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Employment Overview

The primary purpose of an F-1 student visa is to complete an academic program in the U.S. This is not an employment visa. Like all non-immigrant categories, the F-1 category is bound by the general restrictions on employment. To maintain valid F-1 status, a student must not work in the United States, unless the employment is specifically authorized under the regulations. To be eligible for work authorization, a student must be otherwise maintaining valid F-1 status. A student who is out of status is not eligible for F-1 benefits, including employment.

Types of employment available to F-1 students:

  • On-campus employment
  • Severe economic hardship
  • Special student relief (SSR)
  • Certain employment sponsored by international organizations
  • Curricular Practical Training
  • Optional Practical Training

Can I volunteer in F-1 status?

“Volunteering” is not only a matter of whether you receive payment. If an activity is performed for charitable/humanitarian reasons for a public agency without expectation of future employment, does not involve compensation or remuneration of any kind, and is always performed by unpaid volunteers, it may not require work authorization. However, please speak with your assigned ISSS adviser if you are thinking about volunteering while you are in F-1 student status to determine whether you need work authorization.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are employers required to interview international students?*

Employers are not required to interview an international student who has an F-1 or J-1 visa, even if the student is otherwise qualified for the job. Some employers may have set policies stating that they will not sponsor, and therefore will not interview, F-1 and J-1 students, even though those students may have Optional Practical Training (for F-1s) or academic training (for J-1s) allowing them to work temporarily after graduation. This type of policy is lawful, and an employer can freely state that it will not interview or sponsor students in F-1 or J-1 status.

Can employers limit their interviewing/hiring to U.S. citizens?*

Although employers can refuse to interview or hire international students who do not already have some form of permanent work authorization, most cannot stipulate that U.S. citizenship is a job requirement. (Note that “work authorization” and “citizenship” are different things. A person can be authorized to work in the United States without holding citizenship.)

As a general rule, an employer cannot legally limit job offers to “U.S. citizens only.” An employer may require U.S. citizenship for a particular job only if U.S. citizenship is required to comply with a law, regulation, or executive order; is required by a federal, state, or local government contract; or the U.S. Attorney General determines that the citizenship requirement is essential for the employer to do business with an agency or department of the federal, state, or local government.

These exceptions are extremely limited in scope.

Accordingly, employers should not ask a job applicant about his or her citizenship during a job interview, unless the employer is confident that the job falls into one of the lawful bases for requiring U.S.-citizen applicants only. The employer, however, can ask if the candidate is authorized to work in the United States, and on what basis.

*Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers. Current as of October 2014.