Students 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 Office of International, Students, Scholars & Programs 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. When considering doing an unpaid internship, check if the internship meets the U.S. Department of Labor's regulations governing unpaid internships.
Permissible volunteer work:
Providing one-on-one tutoring for an adult learner as part of the Literacy for Life volunteer program.
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.
You are not required to obtain work authorization to engage in bona fide (legitimate) volunteer activities or unpaid internships.
Remember, unpaid also means uncompensated. For example, if you receive a stipend or receive reimbursement for travel, that is no longer an unpaid internship or volunteering. Students should secure the proper work authorization if they will be receiving any kind of compensation for the internship.
It is advisable for students who are engaging in bona fide volunteer activity, to get documentation from the organization explaining the nature of their work. Students should keep the documentation with their other immigration records (such as previous I-20s/DS-2019s, etc.).
Our website has additional information about employment in F-1 or J-1 status.
The Career Center has resources on finding internship opportunities, including this article about unpaid internships.