I am in a university in the US. I need 10 subjects for a 2-hour experiment. The compensation is 100 USD. If a subject is an international grad student on an F1 visa in my university, will it go against the terms of his F1 visa, which restricts his ability to work in the US?

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    You should really take this kind of question up with the international faculty/student organization at your university. My non-expert impression is that F1 restrictions do not apply to on-campus employment, and moreover what you are describing is not really employment. – Sasho Nikolov Oct 22 '14 at 1:02
  • @SashoNikolov Thanks, I'll indeed have a talk with them, but in the end the visa holder is the ultimate responsible for the respect of the visa terms, and I prefer to have this kind of information available online under everybody's scrutiny :) – Franck Dernoncourt Oct 22 '14 at 1:04
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    Surely, you had this covered when submitting your IRB application? – Shion Oct 22 '14 at 1:45
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    @Shion I don't remember: where in the form do you see whether getting pay to be a subject in an experiment violates an F1 visa in the US? – Franck Dernoncourt Oct 22 '14 at 2:25
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    @FranckDernoncourt A lot of these issues were covered when we did ethics/IRB training (required of all first year graduate students) in my university - which is a prerequisite for submitting any IRB applications. I assumed that this was similar in your school as well. – Shion Oct 22 '14 at 13:03

You need to ask the international students' office at your university, because

  1. It's a delicate legal issue of the type they are trained to navigate, and
  2. The answer may depend on the particulars of how the university handles its students and how your experiment handles compensation, and
  3. The answers to these questions change frequently, as visa and immigration regulations mutate.

Even if somebody on this site could give a correct answer and take legal responsibility for it, it would not be safe for somebody else to rely on it in the future.

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  • Thanks. "how the university handles its students" -> What flexibility do universities have when handling F1 students? ; "how your experiment handles compensation" -> what are the options (in terms of their impacts on the answer to my original question about F1)? – Franck Dernoncourt Oct 22 '14 at 2:28
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    @FranckDernoncourt Honestly, I have no idea what the complications might be, which is why you need to talk to the people at the university who do. I do know that different universities handle tuition vs. stipend vs. pay in different ways, and that that may interact with the visa and compensation for time through the university. Similarly, some experiments give their compensation in cash, some via international systems like PayPal, some via gift certificates, and these may interact as well. Talk to an expert who can assume liability. – jakebeal Oct 22 '14 at 2:32
  • Thanks, interesting! I've been told that Amazon gift certificates can be regarded as a payment that has been declared to the IRS. I can indeed talk to an expert in the university, however in your university do you have experts who can assume liability? As far as I know the visa holder is ultimately responsible for respecting the visa terms. – Franck Dernoncourt Oct 22 '14 at 2:36
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    @FranckDernoncourt I'm primarily affiliated with a company, not a university, but the same principles apply. While the visa-holder is ultimately responsible, 1) you also need to make sure you are acting legally, and 2) the system does have more mercy if the visa-holder has a paper trail documenting that they have been advised that an action is correct by a person legally qualified to do so. – jakebeal Oct 22 '14 at 2:43

The safest and correct answer is to ask your international student's office, immigration attorney, or customs and immigration themselves.

Seems like a lot of work for $20 (our standard 'enticement' at my university). Your enticement is $100 which is much nicer....

The pragmatic answer is to inquire whether you will need to fill out a W9 before being paid. If you do, then they are reporting the enticement to the government as taxable income. In that case, GOTO LINE 1.

If not, then the enticement is so low as to not being reportable and/or not being reported. In that case, follow your conscience and/or risk adversity.

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  • $100 because we'll burn their neurons with fMRIs. – Franck Dernoncourt Oct 25 '14 at 3:53

It depends on whether the student on the F1 visa is already working 20 hours / week, which is likely to happen if he is an RA or a full-time TA (typically grad TA), but unlikely if he is on a fellowship or pays the tuition fees himself. If the student is already working 20 hours / week, then he is not allowed to work, either it is on-campus or off-campus.

Given the amount of experiments or other small jobs I see paid either in cash, Amazon gift cards (sorry RMS), ice creams, and other kinds of compensations, the immigration law forbidding F1 visa holder from working more than 20 hours per week is broken every day.

I am impressed so few people seem to care about this situation, given that violating the 20-hours-per-week rule can be a cause of visa termination and other troubles (e.g. green card obtention).

(I need to check for volunteering work, but to me that's work too. Any idea?)

Are there exceptions to the limit of 20 hours a week for on-campus employment?

The only exception is if the Secretary of DHS suspends this requirement, by means of a Federal Register notice, due to emergent circumstances. The student must demonstrate to you that the extra work is necessary because the emergent circumstance has affected his or her source of support.

Endorse the student’s Form I-20 with a reference to the Federal Register notice that announced the emergency exception before allowing the student to work more than 20 hours a week.

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    By the way the exceptions are extremely rare afaik. – Sasho Nikolov Oct 25 '14 at 4:11

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