This page provides an introduction to employment issues and options for international students in F-1 status at the University of Pennsylvania.

The most important employment issue to consider is "authorized" versus "unauthorized" employment. Make sure that any employment you plan to engage in is authorized in advance, since unauthorized employment poses a grave threat to your ability to remain in or return to the United States.

Even if you are not receiving any form of compensation for the services provided, the activity still may be considered unauthorized employment.  For instance, active involvement in the creation of a company may be considered work, and therefore requiring proper work authorization.  If you are interested in exploring a startup or self-employment opportunity, inquire with ISSS for proper work authorization in advance.  Also volunteering for an organization simply to gain experience could be deemed unauthorized employment especially if duties are performed for which one would normally be paid.  Immigration laws are complex.  Violations, even if made innocently, may result in harsh consequences for individuals and their families if in dependent status.  Thus, it is best to be cautious with respect to this particular issue.

If you have any questions concerning your eligibility or category of employment, please consult with ISSS before commencing employment.

  • Definition of Employment
  • Employment is any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food or any other benefit. If you receive no pay or other benefit for the work performed and the position is normally an unpaid position, this activity will most likely not be considered as an employment.  However, we advise you to consult with ISSS prior to commencing any work (or service) outside Penn.


    Even if you are not receiving any form of compensation for the services provided, the activity still may be considered unauthorized employment.  For instance, active involvement in the creation of a company may be considered work, and therefore requiring proper work authorization.  If you are interested in exploring a startup or self-employment opportunity, inquire with ISSS for proper work authorization in advance.  Also volunteering for an organization simply to gain experience could be deemed unauthorized employment especially if duties are performed for which one would normally be paid.  Immigration laws are complex.  Violations, even if made innocently, may result in harsh consequences for individuals and their families if in dependent status.  Thus, it is best to be cautious with respect to this particular issue.

  • Eligibility Requirements
  • Different requirements exist for each type of F-1 employment, but there are basic requirements which must be met for any F-1 employment:

    • You must currently be in valid F-1 status and in good academic standing at the University of Pennsylvania while engaged in a full course of study, except during summer and school holidays.

    • A student who is out of status is not eligible for F-1 benefits, including employment.

    • Once employment is authorized, you must maintain your eligibility or you will lose your right to continue employment.

  • Categories of F-1 Student Employment
  • On-Campus Employment

    F-1 students are generally permitted to work on-campus if the work meets certain requirements and is limited to 20 hours per week when school is in session.  Read more by clicking the title.

    • Examples of non-Penn sites:  The Wistar Institute, CHOP, Unique Advantage, International House, Monell,  Chemical Heritage Foundation, etc.

    Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

    CPT is intended to provide work experience in situations where the work serves as a required or an integral part of the academic program.  DHS has specific eligibility requirements and restrictions for CPT.  Advance written authorization from ISSS is required.  Read more by clicking the title.

    Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    OPT is intended to provide hands-on practical work experience in your field of study.  DHS has specific eligibility requirements and restrictions for CPT.  Certain science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree holders may be eligible for an additional 17 month extension of OPT time.  Advance work authorization from USCIS is required.  Read more by clicking the title.

    Internship with an International Organization

    Authorization for employment with a qualifying international organization for F-1 students is intended for employment, such as an internship, within the meaning of the International Organization Immunities Act (59 Stat. 669).  Advance work authorization from USCIS is required.  Read more by clicking the title.

    Economic Hardship

    F-1 students who are experiencing unforeseen, serious financial hardship while studying in the U.S. may be able to obtain off-campus employment authorization under certain conditions.  Advance work authorization from USCIS is required.  Read more by clicking the title.

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