The Office of International Students & Scholars and F-1 visa-holding students evaluated the employment options available for international students at UC Santa Barbara, finding disparities for the international student community in staying financially stable with the limited available job opportunities while attending the university. 

OISS is the primary resource for international students seeking employment options. Samuel Cervantes / Daily Nexus

International students are required to obtain an F-1 visa to study in a university or college in the United States, as per the United States Department of State. For most F-1 visa students, on-campus employment is the primary option available, according to the Office of International Students & Scholars (OISS) website. No special authorization is required to work on-campus, as long as one is of valid F-1 student status and pursuing a full course of study.

Off-campus employment, however, is restricted by the federal government: International students are limited to employment or internship opportunities directly related to their major or field of study — defined as curricular practical training, according to the OISS website

F-1 students can also apply for off-campus work permission if experiencing economic hardship from “unforeseen circumstances.” 

OISS Assistant Director Erik Williams spoke about the restrictions for international students regarding employment options.

“For international students, the U.S. government has very limited options and specific reasons as to why you can work,” Williams said. “The overarching philosophy that the government is looking at is that when you’re on an F-1 student visa, you’re here to study and most/all of your employment that you will do will relate to what you’re here to study for.”

Williams noted a recent push to provide “special student relief” for international students impacted by global disasters or other incidents who may need special work authorization to help support their families financially.  

“If they’re finding it difficult for funding based on disasters or other global issues, they can apply for that special relief, which gives them authorization to work outside of those constraints,” Williams said.  

Though there are existing employment options available for international students, Williams said he always wishes to see more in the expansion of work opportunities for F-1 visa holders. The process to do so is extensive, requiring a substantial change to be made by the federal government. 

Second-year political science and economics double major MingJun Zha said his process of applying to work at the Carrillo Dining Commons as an international student was smooth because it was an on-campus job, but chose not to pursue any off-campus jobs due to the regulations.  

Zha said he didn’t pursue off-campus employment options because he will be returning to his home country, China, following graduation, and will not be needing an internship relating to his major in the United States. 

“I do hope that we have more options, but since I do not plan to stay in the U.S. after graduation, it’s nice if I can have work off-campus, but I’m fine with only working on-campus,” he said. 

Because international students obtain little to no financial assistance from the university, Zha said that on-campus jobs aren’t able to cover their tuition and living expenses in the same way that American students might.  

“For international students, [obtaining services from] FAFSA is relatively impossible,” Zha said. “My tuition alone for one year is about $45,000, without living expenses and other stuff.” 

Second-year computer science major Towela Phiri — an international student from South Africa — echoed similar worries about the lack of financial support from the university for international students, saying she had to rely on an external scholarship to cover half of her tuition. 

Working with the UCSB Residential Housing Association as the international student engagement chair coordinator, Phiri said she gets paid about $400 as a quarterly stipend — an amount that barely covers their living expenses and other financial needs. They added that signing up for the job itself was a difficult endeavor. 

“My passport, my visa, all of the documents — that took a long time and I almost didn’t get my first stipend because of how long the process took,” Phiri said. 

Although off-campus employment options do technically exist, international students are usually only able to work on-campus, Phiri said. With the low wages and stipends for most of these jobs, living off of these jobs is unsustainable.

“We’re only allowed to work on campus, and that is between $15 to $17, depending on the job, which is the minimum wage, and if the student is also paying for their tuition, I would say no because tuition is so expensive,” they said.

She also noted a misunderstanding of international students by the UCSB community, saying that not all international students are well off and can have their college expenses paid for by family. 

“I know a majority of international students come from wealthy families because it is really expensive to spend school here, but I also know some other international students that are sponsored by somebody else,” Phiri said. “They have someone pay for their tuition with the expectation that they maintain really high grades, and it’s a lot of stress on those students.” 

They added that there is not a vocal call for more options for scholarships and financial assistance for international students due to the notion that international students just do not have a need for such support. 

“A couple of domestic students that I’ve spoken to don’t really see a need for scholarships for international students because they believe that a lot of international students are well-off, so it wouldn’t really make a difference,” she said. “But, I don’t think they take into consideration that not all international students are the same.”

Phiri expressed hope that the UCSB community sees that international students come from a variety of backgrounds and that the administration and students understand that not all international students have the same financial background and status.

“I was speaking to some people at OISS and we’re talking about getting scholarships for international students, and they mentioned that the University says that they don’t really have the budget for it, which makes sense because this is a public university and all the scholarships come from taxpayers’ money,” they said. “I’m an international student, I do work, I pay taxes, but I digress.” 

A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the March 2, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Asumi Shuda
Asumi Shuda (they/them) is the Lead News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Shuda was the Deputy News Editor, Community Outreach News Editor for the 2022-23 school year and the 2021-22 school year and an Assistant News Editor during the 2020-21 school year. They can be reached at or