Volunteer work and unpaid internships

Volunteer work and unpaid internships

Volunteer and unpaid internship opportunities must comply with applicable federal and state labor laws.  If the opportunity does not qualify as a legitimate volunteer activity or unpaid internship, then an F-1 student must have appropriate work authorization or risk a violation of status.

Volunteering does not mean working without pay. Volunteering is donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without any kind of remuneration. The Department of Labor website contains resources on what constitute legitimate volunteer activities.

The Department of Labor applies a set of criteria when evaluating whether an activity constitutes a legitimate unpaid internship.

Employers who offer unpaid opportunities that should be paid employment are at risk of violating labor laws.

Engaging in activities that would be considered employment, without the appropriate work authorization, is a violation of F-1 immigration status, and could threaten your ability to remain in the U.S., and to obtain future U.S. immigration benefits.  Students should consult with the employer/organization offering the volunteer or unpaid internship opportunity to ensure compliance with state and federal rules. 

If you have questions about a proposed activity, consult with your OVIS advisor before accepting an opportunity.