Employment Rules

F-1 and J-1 students or scholars and their F-2/J-2 dependents are subject to limitations on their ability to work in the U.S.

F-1 and J-1 Students and Dependents

Definition of “Employment”

Employment in student immigration terms is any work performed or services provided in exchange for money, credit, tuition, books, supplies, room and board, or any other benefit or compensation. If a student is doing something because it augments and provides practical experience in his/her area of study, even an unpaid internship, then the student must get employment authorization from ISSS in advance.   

Volunteer Activity:  Based on input from immigration attorneys, ISSS also cautions F-1 and J-1 students about “volunteering” in a position which would normally be paid; “volunteering” should be restricted to true volunteer activities, for example with social service organizations, religious organizations, non-profit groups, etc.  Do not consider an unpaid internship as "volunteer" activity.  Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of student status.

On-Campus Work

On-campus work is defined as on-premises with the source of payment originating from the University of Iowa.  On-campus employment may also include employment at an off-campus location which is “educationally affiliated” with the UI—students in this latter situation should consult with ISSS to ensure the work is appropriate.    

F-1 students may work on campus as long as they are maintaining the terms of F-1 status.  Departments should review the program start/end dates and the student’s status on the first page of the I-20 and the status indicated on the I-94 to determine  employment eligibility. 

J-1 students may also work on campus as long as they are maintaining the terms of J-1 status.  Departments should review the program start/end dates and the student’s status on the first page of the DS-2019 and the status indicated on the I-94 to determine eligibility.  Additionally, all J-1 students must have a letter of employment permission from ISSS or their program sponsor.  These letters must be renewed annually.

Please note that as soon as an F-1 or J-1 student completes his/her program and graduates, the student is no longer eligible to work on-campus, even if the end date on their document is a future date.

Off-Campus Work

Off-campus work is defined as any non-UI employment.

F-1 and J-1 students may apply for work authorization and work off campus in very limited situations.  They may never start to work off-campus without work authorization. 

One such situation is “training” or work authorization for work related to the student’s major field of study.  Because such work must be related to the student’s major field of study, ISSS does request that the academic advisor assist by evaluating the connection between the work opportunity and the student’s studies. 

F-1 Students

There are three types of work authorization. 

  1. The first is Curricular Practical Training (CPT) which is administered by ISSS.  Students must meet several requirements to be eligible for CPT, and the position must be related to the student's major field of study. 
  2. The second type of practical training authorization is Optional Practical Training (OPT).  This work authorization is primarily available for students who are completing their studies and wish to work in the U.S. after graduation in their major field of study.  It is facilitated by ISSS and processed by USCIS.
  3. A final type of off-campus work authorization available to F-1 students is Severe Economic Hardship.  Applications are processed by USCIS. 

J-1 Students

  1. There is only one type of training authorization, Academic Training.  Depending on a student’s eligibility, it may be applied for and received during and/or immediately after a student’s studies.  Academic Training requests are administered by ISSS.

F-2 and J-2 Dependents

These are the spouses or children of an F-1 or J-1 student.  A person in F-2 status cannot legally work in the U.S., no way exists to gain employment authorization at this point in time.

It is possible for a J-2 to apply for employment authorization.  Application information may be found on the ISSS website.  It does involve submitting an application to the Department of Homeland Security, paying an application fee, and waiting 2-3 months for the approval before the J-2 can begin working.  Once approved, this entitles the J-2 to work in any employment situation for any number of hours.

Both F-2 and J-2 can also volunteer as long as it is a bona fide volunteer situation, such as a local food bank or charitable organization.

J-1 Scholars and Dependents

J-1 Scholars

J-1 scholars are here as researchers, professors, or lecturers - they are not here as students.  A J-1 scholar may only work - whether paid or unpaid - for the department who has invited them and appears on the DS-2019 issued by International Student and Scholar Services.  Under no circumstances can a J-1 scholar work elsewhere, including off-campus, or for another department on campus.

If you wish to invite a J-1 scholar to work in your department, please visit the Resources for UI Departments page.  Click on the section for "Inviting Scholars to Campus."

J-2 Dependents

It is possible for a J-2 to apply for employment authorization.  Application information may be found on the ISSS website.  It does involve submitting an application to the Department of Homeland Security, paying an application fee, and waiting 2-3 months for the approval before the J-2 can begin working.  Once approved, this entitles the J-2 to work in any employment situation for any number of hours.

Both F-2 and J-2 can also volunteer as long as it is a bona fide volunteer situation, such as a local food bank or charitable organization.

Employment in Other Categories

For information on other U.S. immigrations classifications and their ability to work and/or study in the U.S, please view a general guide on immigration status, study, and employment.

If you are a department who wishes to pursue an H-1B, O-1, TN, or Green Card for a University of Iowa employee, please consult with Faculty and Staff Immigration Services.  Please note that they provide assistance only for future and current UI employees.