Volunteering and Unpaid Internships

International students may have options to participate in limited volunteer and/or unpaid opportunities such as volunteering for a non-profit organization who is holding a charity race or food donation drive, participating in a religious service, or volunteering at a local animal shelter.

It is important to be aware of both the Code of Federal Regulations for F-1 and J-1 students as well as U.S. labor laws so that you do not participate in unauthorized employment. Before volunteering or accepting any unpaid internship or volunteer opportunity, please consult the ISSO to find out if employment authorization is required.

Volunteer Guidelines

Department of Labor defines an individual as a volunteer when they meet the following criteria:

  • “Perform hours of service for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for the services rendered;

  • Offer their services freely and without coercion, direct or implied, from the employer;

  • Are not otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same services as those for which they propose to volunteer.”

There are several guidelines provided by the Department of Labor (DOL) FLSA Fact Sheet (pdf) to help determine if the service or volunteer experience you wish to perform is considered volunteering. Here are a few questions to help determine if the service you wish to perform is an appropriate volunteer opportunity:

  • Are the services performed for civic, charitable, religious or humanitarian reasons?

  • Are the services performed primarily for the benefit of the organization, not for my personal or professional benefit?

  • Are the services being performed without promise of payment, compensation or any other tangible benefit?

  • Are you performing the services without promise or expectation of future employment?

  • Have regular employees been displaced to accommodate the volunteer position?

If you have any questions about these guidelines, please contact your ISSO advisor.