There are over 1 million international students currently studying in the U.S. The J-1 exchange visitor visa is one of the options available to students from different parts of the world who wish to benefit from the quality education offered by U.S. institutions. This visa category is open to high school, undergraduate, masters, doctoral students, as well as a list of specific occupations and vocational programs.
Even though the J-1 is available to people in occupations such as camp counselors, professors, and au pairs, we will focus on the student aspect of the visa, as employment is not a strict part of these programs. As an international student, your J-1 visa application must be sponsored by a U.S. educational program. J-1 students are allowed to work on a part-time basis while studying for both monetary and practical work experience benefits.
Working Part-Time As J-1 Student
J-1 students may work part-time and earn an income during their courses in order to supplement their finances. You may engage in either on campus or off campus work. Most universities in the U.S. have various employment positions for their students which are located on the school’s campus. You may get a part-time job in your department or other departments on campus.
However, due to the limited number of positions, there is usually a stiff competition. Students who wish to take up these positions need to be at the head of the pack and be ready to apply to as many jobs as possible. U.S. schools do not guarantee international students j-1 visa employment, so it is your responsibility to find a vacant position and apply for it. Students who couldn’t find an on-campus job are also sometimes allowed to work off-campus in certain circumstances.
J-1 Visa Employment Eligibility: Obtaining Employment Authorization
The U.S. immigration and labor laws have laid down rules for anyone who wishes to work in the country and this includes students working part-time. As a J-1 student, you will need to get a work permit to work either on campus or off campus. Each school has its own procedures for obtaining a work permit, so you may need to contact the international student office in your school for guidelines.
On-Campus Employment for J-1 Students
On-campus J-1 visa employment is paid work done for the school or an affiliate. As a J-1 student, you may work for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time during the summer and official university holidays. Some of the places to find an on-campus job include the bookstore, libraries, hospitality services, transportation service, online, and other sectors within your school.
Though it is called on-campus employment, the job location is not restricted to the school campus. On-campus employment may sometimes be at a location outside the school if the employer is educationally affiliated with your school or your research project or academic program. It can sometimes be confusing to determine if employment in an off-campus location is qualified for on campus.
To be sure you don’t violate your J-1 status guidelines, you might need to seek clarification from your exchange visitor program coordinator before picking up any “on campus” employment that is located outside the school campus.
As an international student, you may be allowed to work off campus if you are faced with an unforeseen economic hardship which arises after acquiring your J-1 status. To be qualified for off-campus employment, you will need to get authorization by submitting a J-1 Student Employment Request to the relevant authority in your school. Your request will be evaluated, and if it is considered to be valid, you will be issued written employment authorization, which allows you to work off campus.
You will need to document the economic circumstances that warrant the off-campus employment request. For some universities, you must have completed one academic year to be eligible for off-campus employment. It is always advisable that you have worked on-campus before applying for off campus. Working either on campus or off campus without proper authorization is a serious violation of your J-1 student status, you need to ensure you follow due process.
How Many Hours Am I Permitted to Work?
As a J-1 student, you can work for 20 hours per week during school session. However, during the summer holiday, you may work for more than 20 hours. It is very important to note that the primary purpose of the J-1 program for an international student is to study. The opportunity to work is just to help you gain practical experience and supplement your finance. This is to ensure that your job does not affect your course work.
J-1 Student Academic Training
Academic Training (AT) is another J-1 visa employment opportunity. It is a program designed to give international students practical experience in their field of study. The rules surrounding AT vary from school to school, so be sure to ask the program contact for your school.
Every J-1 student will have a minimum of 18 months of academic training in the U.S. You may start your Academic Training either during or after the completion of your course of studies. The following are some tips about J-1 AT:
- It may be paid or unpaid employment
- It is a maximum of 18 months program for undergraduates and masters students and 36 months for doctoral students
- Academic training for J-1 students is counted as full-time even if the J-1 visa employment is part-time
- You can only engage in a full-time AT employment during school breaks or holiday when you have completed your coursework and at the stage of thesis/dissertation, or you have graduated
- If you start your AT before the completion of your studies, the number of completed months will be deducted from the stipulated 18 or 36 months depending on your program
- You cannot engage in a self-employed job, you must get a job offer from an employer and present the letter of employment to your school for approval.
- Most universities require the completion of at least one semester of your study before engaging in AT.
The academic training requirements vary among different U.S. schools. You will need to check with your school before applying.
Tips for Finding Part-Time Employment for J-1 Students
Before getting part-time employment as a J-1 student, there are many important things you need to put into consideration:
- Consider how the job will help boost your resume. This is why it is advisable to pick up J-1 visa employment that will give you a learning experience and valuable skills in your field of study.
- If possible, try to get a job that will eventually lead to career growth after graduating. However, you will need to consider your visa validity period and when you will need to return to your home country.
- As an international student, you can look out for Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) or Research Assistant (RA) position in your department or another department. Any of these positions generally guarantees a stipend and other benefits from the school. Working as a GSI or RA gives you both economic benefits and experience that will help you in your career.
- Some on-campus employment like teaching assistantship might require international students to take some tests for which you will need to prepare.
- Most on-campus vacant positions are highly competitive. You will need to be active in your job search and in answering questions from prospective employers.
- Presentation is vital in your job search. You need to maintain personal hygiene, dress appropriately, and be polite at all times.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions from your fellow students. Some of them may know about organizations that are looking for workers.
U.S. Taxes for J-1 Students Working Part-Time
Most J-1 students working part-time are required to pay taxes on their earnings. However, if your country of origin has a tax treaty with the United States, you may qualify for tax exemption. To be sure of this, you might need to check these countries which the U.S. government has income tax treaties with to see if your home country is among them.
Can a J-1 Student Work As Volunteer?
International students are allowed to engage in volunteering while studying on a J-1 visa. However, you must be sure you can distinguish between unpaid labor and volunteering. Volunteering in the U.S. as a foreign national can be complex and has requirements as laid down by the U.S. Department of Labor. Before you work as a volunteer, make sure you are aware of the regulations guiding the specific volunteering role you want to offer to avoid violating labor and immigration laws. Violating these regulations could result in penalties for you and the organization for unauthorized J-1 visa employment.