University of Iowa

The regulations of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provide for five categories of employment benefits for students in F-1 status:

  1. On-Campus employment
  2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) employment
  3. Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment
  4. Employment authorized due to Severe Economic Hardship
  5. Employment with an International Organization

Definition of “Employment”

Employment is any work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, books, supplies, room and board, or any other benefit or compensation.  Only if you will receive absolutely no benefit or compensation of any kind at any time is an activity considered by the USCIS to be “unpaid volunteering.” Based on input from immigration attorneys, ISSS also cautions F-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. Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of student status. Consult our information page on Volunteering to see if your situation could be violating any U.S. laws. Please contact ISSS if you ever have any questions or any doubt about whether you are authorized to accept an offer of employment.

Employment On-Campus

You may work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during the fall and spring semesters and full-time (up to 40 hours per week) during official University breaks (winter break, spring break, Thanksgiving break, and in the summer) if your I-20 is valid and you are in good academic standing. You must also be enrolled full-time or authorized to be enrolled part-time in the fall and spring; enrollment is not required during winter break or summer session, but you must not have graduated and must be eligible to and intend to enroll for the following semester.

  • Students Transferring from U.S. School to Another- Federal regulations allow on-campus employment only at the school whose I-20 is covering you:  “In the case of a transfer in SEVIS, the student may only engage in on-campus work at the school having jurisdiction over the student’s SEVIS record.” [8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(i)]

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

If you have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year (or are in a course of study requiring an internship at the beginning of your program) you may request ISSS authorization for employment in an internship or cooperative education program that is “integral to the established curriculum” of your academic department. Required internships must be clearly identified and described in the course catalogue or similar publication. Curricular practical training may be authorized on either a full-time (employment over 20 hours per week) or a part-time basis. Students who have been authorized for one year or more of full-time CPT are no longer eligible for OPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Many students at the University of Iowa choose to take advantage of OPT following graduation or, in some cases, while engaged in thesis or dissertation research.

Although full-time or part-time OPT authorization is also available during the summer and over winter break (and on a part-time basis during the regular academic year) before a student has completed all required coursework, it is rarely sought due to the lengthy time required for USCIS issuance of the required Employment Authorization Document (EAD) as well as the fact that most students are eligible for CPT authorization during these times instead. 

If applying for OPT, please be prepared to plan ahead for the fact that it may take the USCIS approximately three months to issue your OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

In some cases, certain students may later be eligible to extend their OPT for an additional 17 months.

Severe Economic Hardship

Should you suffer economic hardship due to “unforeseen financial circumstances beyond your control” after you have been in F-1 status at the University of Iowa for one academic year, you can apply to the USCIS for authorization to work off-campus (or on-campus for more than 20 hours) in any job you can find (i.e., even one unrelated to your studies). Examples of unforeseen circumstances include "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, unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses."

Please note that the USCIS application fee for Severe Economic Hardship costs a few hundred dollars, and it may take the USCIS more than three months to approve the application.

Employment with an International Organization

This is an extremely rare situation. If you are offered employment with an international organization, as defined by the International Organization Act, you may apply to the USCIS for employment authorization. Please consult an ISSS advisor if this applies to you.

To engage in any type of employment as a J-1 student, you must first obtain written authorization from the Responsible Officer (RO) or an Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) who represents your J-1 sponsor. Your J-1 sponsor is the organization that issues your Form DS-2019. If the University of Iowa is your sponsor, then ISSS advisors are your RO/AROs.  If your J-1 sponsor is another institution or agency, ISSS advisors have no authority to grant you work.

Definition of “Employment”

Employment is any work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, books, supplies, room and board, or any other benefit or compensation. Only if you will receive absolutely no benefit or compensation of any kind at any time is an activity considered by the USCIS to be “unpaid volunteering.” Based on input from immigration attorneys, ISSS also cautions 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. Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of student status. Consult our webpage on Volunteer Activities to see if your situation could be violating any U.S. laws. Please contact ISSS if you ever have any questions or any doubt about whether you are authorized to accept an offer of employment.

