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Updated June 22, 2021

The following information is for F-1 international students who are interested in virtual or on-line internship experiences. Virtual internships have become increasingly popular as many companies and organizations transition to on-line work as a result of the growth of digital technology. However, F-1 students should be aware of the following academic and immigration considerations when thinking about engaging in virtual internships. Please refer to the information below and consult with an international student advisor at the International Center if you have more questions.

Internships as Learning Experiences

  • Internships, whether in-person or virtual, should be learning experiences that help you to grow and develop your knowledge and practical skills in your particular field of study and/or professional area of interest
  • Companies providing virtual internships are still responsible for providing structured training opportunities under the supervision and mentorship of existing staff and personnel, often involving project-based work as a part of a team
  • Internships are primarily educational in nature, with the main benefits going to you as the intern - not to the company where you are doing your internship
  • You should never "pay" a company to do a virtual internship; companies should offer internships as a part of their career development programs

Read also this US Department of Labor Fact Sheet about internships and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

FAQs on Virtual Internships and Immigration Considerations

In addition to these academic and professional considerations, F-1 students should be aware of these immigration factors and considerations, outlined below as FAQs.

Q. Do I need to have US work authorization to do a virtual internship?

It depends. In terms of US employment authorization, the most important initial consideration is where you yourself are physically located when doing the internship.

  • If you are physically living outside the US while doing your internship (for example, in your home country), you are not subject to US visa or immigration restrictions and you do not need to apply for US work authorization, even if your virtual internship is with a US company. However, check with your company - sometimes internship providers prefer that you have US work authorization (such as curricular practical training) even if you will be located outside the US.
  • If you are doing your internship while physically living inside the US as an F-1 student, you are subject to F-1 immigration requirements - even if your internship company is located in your home country or somewhere else outside the US. Please read the next question for more information.

Q. If am doing an internship outside the US, do I need CPT?

No. CPT is only needed if all or part of your internship experience will take place while you are physically inside the US. If your internship will take place while you are outside the US, no authorization is needed. However, it is up to the individual company or internship site to decide whether or not it is possible to offer an internship experience that will be conducted on-line or remotely. In addition, some US companies require interns to have US work authorization regardless of where the intern is physically located. Check with them about their policies.

Q. If I am doing a virtual internship while I am inside the US, what are the immigration requirements?

If you are inside the US on an F-1 student visa, you must have US work authorization to do an internship, whether it is virtual or in-person. In almost all cases, F-1 students apply for curricular practical training or CPT for this purpose. Curricular practical training is a type of authorization for both paid and unpaid off-campus training experiences. The internship may be either to satisfy a degree requirement or an optional internship experience. If the internship is optional, you must do it for academic credit to qualify for CPT. It is important to keep in mind that CPT is a part of your academic program, allowing you to get additional learning in your major field of study through real-world training experiences.

Important: to qualify for CPT, you must complete at least one year of full-time study (two semesters) in the US before you can be authorized to do an off-campus internship. The one exception is for graduate students in programs that require all students to do an internship within the first year of study.

Q. Can I do a full-time virtual internship?

It depends. Again, the main consideration is where you are physically located when you are doing the internship - i.e., whether you are doing the virtual internship while living outside the US, or while living inside the US. If you are outside the US then it is up to you and your internship company to decide on the appropriate number of hours per week. If you are inside the US, and have been approved for CPT, most internships are limited to 20 hours per week during the school year. However, this is a decision to be made in consultation with your internship instructor or academic program.

Q. Can I do a virtual internship while I am on a leave of absence?

Since F-1 students cannot maintain status and stay in the US during a non-medical leave of absence, this would mean that you would almost certainly be outside of the US during your leave. While outside the US, you are eligible to do any internships that are available to you. As mentioned above, you are not restricted by US visa restrictions if you are on a leave of absence and living outside the US.

Q. How can I get a Social Security Number if I am doing a virtual internship while in the US?

In order to qualify for a Social Security Number (SSN), you must be approved for CPT or have similar US work authorization. SSNs are required only if you are doing paid employment while inside the US, so a SSN may not be required depending on where you are living while doing the internship and whether the internship is paid or unpaid. Review our Social Security Number information page. Note that due to COVID-19 conditions, Social Security offices are generally closed to walk-in appointments. Consult our SSN page for updates.

Q. Besides virtual internships, are there other options for working while I'm studying at Tufts? What resources are there to help me?

We encourage you to consider on-campus employment - many departments still have part-time on-campus positions. Please consult with the Tufts Career Center and postings on Handshake (or talk to your school and department) for more information about on-campus opportunities. The Career Center also has advisors available to talk with you about job search strategies.