Disclaimer: The contents in this section are based on current immigration regulations and USC policies. Non-USC students should consult with the international student advisors at their institutions.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provide a variety of opportunities for F-1 and J-1 international students to be employed in the United States. Students must first seek approval for the appropriate work authorization type. Working without proper authorization is a serious violation of the F-1 and J-1 student status. Please use the navigation links to learn more about each type of work authorization.

For career related resources, visit the USC Career Center.

F-1 Students

J-1 Students

Guidance on Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) for International Students 

In July 2021, numerous state laws took effect regarding compensation for using a student-athlete’s name, image, and likeness (NIL). 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not taken a position on whether compensated NIL arrangements constitute employment under federal immigration law. Until the DHS adopts a position, OIS recommends the following for all international student-athletes: 

  1. For information about immigration rules related to their F-1 visa status, student-athletes should always contact OIS. 
  2. Until DHS provides additional guidance, it would be safest for the student-athlete to refrain from participating in any NIL activities in the United States. 
  3. Before accepting any compensation for a NIL activity, the student-athlete is strongly urged to consult with an immigration attorney to determine whether the potential risk is worth the potential reward. OIS cannot refer you to a specific legal consult. 
  4. Student-athletes in a nonimmigrant status other than F-1 should consult with an immigration attorney before accepting any compensation for a NIL activity since employment rules vary with every type of nonimmigrant status. 
  5. USC’s policy on NIL specifically advises international students to seek guidance from government agencies. 

PLEASE NOTE: A student who participates in unauthorized employment can have their current F-1 status terminated and risk future U.S. immigration benefits. 

Guidance for Students and Departments Participating in USC Entrepreneur Programs 

International students on F-1 or J-1 status who wish to work for or initiate their own start-ups, whether resulting from participation in a USC-run entrepreneurial program or through other means, may only do so with proper employment authorization. The types of employment authorization students can apply for are Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 students and Academic Training (AT) for J-1 students.

For F-1 Students:

Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Students who wish to work for an established startup with an employment relationship may do so by observing the rules and conditions of CPT. CPT requires enrollment in an internship course.

  • Exception for Ph.D. students: USC policy expects Ph.D. students to be devoted full-time to studying towards their degree and not to undertake employment or other time-consuming commitments during the academic year from the end of August through mid-May.

Optional Practical Training (OPT): Students starting their own business must be authorized for OPT. The business must relate to the program of study and can occur either before (pre-completion OPT) or after completing a degree (post-completion OPT). These provisions are outlined by SEVP. OPT is recommended by OIS but approved by USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services): OPT is valid a maximum of one to three years; therefore, a student who starts a company must consult an immigration attorney regarding options after OPT.

More information about CPT, OPT, and entrepreneurship for F-1 students can be found here: Study in the States – F-1 Students and Entrepreneurship.

For J-1 Students:

Academic Training (AT): J-1 students who wish to work for an established startup with an employment relationship may be eligible to apply for Academic Training. Please consult an OIS J-1 Advisor before participating in a USC entrepreneurship program. 

Prize Money and Scholarships: 

F-1 or J-1 students can generally accept scholarships and prizes they receive as part of contests, competitions, or academic achievements. Scholarships and prize money should never be used as compensation for work or income. If a scholarship or a prize includes a work component, such as a teaching or research assistantship, departments, and students must adhere to the regulations governing on-campus or off-campus employment.

Scholarships or prizes from a USC entrepreneurship program or competition should be distributed to students via their student account. This method eliminates concerns about prize money possibly being viewed as income in the future when students apply for immigration benefits. 

Tax Implications:

Students who start their own businesses are subject to U.S. tax laws. They must consult a tax professional to understand their tax obligations and responsibilities. 

The above guidelines are for informational purposes only; please consult with an OIS F-1 or J-1 Advisor before participating in a USC entrepreneurship competition or program that involves receiving money prizes or scholarships.

Questions? Contact OIS