This information is meant for MIT international students. It is for general informational purposes only.
If you are an MIT student and you have further questions about travel and your visa status, please contact the International Students Office and arrange to talk with an International Student Advisor.
Federal regulations significantly limit the opportunities for international students to pursue employment in the United States. Any work related activity, on- or off-campus, paid or non-paid, will require appropriate authorization before beginning the activity. Pursuing a work-related activity without proper authorization is considered a violation of status and has serious consequences on your ability to pursue or complete your degree program. Advanced planning and understanding the employment authorization process is crucial to be able to lawfully pursue the activity both during and after completion of your program of study.
As a general working definition, any activity that is performed at, for, or by MIT, and where any benefit (salary, stipend, housing benefit, honorarium, etc.) is issued by MIT, is generally considered “on-campus employment”. Any activity that does not meet this requirement is generally considered “off-campus employment”, even if performed on the MIT campus, and would likely require off-campus employment authorization.
ISO receives inquiries from students asking if they can perform activities for companies or organizations from abroad, including their home country, remotely/online while on-campus in the U.S. Unfortunately, working for any organization while in the U.S. other than MIT would be considered “off-campus employment” that would require securing off-campus employment authorization. Key questions to ask would be as follows:
*Are you working for a U.S.-based organization or a foreign-based organization?
*Are you performing any of the activity physically inside the U.S. or all activity physically outside the U.S.?
*Are you being paid/funded by a U.S. source or a foreign source?
If the answer to any one of the questions above is “U.S.” (U.S.-based company/organization, or performing activities inside the U.S., or funded by a U.S. source), then you need to secure U.S. off-campus employment authorization to pursue that activity.
The ISO offers a number of online resources, as well as in-person employment information sessions (offered weekly throughout most of the year). While an overview of employment is provided during New International Student Orientation and online, a student must attend an ISO Employment Information Session before they can apply for off-campus employment authorization. Please consult the following resources:
- On-Campus Work for F-1 and J-1 Students
- Practical Training for F-1 Students (for off-campus work)
- Academic Training for J-1 Students (for off-campus work)
- Work Authorization for J-2 dependents
- Publications, Conferences, and Employment
- Post-Graduation Employment Visa Options — Immigration Attorney presentations at MIT
- February 5, 2021 – “Work Visas and Permanent Residence Options” – Iandoli Desai & Cronin P.C., Boston, MA
- March 13, 2019 – “Entrepreneurship, Work Visas, and Green Cards: Employment Visa Options After Graduation” (PDF slides) – Elizabeth Goss, Goss Associates, Boston, MA
Employment Information Sessions
For F-1 students, ISO recommends that students first review the ISO website information on “F-1 On-Campus Employment“, as well as Off-Campus Employment options at the links above for “Practical Training for F-1 Students (for off-campus employment)”.
The ISO hosts F-1 Employment Information Sessions, focusing on on-campus and off-campus employment eligibility and procedures (including Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, STEM Optional Practical Training Extension), which students must attend in order to apply for an off-campus employment benefit.
During the campus closure due to COVID-19, the ISO is making available our “F-1 Practical Training (OPT-CPT) Information Session” audio presentation (a copy of the PDF slides only available here) for students to review in place of attending an in-person session. For students submitting an I-20 Request for CPT or OPT applications in iMIT, on the eform “Attending the F-1 CPT/OPT Information Session” under the scheduled session date type the date you completed your review of all of the presentation slides; and under ISO Advisor who conducted your workshop please type “Online”.
J-1 students interested in off-campus employment eligibility and options should first review the ISO website information on “J-1 On-Campus Work Information” and “Academic Training for J-1 Students (off-campus employment)“, and can contact their ISO Advisor to discuss any questions.
The U.S. Department of Labor defines a volunteer as:
An individual who performs hours of service for a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered, is considered to be a volunteer during such hours. DOL 553.103 (pdf)
The Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor further states:
Individuals who volunteer or donate their services, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, not as employees and without contemplation of pay, are not considered employees of the religious, charitable or similar non-profit organizations that receive their service.” (http://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/whd/flsa/docs/volunteers.asp)
Examples of volunteering may include providing your time and service to a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, being a registered in an established volunteer program at a hospital, or giving your time to your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or similar religious entity.
Any activity or service that does not meet the above definition of volunteering is considered employment with respect to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and requires appropriate authorization as specified within our employment webpages listed above.
Please contact your ISO advisor if you have questions or concerns before beginning a volunteer activity.
Publications, Conferences, and Employment
Students encounter opportunities to submit their work for publication (such as thesis, conference papers) or will receive outreach from publishers or organizations interested in having them contribute to a book, magazine, blog, or other publications. While this is common to most academic programs, immigration regulations do not clearly define in which cases a student would require employment authorization (F-1 Curricular Practical Training, F-1 Optional Practical Training, or J-1 Academic Training) to pursue this experience. Therefore, the ISO strongly advises all international students to consult with their ISO Advisor before engaging in any publication activity to confirm if any employment authorization is required.
In general, the following activities would not require off-campus employment authorization:
- Presentation of a student’s personal research (such as a paper or session at an academic conference) where no stipend, pay, or honorarium is received in return. Reimbursement of actual travel expenses to attend the conference would be allowed, though not to exceed the actual cost of participation.
- Publication of a student’s completed independent academic thesis/dissertation.
- Sale of personal intellectual property already completed (such as a painting, book, or other item completed by the student that has not been contracted for the student to produce for another individual or organization).
In situations where a student is contacted by a publisher or other organization to specifically produce, edit, or create a chapter or a whole book, a piece of art, or other item under terms of a contract or other agreement, it may be considered employment that requires authorization. If any remuneration (anything in return) is received for this activity/service, off-campus employment authorization will be required before participating in the activity. If others participating similarly in the activity (e.g. co-authors) receive anything in return for the activity, and the student does not receive anything in return, the activity could still require off-campus employment authorization. Publication opportunities that are done for academic benefit only, where no remuneration is received in return by any participant, likely will not require employment authorization, but students should consult with their ISO Advisor in advance.
As highlighted above, each student’s situation could be different, so individual consultation with your ISO Advisor and providing any details, written agreements, or other documentation confirming the terms of activity, will be very important before engaging in any such activity,