaid and are designed to provide interns with work experience related to their major field of studies.
The U.S. Department of Labor has guidelines for those seeking an unpaid internship.
The following six criteria must be met for an internship to be considered a legitimate unpaid internship (and not employment below minimum wage, in violation of Department of Labor laws):
- The experience even though it includes actual operation on the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
- The experience is for the benefit of the intern.
- The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff.
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship
Do F-1 students need CPT authorization to participate in unpaid internship or experience?
The F-1 regulations are written in such a way that CPT is an authorization to engage in practical training as part of the curriculum for the academic program, and as such is significant in more ways than simply for the employer to verify employment eligibility. In other words, CPT authorization is more than just permission to get paid. Therefore, in the interest of protecting the student from possible violations of F-1 status CPT is required for both paid and unpaid academic related practicums, internships and field placements (or other related experience) with an off-campus employer.
You should have CPT authorization for unpaid practicums, internships or field placement for the following reasons:
- CPT authorization by the university serves to demonstrate that this practical experience is part of the curriculum.
- CPT authorization is a way of reporting in SEVIS the student's activity, employment, and location where they are working and therefore maintaining their status.
- If ever a student is doing a job on an unpaid basis that someone would be hired and paid for, employment authorization in the form of CPT, OPT, etc. is advised.
- If the unpaid experience at some point changes into a paid one (or if your employer decides to compensate you for your work in any way – for example, give you a monetary gift), you won’t be able to accept the payment if your internship was not authorized as CPT. Please keep in mind that F-1 students cannot be retroactively remunerated or in any way compensated for work done in an unpaid internship if they did not obtain work authorization prior to when the work was performed.
Based on the above, you need to apply for CPT authorization if you have a practicum, internship, field placement or other related offer (paid or unpaid) that meets CPT eligibility criteria.
Note on MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding)
If a student is engaged in an eligible position (such as a student assistant position) under a MOU with a University at Albany department the employment may be considered to be on-campus employment. ISSS does not verify or facilitate MOU agreements in any way. If you are asked to complete an I-9 anywhere other than UAlbany's Human Resources office you must consult ISSS before beginning any employment. Students are responsible for verifying and providing documentation of a MOU agreement. Please review this additional information carefully.
The information contained in this web site/form is provided as a service to international students, faculty and staff at the University at Albany. It does not constitute legal advice. We try to provide useful information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site or any associated site or form. Neither the University at Albany nor ISSS is responsible for any errors or omissions contained in this website, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. Nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel; students may wish to consult an immigration attorney on the specifics of their case as needed.