On-Campus Employment

You may work up to 20 hours per week during the academic year and full time during the Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break, and summer as long as your DS-2019 is valid, you have written authorization from ISSS, you are in good academic standing, and you are enrolled full time. (Exception: Enrollment is not required during winter break or summer session, but you must not have graduated and intend to enroll for the following semester). “Student employment” includes:

  • Employment required by a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship
  • On-campus jobs unrelated to study

Off-Campus Employment

  • Off-campus jobs if “necessary because of serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic circumstances” that arose after you arrived in the United States. These are typically of short duration and exist because of factors beyond your control. For further information, talk to an ISSS adviser.
  • Academic Training is employment in the field of your academic program in the United States. The maximum length of time allowed for both pre- and post-completion Academic Training authorization is either 18 months or the number of months you are a full-time student, whichever is shorter (unless the employment is required in order for you to graduate or you are receiving a Ph.D., in which case you are eligible for 36 months of Academic Training). You are eligible for Academic Training authorization:  (1) Before completion of your program of study--You may work part-time while classes are in session and full-time during vacation periods.  Under certain circumstances, you may work full-time while still engaged in studies (e.g., while you are writing your thesis or dissertation) and (2) After completion of your program of study--You may work if you can present your J-1 Responsible Officer with documentation of an offer of appropriate employment and a letter of support from your academic adviser before completing your program.

On Campus Employment

J-1 scholars are authorized to work only if this employment is reflected in the funding sources listed on the DS-2019. If you originally came without funding from your UI department and your department wishes to start paying you after you arrive, the department can contact ISSS to get your DS-2019 updated.

Your program sponsor or the person offering you employment should contact International Student and Scholar Services with details on the proposed employment. If the employment is professional employment related to your program it will be approved. Employment which is not related to your program is not allowed.

Any change in employment must be also approved by ISSS.

Short Term Lectures and Consultations Off Campus

The federal regulations governing professors, research scholars and short-term scholars in J-1 status permit these “exchange visitors” to be paid for “occasional lectures and short term consultations” which are directly related to the exchange visitor’s program, incidental to the primary program activities, and which do not delay the completion of the program or employment objectives. Scholars who are classified as “specialists” may not be paid for short term lectures and consultations.  22 CFR 61.20(g)(1)

To obtain authorization for occasional lectures or consultations for which you will be paid, you need to provide to International Student and Scholar Services both a letter from the person wanting to pay you, giving the terms and conditions of the offer, and a letter from your department head or faculty sponsor recommending the proposed activity and briefly explaining how it will enhance your exchange visitor program.

On the basis of these two letters, ISSS will issue an approval letter for the activity. See the procedures below.

Procedures

To obtain authorization for occasional lectures or consultations for which you will be paid, you need to apply to ISSS:

  1. Get a letter from the person wanting to pay you, giving the terms and conditions of the offer, “including the duration, the number of hours, the field or subject, the amount of compensation, and a description of the proposed activity”, and
  2. Apply online in iHawk (click the blue login button) using your HawkID and password. Go to "J-1 Scholar Services" and complete the e-form "Short-Term Lecture Request."
  3. Once you complete the e-form, your department will need to review it. Your department will receive an email message from ISSS which will provide a link to review your request. Your department will be asked to comment on your request.
  4. After your department comments on your e-form request, you will receive an e-mail from ISSS telling you that we have received it. An ISSS advisor will review the application and will then contact you by e-mail to inform you of the decision or if additional information is needed. If approved, you will be instructed that you can come to ISSS to pick up a letter authorizing the lecture.

On the basis of these two letters, ISSS will issue a third letter which the individual who is going to pay you for your efforts will need to see to have assurance that you can legally do the work. Note the authorization from ISSS must be received before you engage in the lecture or consultation. If authorization is not granted in advance, you will not be eligible to be paid. Unless you are the beneficiary of an income tax treaty, income from an occasional lecture or consultation will be taxable. For further information, contact Payroll in the Human Resources office; payroll-nra-web@uiowa.edu.