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On-Campus Employment

by Paula Singer, Esq.

Under the immigration rules, F-1 and J-1 status students are authorized to work on the campus of the institution that they are authorized to attend for a maximum of 20 hours a week while classes are in session. (The institution they are authorized to attend is the institution having jurisdiction over the student’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.) Students may work full-time on campus when classes are not in session, such as during summer vacation, if they intend to enroll at the institution for the next regular academic year, term, or session. Students may not begin on-campus employment more than 30 days before the actual start of classes.

The School as Employer

On-campus employment is “incident to status” and does not require authorization. When the foreign student’s school is the employer, the only restriction is that the employment cannot “displace United States residents.” Typical student work in the school’s library, bookstore, cafeterias, or administrative offices is not considered displacement of a United States resident. Student employment may also include teaching or research assistantships.

Other On-campus Employers

Generally, work that is on the premises of the institution where the student is enrolled meets the definition of being “on-campus.” However, it is not unusual to have the school’s bookstore or cafeterias operated by commercial entities in which case employment is with that entity rather than with the school.

Other employers operating on the premises of the school can qualify as on-campus employers if they give benefits to the students, faculty, and/or alumni of the institution. For example, cafeterias that provide meals at a discount for students would be considered on-campus employers. Employment on the school’s premises for employers that provide no direct student benefits, such as work at a construction project on the campus of their institution, does not qualify as on-campus employment. Therefore, a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut operating on the school’s premises that provides no benefit to students other than convenience would not qualify as on-campus employment.

On-campus Employment Not On the School’s Premises

Some employment that is physically not on the campus of the institution where the student is enrolled may still qualify as “on-campus.” Employment that is at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the foreign student’s school of enrollment may qualify as on-campus employment. Under the immigration rules, such affiliated off-campus locations meet the definition of being “on-campus” if the affiliated entity is:

  • Associated with the school’s established curriculum or
  • Related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level

In either case, the employment must be an integral part of the student’s educational program.

Because many professors have contract-based research grants, which are not paid through the institution, the immigration service expanded the definition of on-campus employment. Because graduate students conducting research under the supervision of such professors at their institutions are similar graduate students with research assistantships, the immigration service allows this employment to be treated as on-campus employment.

Other Off-campus Employment

Employment that fails to meet the definition of on-campus employment is considered off-campus employment. Foreign students may work off-campus only if they have obtained the proper authorization for the employment as follows:

  • F-1 students may be employed off-campus for “economic hardship” provided they have first obtained an employment authorization document (EAD) from the immigration service.
  • F-1 students may engage in off-campus optional practical training (OPT) after first obtaining an EAD.
  • J-1 students may only work off-campus if the employment they have received prior written authorization from their Responsible Officer (RO). Eligible J-1 Exchange Visitors may also engage in off-campus “academic training” with prior written authorization from their RO.
  • M-1 students may engage in off-campus OPT after first obtaining an EAD.

F-1 students may also engage in curricular practical training (CPT) with authorization from their Designated School Official. CPT typically is on-campus, but sometimes takes place at another institution.

Unauthorized Employment

Foreign students who work more than 20 hours a week while school is in session, or who work when or where they are unauthorized to work, are in violation of their student status. Because of the potentially serious immigration ramifications to foreign students who work without authorization, institutions need to be diligent in their oversight of their foreign students’ employment situations.

About The Author

Paula Singer, Esq. CEO of Windstar Technologies, Inc. and partner in the tax law firm, Vacovec, Mayotte & Singer, Newton, MA has over 25 years of experience providing advice and compliance services to employers on cross-border employment matters. For more information, visit For additional information, call 1-800-259-6398 or email:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.