This information is meant for MIT international students. It is for general informational purposes only.

Federal regulations significantly limit the opportunities for international students to pursue employment in the United States. Any work/employment related activity, on or off-campus, paid or unpaid, will require some type of authorization before beginning the work/employment activity. Pursuing a work/employment-related activity, without the proper authorization, is considered a violation of a student’s U.S. immigration status and can have serious consequences on a student’s ability to pursue and/or complete their degree program. 

Advanced planning and understanding of what U.S. immigration defines as work/employment is crucial for an international student’s planning and understanding of the work/employment authorization process. Therefore, it is important for students to read all the information listed on the ISO Employment webpages for a student to be able to lawfully pursue a work/employment-related activity both during and after completion of their degree program at MIT.      

A general definition of any work/employment-related activity (on or off-campus / paid or unpaid), is based on the “nature of the work/activity” being performed and if the work/employment-related activity is “providing a service” that is benefiting an employer, organization, or even a student (i.e., a student’s personal start-up, Mentor/Mentee relationship in company/start-up, or a team project that provides a service/benefit). Some additional examples are: 

  • Any work/employment-related activity that is performed at MIT, for MIT, or benefit received from MIT, and where any benefit (salary, stipend, housing benefit, honorarium, etc.) is issued by MIT, is generally considered “on-campus employment”.  
  • Any work/employment-related activity that does not meet the “on-campus employment” requirement(s) is generally considered “off-campus employment”. 
    • NOTE: This also applies to any work/employment-related activity performed on the MIT campus for an off-campus entity (e.g., off-campus paid or unpaid, work/employment for a company outside the U.S., at another university, and/or helping a professor in a lab or a tech company, that is not specifically at, for, and by/from MIT).

The ISO receives multiple inquiries from students asking if they can perform remotely and/or online work/employment-related activities while on-campus/inside the U.S. for companies or organizations abroad (including in their home country). Unfortunately, working for ANY organization (paid or unpaid) while the student is inside the U.S. (e.g., while the student is physically inside the U.S., in F or J status) would be considered “off-campus employment” and this would require the student to secure off-campus employment authorization prior to beginning any work/employment-related activity. 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(s) while you are physically inside the U.S.? Or will ALL activity(s) be performed while you are 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 “United States (U.S.)” (e.g., U.S.-based company/organization and/or performing activities inside the U.S., and/or funded by a U.S. source), then the student is required to secure U.S. off-campus employment authorization to pursue the work/employment-related activity.

F-1 Student Employment-Related Information Sessions & eCourses

While an overview of employment is provided to students during a students required Immigration Orientation session, students can find additional information and resources on the below ISO webpages:

The ISO offers a multitude of online resources, as well as employment-related information sessions (offered throughout most of the academic year). These sessions focus on off-campus employment eligibility and procedures. Therefore, in order for a student to request off-campus work authorization, they must first complete and/or review the required ISO and USCIS materials before submitting a request in iMIT. 

The ISO announces these sessions through the ISO newsletter and on a student’s iMIT Home Page. 

F-1 students interested in Curricular Practical Training will need to complete the CPT Canvas eCourse in order to apply for CPT authorization. Students can find details and links to the eCourse, on the ISO’s F-1 Curricular Practical Training webpage.

F-1 students interested in Post-Completion Optional Practical Training will need to complete the Post-Completion Optional Practical Training eCourse in order to apply for Post-Completion OPT authorization. Students can find details and links to the eCourse, on the ISO’s F-1 Optional Practical Training after program (Post-Completion OPT) webpage.

F-1 students interested in Pre-Completion OPT or the STEM OPT Extension must watch the recorded version of our ‘F-1 Employment Information Session’ online to be eligible to request a Pre-Completion OPT or STEM OPT Extension Form I-20. Students can find a copy of the PDF slides and video/audio recordings hereNOTE: Kerberos login/Duo authentication is required for students to the online materials. 

For F-1 students submitting a request for Pre-Completion OPT or the STEM OPT Extension in iMIT, when the e-Form asks “Your Session Date”, under the “scheduled session date” the student should type the date they completed their review of all of the presentation materials (i.e., videos and slides); and under “ISO Advisor who conducted your workshop”, the student should type “Online”.

