J-1 Student Employment Options

This page provides an introduction to employment issues and options for international students in J-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, since unauthorized employment poses a grave threat to your ability to remain in or return to the United States. 

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 is considered to be volunteer work.

    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 J-1 employment, but there are basic requirements that must be met for any J-1 employment:

    • You must currently be in valid J-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 J-1 benefits, including employment.
    • Once employment is authorized, you must maintain your eligibility or you will lose your right to continue employment.

Categories of J-1 Student Employment

  • On-Campus Employment
  •   J-1 Student On-Campus Employment Authorization Request

    • J-1 students are generally permitted to work on the premises of the school that issued their currently valid DS-2019, while attending that school and maintaining their J-1 status.
    • When school is in session, on-campus employment is limited to part-time, which is 20 hours per week (not the same as an average of 20 hours a week).
    • During school breaks (such as Spring Break, Thanksgiving Break, etc.), F-1 students may work full time (i.e. over 20 hours per week).
    • During vacation periods (i.e. usually summer unless it is the first or last semester at Penn), F-1 students may work full time (i.e. over 20 hours per week).
    • Work on-campus is a benefit of J-1 visa status. Work on Penn's campus is permissible if it meets certain requirements with prior written permission from ISSS.
    • This refers to any on-campus work for which you receive a paycheck (or other compensation, i.e. room and board) from the University of Pennsylvania (i.e. working for Penn, on Penn Payroll, AND on Penn premises).

    • Not all Penn affiliates or entities are considered on-campus employment sites for immigration purposes
      • Examples of non-Penn sites:  The Wistar Institute, CHOP, Unique Advantage, International House, Monell,  Chemical Heritage Foundation, etc.
      • Special permission from ISSS is also required to work at these non-Penn sites.
  • Academic Training
  • J-1 students are eligible for academic training employment authorization for up to 18 months or the length of the program, whichever is shorter.  Doctoral students are eligible for additional 18 months of post-doctoral academic training time.  Academic training provides an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge obtained in an academic program to a practical work experience. This employment opportunity must be directly related to your major field of study. It may, in certain circumstances, be full or part time and may take place anywhere in the US. You may apply for academic training during your vacation periods, during the academic year, or for when you complete your studies. Academic training can be authorized by ISSS upon the recommendation of your academic advisor or by your J-1 program sponsor if not ISSS. For additional information and application materials, please see J-1 Academic Training.

  • Economic Hardship
  • J-1 students who experience a serious economic hardship due to an unforeseen change in their financial situation may qualify for off-campus employment authorization. Among the changes that can qualify a student for economic hardship employment authorization include unexpected loss of a scholarship, significant currency devaluation or large business loss by a financial sponsor. For more information, see J-1 Student Hardship Employment Permission and meet with an ISSS advisor.

Other Information

  • Social Security Number
  • In order to work in the US, you will need a valid Social Security Number (SSN). Your Penn ID number is not a valid Social Security number. Students may apply for an SSN only after they have been offered a job or upon receipt of work authorization. The Social Security Administration will process your application and a number will be sent to you. For more information, see J-1 Student Social Security Application (PDF).

  • Taxes
  • In general, J-1 students who have been in the US for no more than five calendar years are exempt from Social Security (also known as FICA) and Medicare taxes. You should be sure to bring this to the attention of your employer because many employers are not familiar with this provision of the tax laws. If you need more information about the Social Security and Medicare tax exemption, please see Social Security (FICA) Tax Prevention and Recovery (PDF). Students in J-1 status are subject to all other taxes that may apply: federal, state and local.

  • Employment Eligibility Verification
  • Employment Eligibility Verification

    Within the first three days of beginning work, you and your employer must complete a form entitled Employment Eligibility Verification (USCIS Form I-9). This form should be provided by your employer and must be updated each time you receive a renewal of your work permission.