What is Employment?
"Employment" is any type of work performed, or services provided, in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, lodging, or for any other benefit. The U.S. government has a wide definition of 'employment', so it is very important to understand your work authorization options and have any necessary approvals/documentation before work begins.
Unpaid Internships and Volunteer Positions
Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns without additional authorization, where this practice does not violate U.S. labor law. Refusing or delaying payment to make a position "unpaid" is considered a violation of your F-1 or J-1 student status.
Unpaid internships are a very specific type of opportunity in labor law that is of benefit to the intern and not necessarily the company. With bona fide unpaid internships, no one would get paid—international or domestic, it is advertised as unpaid, the position is usually called ‘unpaid intern’, you are not refusing or delaying payment to make it ‘unpaid’ etc), and it does not violate any labor laws.
As it is not considered ‘employment’ you do not need work authorization for it. It is recommended that you keep thorough documentation, such as a copy of the original position posting and/or a letter from the organization, showing that the position is a true unpaid internship or volunteer opportunity.
If you are changing anything about the opportunity to “make” it an unpaid internship, or if you will eventually get paid for doing the same job, then it is most likely not a bona fide unpaid internship and you would need approved work authorization to do it.
See the Department of Labor Unpaid Internship Factsheet for more information.
Unpaid Work for the University
Any potential unpaid for work for a University of Chicago faculty member or department must also meet the unpaid work criteria stipulated on the Department of Labor fact sheet listed above. Taking an unpaid job for which you should receive compensation would be a violation of both immigration and labor law.
Work that is normally performed by paid employees may not be assigned to someone who is not a paid employee. Because of this, it is unlikely that you would be able to partake in work as an RA for University of Chicago professors or departments without pay. If you are offered an unpaid research with the University, you must check with the HR administrator for the department to confirm: 1) Whether or not it is a bona fide unpaid internship opportunity, and 2) Whether or not the proposed unpaid employment would violate labor law.
A student who receives a grant, stipend or scholarship is not considered to be employed under that award, even if service, research, or other requirements are a condition of the award being made.
Starting Your Own Business/Entrepreneurs
With some F-1 and J-1 Student work authorization options, you can start your own business, as long as you are operating legally and have any required business licenses. Remember than you will require work authorization for any work that you do.
USCIS has created an Entrepreneur Pathways website to provide information and guidance in operating your own in business in the U.S. You can review this website to answer questions and see your work authorization options. If you plan on starting a business or are thinking about ways you can continue your business after your student work authorization ends, you may want to consult an immigration attorney.
Campus Career Offices
In addition to Career Advancement for undergraduate students and UChicago Grad for graduate students, many divisions and programs have their own career offices. Did we miss something? Please send an email to email@example.com.
Do's and Don'ts for International Job Applicants
Tax Withholding and Other New Employee Forms
I received a blank I-9, W-4, or other tax form from my employer. What is this and what do I need to do with it?
When you get hired, employees and employers are required to fill out a few forms that establish the employee's legal right to work in the U.S. and their tax withholding elections. 'Tax withholding' means the amount of money that is withheld from each paycheck for federal, state, and/or local taxes. You will typically need to complete these forms within 2-3 days of beginning employment.
What documents will I need to provide to my employer for I-9 purposes?
The exact documents can vary, but most students will need original copies of:
Original passport (valid for at least 6 months)
Printed I-94 record
Original document establishing eligibility for U.S. work authorization:
On Campus work: unexpired I-20 or DS-2019
CPT: I-20 with CPT authorization
J-1 AT: DS-2019 with AT authorization (and potentially a letter)
Can OIA help me fill out or review these tax or new employee forms?
OIA can assist with your F-1/J-1 immigration questions, but we are not Human Resources or tax experts. As such, we are unable to help you complete or review your employment on-boarding forms or tax documents. Contact the HR person for your department or employer if you have any questions about employment forms or any other onrboarding issue. Additionally, there are several resources listed in the section below to help you find more information
I have questions about filling these forms out. Where can I get help?
There are several resources available for you to get help with filling out your I-9 and W-4 forms:
Contact your employer's Payroll or HR representative. If you're not sure who to contact, start with the person who instructed you to fill out the forms
Review University’s Payroll workshop on Tax Withholdings and forms for a basic overview of the process and filling out the forms
Review the IRS information for 'Aliens Employed in the U.S.'. This will give you detailed instructions and links to other resources
Learn about determining your tax residency on our tax filing page. You will likley need to determine your tax residency status** to complete these forms.
USCIS I-9 Resources, including the USCIS I-9 Handbook for Employers help orient you to the form and your rights as an employee. The I-9 handbook also explains how to complete these forms for employers and what documents are needed for I-9 verificationn purposes.
Are you working for or receiving taxable money from UChicago?
If so, the following information may be helpful:
**Your tax residency status is for tax purposes only and is NOT related to your immigration status. It is possible be in F-1 or J-1 non-immigrant status and be considered a 'resident for tax purposes'. Visit the link above for more information.
My employer is not accepting my EAD or CPT I-20 and wants a letter from the school stating I have permission to work there. Can you provide this?
It is unlawful for employers to request documents beyond what is minimally required for I-9 purposes (such as a letter from the school confirming you are allowed to work at X company while on OPT). Asking you to produce documents beyond what is required as a condition of employment could possibly be considered discrimination according to the Immigration and Nationality Act (page 31 of the USCIS Handbook for Employers):
“Discriminatory documentary practices related to verifying the employment authorization and identity of employees during the Form I-9 process is called document abuse Document abuse occurs when employers treat individuals differently on the basis of national origin or citizenship status in the Form I-9 process Document abuse can be broadly categorized into four types of con-duct:"... Improperly requesting that employees produce more documents than are required by Form I-9 to establish the employee’s identity and employment authorization;…”
If you receive such a request, contact your adviser. We can provide language to your employer explaining what is needed for various employment types.
In some cases, J-1 students on Academic Training may need a letter from the school for valid I-9 purposes. Contact your adviser if such a letter is needed.
I have questions about my SSN or SSN card. What should I do?
Visit our SSN page for information about Social Security Numbers and answers to frequently asked questions.
Get a New Job? Resources for New Employees
You've been offered the job; now what? Here is a selection of resources to help you navigate the next steps.