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Volunteering and Unpaid Internships

U.S. Department of LaborStudents in valid F-1 and J-1 status may engage in volunteer activities and unpaid internships, as long as the activity is in compliance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s and the U.S. Department of Labor’s regulations. The information below will help you understand how to meet those responsibilities. Please contact the Reves Center if you have questions about the appropriateness of any volunteer position or unpaid internship.

volunteer activities and unpaid internships


Volunteering refers to hours of service performed for an organization for “civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for the services rendered.” (U.S. Department of Labor).

Unpaid internship is different from “volunteer” work. Internships may be paid or unpaid and are designed to provide interns with work experience related to their major field of studies. The U.S. Department of Labor has specific regulations governing unpaid internships. When considering doing an unpaid internship, see if it meets these 6 criteria:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.


Permissible volunteer work:

Permissible unpaid internship:

  • Engaging in an unpaid internship through the W&M Funding for Unpaid Summer Experience (FUSE) program. These internships are vetted by the W&M Cohen Career Center and meet the Department of Labor criteria for unpaid internship. There are typically several unpaid internships available each semester.

Reves Center Policy

  • You are not required to obtain work authorization to engage in bona fide (legitimate) volunteer activities or unpaid internships.
  • However, if possible, we recommend that you apply for Curricular Practical Training (F-1) or Academic Training (J-1) if you are engaging in an unpaid internship.
  • If you are engaging in bona fide volunteer activity, it is advisable to get documentation from the organization explaining the nature of your work. You should keep this with your other immigration records (such as your previous I-20s/DS-2019s, etc.).
  • Remember, unpaid also means uncompensated. For example, if the organization compensates you with free airline tickets in lieu of payment, that is no longer an unpaid internship or volunteering. For that, we advise you to secure the proper work authorization.