US Information Agency regulations allow a J-1 student who experiences unforeseen financial problems while studying in the US to obtain off-campus employment permission under certain conditions. This page discusses the requirements and limitations of J-1 student economic hardship employment authorization. This off-campus employment permission may provide real help in difficult circumstances by allowing a student to supplement his or her income enough to meet some living expenses. Economic hardship employment authorization will not, however, enable a student to earn enough to bear the cost of the full-time course of study required to maintain J student status. It should not be thought of, then, as a solution for serious financial difficulties.

  • Eligibility
  • If you are an J-1 student who is experiencing economic hardship due to an unforeseen change in your financial situation, you may qualify for off-campus employment authorization under relevant immigration regulations. (You must, of course, be a full-time student in valid J-1 status to qualify for this, as for any other benefit of J status.) If employment authorization is granted you will be able to work off campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full time during vacation periods. Economic hardship employment authorization-which allows you to work in any job, related or not related to your studies-will be granted for one year or for the remainder of your academic program, whichever period is less.

    When considering your eligibility for hardship employment authorization the most important point to keep in mind is that for you to qualify an adverse change in your financial situation must have been unforeseen, or to be more accurate, it must have been unforeseeable, when you first came to the US to study. This is because J regulations provide that hardship employment authorization must be "necessary because of serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic circumstances which have arisen since acquiring exchange visitor status." Elsewhere, immigration regulations note that unforeseen circumstances "may 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 conditions of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses."

    If you believe that your circumstances may qualify you for hardship employment authorization, please meet with an ISSS advisor. If it appears that you are eligible for hardship employment authorization, the advisor will ask you to:

    1. write a letter in which you describe in some detail the circumstances that support your request for hardship employment authorization

    2. provide documentation confirming these circumstances (for example, a letter from your department to document the loss of a scholarship, or exchange rate data showing a currency devaluation, or a letter from an accountant confirming unexpected business losses)

  • Authorization
  • When the need for hardship employment authorization is well documented the ISSS advisor will, if the University of Pennsylvania is the institution that issued your DS-2019, issue an employment letter to you authorizing your off-campus employment. The authorization will be for part-time employment while school is in session and full-time employment during vacation periods (this authorization will be for a maximum of one year or for the remainder of your academic program, whichever is less). If the University of Pennsylvania is not the institution that issued your DS-2019, the ISSS advisor will refer you to the institution that did in order to request hardship employment authorization. (The institution that prepared your DS-2019 is your J-1 "program sponsor." You need your program sponsor's permission to engage in any type of J-1 employment, including economic hardship employment.)

    Please remember that your employment authorization will be limited in duration and, during the school year, in number of hours per week. Any employment that you have before or after the authorized period, or in excess of the 20 hour per week limit during the school year, will be illegal employment that renders you illegally present in the US and beyond the power of ISSS or the Immigration Service to regularize your situation.

  • Social Security Numbers
  • Before you begin work you will need a valid Social Security number (your Penn ID is not a valid Social Security Number). If you do not already have one, please obtain application instructions and directions to the Social Security Office from ISSS. The Social Security Administration will process your application and a number will be sent to you in about one month.

  • Taxes
  • In general, J-1 students who have been in the US in less than six calendar years are exempt from social security (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 J-1 social security and Medicare tax exemption, please contact ISSS.

    Students in J-1 status are subject to all other taxes that may apply: federal, state and local (but check with ISSS to see if your country is one of the few that has a tax treaty with the US allowing students to exclude a limited amount of earned income from federal taxation).

  • 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 will be kept on file by your employer and must be updated each time you receive a renewal of your work permission.

Failure to Comply with Employment Regulations

It is your responsibility to comply with all immigration regulations which apply to J-1 students, including employment regulations. Working without the proper authorization is a serious violation of your student status. If you fail to comply with your responsibilities, you may not be eligible for benefits normally granted to J-1 students and, in some situations, may be subject to deportation. Prior to accepting any employment in the US, we strongly urge you to consult with ISSS.