Off-campus employment for a J1 visa student may be allowed only if the student is in serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic circumstances that have arisen since acquiring exchange visitor status. Please note that such permission may provide some help in difficult circumstances allowing to supplement financial resources enough to meet some living expenses. However, it is certain it will NOT allow you to earn enough to bear the cost of the full-time course of study required to maintain J student non-immigrant status. Therefore, do not count on it alone. Also, working without proper work authorization is a serious violation of your non-immigrant status and you could be deported.
There are strict criteria to apply for off-campus work authorization. Before you consider applying for off-campus work authorization, you may want to consider if other options, such as on-campus work or loans, are available. Please note that your off-campus work authorization application may impact your eligibility to obtain travel documents, as they usually require that you show proof of sufficient funds to cover your expenses. Therefore, before you leave the U.S., you should discussion your situation with your advisor at the university.
- You must have been in J-1 status for one academic year already.
- Must be a degree candidate in good academic standing.
- You are eligible to work off-campus up to 20 hours a week during the academic year and full time (40 hours a week) during the breaks, such as summer break, spring break, winter break, etc. Do not try to work for more than those hours, or you will be in violation of your J-1 non-immigrant legal status.
- You must not have completed your studies yet.
- You must continue to engage in a full course of study during the academic year.
- In order to qualify for initial J-1 visa to study in the U.S., you had to present financial documentation proving that you had enough finances to cover your expenses for the entire duration of your J-1 program. Therefore, you must have had unforeseen financial changes that have occurred since your arrival in the U.S. that severely and urgently affect your financial resources. In other words, those circumstances must have been unforeseeable when you first started your studies in the U.S. on J-1 visa. The following are some of the examples of such circumstances:
- Incurred large medical bills.
- The value of currency from the student’s home country has decreased.
- The student’s sponsor has passed away or has suffered an economic loss.
- Natural disaster in country.
- Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without your fault.
- A large increase in tuition and/or living costs.
- Other substantial and unexpected expenses.
In order to apply for off-campus work authorization, you will have to provide the following documents to the responsible officer at the university:
- If you already have a job offer from the employer, an employment letter stating job offer, salary, or compensation and start and end dates.
- Letter from the applicant explaining in detail how the economic situation has changed since first receiving J-1 status. You also need to explain with specific details why your finance provider (such as parent, friend, relative, organization or any other sponsor listed on your Form DS-2019) is unable to provide additional funds that are required to cover your expenses. You also need to enclose appropriate proof substantiating such reasons. Some examples could be exchange rate data that shows a currency devaluation, medical bills, letter from an accountant that confirms unexpected business losses of the finance provider (such as relative), a letter from your university indicating the loss of scholarship, etc.
- If possible, attach a spreadsheet that shows your anticipated expenses for the current year and the source of funds. Provide itemized listings for both categories. Expenses would be tuition and fees, rent, insurance, utilities (gas, electric, phone, cable, etc.), child care, food, clothing, books & supplies, travel, cultural/recreational, medical/dental, transportation, automobile, laundry, cleaning, personal, and other. Type of funding sources could be personal funds, family funds, university funding, employment, U.S. or home country government, or other. It should clearly show the difference in expenses and available funds.
Approval and Post Approval
- The responsible office at the student’s designated sponsor organization must approve the employment in advance and in writing. They will review your application and make the decision accordingly.
- Approval may be valid for up to 12 months but is automatically withdrawn if the student’s program is terminated, or if you transfer from one school to another.
- You will have to apply for such off-campus work authorization every year provided you qualify each time.
- If you are approved, you will get an authorization letter that authorizes you for your off-campus employment. You will receive an extended DS-2019 once you have a job offer letter. You can provide that extended DS-2019 to prove your employment eligibility, as part of filing the Form I-9 with the employer. Make sure to update your I-9 form paperwork every time you get work authorization renewed.
- If you are approved, you can work in any job, and it does not have to be related to your field of studies. In some circumstances, instead of paying money as the compensation, they may pay in terms of tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food, or any other benefit outside the university campus.
- If you don’t already have one, you must get a Social Security Number before you can work.
- If you have been in the U.S. for less than 6 calendar years, your income will be exempt from social security and Medicare taxes (FICA), but it is still subject to the federal, state, and local income taxes. However, if you are a citizen of the country that has a tax treaty with the U.S., you may be exempt from federal income tax up to some extent. As many employers may not be aware of this situation, make sure to remind and discuss this matter to your employer. If necessary, either you can check with your student advisor or your employer can check with their CPA (accountant) to confirm that the correct tax withholdings are made.
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