I’m coming to the U.S. as a university exchange student on a J-1 visa. Do I need to spend all my time in the classroom, or can I accept a training job too?
You can take an “academic training job” if your university allows it. An academic training job is one that is directly related to your major field of study at the university. It does not, however, have to be on a site that’s affiliated with the university. For example, a biology student might be able to accept a training job in a private company’s laboratory, or a student pursuing a degree in hotel and restaurant management could accept a training job at a local resort. You must meet certain requirements, and there are certain conditions placed upon the work you can do.
You can’t come to the U.S. university as an exchange student if your only purpose is to do the training job. You must be at the university primarily to study. If you are interested in how to get an exchange visa for an internship without enrolling in a U.S. university, see "Can a Foreign University Student Participate in a U.S. University’s Internship Program?" and "Recent Foreign Graduates: How to Come to the U.S. for an Internship."
The job might be part-time while you are taking classes, or it might be a part-time or full-time job that you start after you finish all your classes but before you obtain your degree. If you want to take an academic training job after you’re done with your classes, you must start the job within 30 days.
The amount of time you can spend in your academic training job must be approved by the person in charge of your exchange program (the “designated responsible officer” or DRO), and by the academic dean or an academic adviser at the university.
There are limits on the amount of time you can work, as well. If you’re an undergraduate or predoctoral student, the longest you can work is 18 months in total. However, if you need to stay in the job longer to satisfy the mandatory requirements of your degree program in the U.S., you will be allowed to do that. If you’re a post-doctoral student, you can remain in an academic training job for up to 36 months, minus any time you spent in an academic training job before you got your PhD.
Before accepting the job, you will need show your job offer letter to the academic dean or an academic adviser at the university and ask for a recommendation. Most universities have a form for this. If you get the recommendation, you present it to the DRO along with your job offer letter. The DRO will decide whether the job is appropriate for you as an academic training job. If you get approved, the DRO will update your immigration papers and status.
If you will get paid for your academic training job, you will need a U.S. Social Security number.