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VOLUNTEERING AND UNPAID INTERNSHIPS

 

Review the information below to understand what qualifies as volunteering and unpaid internship, and how your participation in these activities may affect your visa status.

 

Learn What Qualifies as Volunteering

Volunteering

Volunteering is defined as donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation.

Only true volunteering, as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require work authorization. According to FLSA, volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for services rendered.

Criteria for volunteer positions:

  • The organization you are volunteering at must be a nonprofit organization.
  • As a volunteer, the activities you engage in must be activities normally completed by volunteers and not paid employees.
  • You do not receive any compensation or payment for your volunteering services, and no expectation exists that you will get a job at this organization at the end of your volunteering. The company cannot bring you on as a so-called volunteer and then decide you are an employee and pay you for work youve already done.
  • Many nonprofits have organized volunteer programs. Participating in such a program is likely to be considered volunteering and not unpaid work.
  • If you volunteer at an organization, be sure to get documentation confirming that you participated in their volunteer program and received no compensation for your volunteering.

 

Learn What Qualifies as an Unpaid Internship

Unpaid Internships

  • Unpaid internships can be for both non-profit and for-profit organizations.
  • 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. Please view the criteria for unpaid internships on the following website: Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act .

 


Unpaid Internships leading to an employment status upon receiving work authorization

  • Unpaid internships should not be used by your employer as a trial period before you receive work authorization. For example, if you start working while waiting for your work authorization to be approved, you would be considered an employee instead of an unpaid intern or volunteer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) . This is because both you and your employer have the expectation that you will be hired on a permanent basis as soon as you obtain work authorization.
  • You should not begin working not even as a volunteer or unpaid intern before you receive your work authorization.

Check if You Need Work Authorization

F-1 Students

  • No authorization from the International Students & Programs Office or U.S. Department of Homeland Security is required for true volunteer or unpaid internships.
  • However, if you would like to volunteer or do an unpaid internship after your program end date, then you must apply for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), which requires that the work is related to your field of study.
  • If you are not sure if a job you are considering is a true volunteer or unpaid internship, please meet with an ISPO advisor or email your job description to iemployment@ucsd.edu .

 


J-1 Students

Volunteering:

  • No authorization from the International Students & Programs Office or DHS is required for volunteering.
  • However, if you would like to volunteer after your program end date, then you must apply for post-completion Academic Training (AT) which requires that the work is related to your field of study.
  • If you are not sure if a job you are considering is a true volunteer or unpaid internship, please meet with an ISPO advisor or email your job description to iemployment@ucsd.edu .

 

Unpaid Internships:

  • J-1 regulations define employment to encompass both paid positions and unpaid internships, thus requires work authorization. The only exception is volunteering, as defined above.
  • To participate in an unpaid internship on campus, please apply for J-1 On-Campus Employment Authorization.
  • To participate in an unpaid internship off campus, please apply for Academic Training (AT).