Volunteering is a great way to participate in your community and help people where there is need. Current UT students in valid F-1 status may engage in volunteer activities, 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 U.S. Department of Labor defines volunteering as:
- “individuals serving as unpaid volunteers in various community services. Individuals who volunteer or donate their services, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, not as employees and without contemplation of pay, are not considered employees of the religious, charitable or similar non-profit organizations that receive their service.”
When you evaluate if an activity is considered a “volunteer” activity or work, it is important to ask whether or not that type of activity might normally be paid and how immigration officials might view the opportunity when reviewing your record. The following situations might be considered “Employment” under DHS rules and not as “Volunteering”:
- If compensation or payment of any type is received. Any form of compensation, whether in terms of payment, fringe benefits, or “payment-in-kind”, is prohibited. In addition, if the “volunteer” activities are understood by the international visitor to yield some future tangible benefit conferred by the employer (i.e., a paid position in the future), then those activities are not permitted.
- If the Job Duties are those which are normally compensated. “Volunteer” (i.e., unpaid) performance of job duties that are normally compensated are prohibited. Put another way, If the volunteer activity is a position for which an employer would otherwise officially hire someone, you cannot volunteer in that same activity. The position must be a role that is only ever done by volunteers.
- If the position would normally be filled through a recruitment process.
- If the job is training or preparation for a paid position. If the job duties being performed are considered by the employer to be preparatory for a paid position – i.e., training or a trial period – those job duties may not be performed by an international visitor who lacks employment authorization.
Volunteering should not exceed 20 hours per week while school is in session. We recommend that students wishing to engage in volunteering seek the guidance of their International Student Advisor before engaging in the activity. If the volunteering is done on a regular basis throughout a period of time larger than a month, or if it implies knowledge related to your studies, it should be considered a volunteer 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 and confirming that it meets all of the above requirements. You should keep this with your other immigration records (such as your previous I-20s, etc.).
You may not volunteer during your 60-day grace period following your graduation.
All unpaid internships, or volunteer internships, require Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization. Additionally, your employer should meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet #71 regarding Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.