OPTIONAL ‘F-1 Live on Zoom Employment Q&A Sessions’

In addition to the above resources, F-1 students may also attend any of the following ‘F-1 Live on Zoom Employment Q&A Sessions’. NOTE: The ‘F-1 Live on Employment Q&A Sessions’ are NOT required and are not full presentations. Attending an F-1 Q&A session does NOT meet the requirements for a student to submit an off-campus employment request in iMIT. The ‘F-1 Live on Zoom Employment Q&A Sessions’ are rather an opportunity for students to ask clarifying questions after they have reviewed the required materials online (e.g., Post-OPT eCourse, or the Pre-Completion OPT / STEM OPT Extension slides and video/audio recordings, found here). 

The ‘F-1 Live on Zoom Employment Q&A Sessions‘, for the Spring 2023 academic term will be posted soon. Tentative ‘F-1 Live on Zoom Employment Q&A Sessions‘ dates will begin in late February, and then held throughout March and April. 

Once the ‘F-1 Live on Zoom Employment Q&A Sessions‘ dates have been posted, students must sign-up for a session in advance. Students can register for a session by logging in to their iMIT account by clicking on “Details” and then on “I’m Going” to register for the event. All ISO sessions can always be found under the “Events” section of their iMIT Home Page.

REMINDER: Students can ONLY attend an ‘F-1 Live on Zoom Employment Q&A Session’ after they have reviewed the required materials (e.g. Post-OPT eCourse, or the Pre-OPT or STEM OPT Extension PDF slides and video/audio recordings (found here)). The review of the required materials MUST be completed in advance of attending an Employment Q&A Session.

J-1 Student Employment-Related Information 

The ISO offers a multitude of online resources for J-1 Students (sponsored by MIT), and while an overview of employment is provided to students during the ISO’s International Student Orientation session, students can find additional information and resources on the below ISO webpages:

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 if they have any additional questions, they can contact their ISO Advisor


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) 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, CFR 553.103

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 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.

What is a “true volunteer” position? A “true volunteer” can be defined as providing one’s time and service to not-for-profit organizations (e.g., an animal shelter, homeless shelter, being a registered in an established volunteer program at a hospital, or giving time to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or similar religious entity). A “true volunteer” position is where anyone in the world could go into the organization and start helping immediately. 

For Example:

  • Helping to serve food at a homeless shelter is a “true volunteer” position, because everyone can do this type work with absolutely no education or training.
  • Helping a professor in a lab or a tech company, off campus, paid or unpaid, IS NOT a “true volunteer position”, because everyone cannot do this type of work, as it requires some form of education and/or training.

Any work/employment-related activity or service that does not meet the above definition of volunteering is considered work/employment with respect to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) / the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and requires appropriate work/employment authorization as specified within our employment webpages listed above.

Students who have specific situation(s) and/or additional questions can contact their ISO Advisor. This should be done before beginning a volunteer position or work/employment-related activity.

Publications, Conferences, and Employment

Students may encounter opportunities to submit their work for publication (e.g., thesis, conference papers, etc.) or they may 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 work/employment authorization (i.e., F-1 CPT/OPT, or J-1 Academic Training) to pursue this experience. Therefore, the ISO strongly advises all international students to consult with their ISO Advisor and an immigration attorney 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 (e.g., 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 (e.g., 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).

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, may be considered a work/employment-related activity, which would require prior authorization


  • If any type of remuneration, compensation, and/or pay is received for providing this activity/service, then off-campus employment authorization will be required before the student can participate in the activity/service (e.g., salary, wage, commission, and/or any non-monetary incentives like allowances, accommodation, or meals).
  • If others participating in a similar activity/service (e.g., co-authors) receive anything in return for the activity/service, and the student does not receive anything in return, then the activity/service would still require off-campus employment authorization before the student can participate in the activity/service.
  • Publication opportunities that are done for academic benefit (ONLY), where no remuneration (e.g., salary, wage, commission, and/or any non-monetary incentives like allowances, accommodation, or meals) is received in return by any participant, will likely not require employment authorization, but students should still consult with their ISO Advisor in advance.

As highlighted above, each student’s situation can vary, so individual consultation with their ISO Advisor, wherein they provide specific details, written agreements, and/or other documentation confirming the terms of activity/service, will be very important before engaging in any such activity/service

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