Volunteering Restrictions


What is Volunteering? Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guidelines, volunteers are individuals who donate their services to non-profit organizations, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, not as employees and without any contemplation of pay.

How to determine volunteering?

  • Is the worker motivated by a personal civic, humanitarian, charitable, religious or public-service motive?
  • Are the services performed typically associated with volunteer work?
  • Are the services provided different from those typically performed by paid workers?
  • Are the hours of service less than full-time (Students on a F1 visa anything more than 20 hours per week is considered full-time employment)?
  • Does the volunteer typically arrange his or her own schedule to provide services when it is convenient for the volunteer?

If you answered NO to any of the questions above, the individual is probably not a volunteer and should be compensated.

International students as volunteers: Students who continue working on-campus upon their program completion date and BEFORE they receive their OPT/EAD card will be terminated in SEVIS for working without employment authorization. Supervisors are also responsible for making sure an international student is eligible to work on-campus. If an international student wishes to volunteer, please make sure to determine whether those activities are considered volunteering as determined above.

Volunteering or Unpaid Internship

Please note that there is a difference between volunteering and engaging in an unpaid internship.

As explained above, volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation. F-1 and J-1 students are free to engage in volunteer work as long as it meets the above criteria. For example, it would be okay to volunteer at a local homeless shelter, charitable food pantry, or American Red Cross.

Unpaid internships, on the other hand, do not usually qualify as “volunteer” activity. Internships, both paid and unpaid, are often related to the intern’s major field of study and considered Curricular Practical Training.  If the internship is unpaid, students will need to seek approval for Curricular Practical Training, CPT.  Please click HERE for more information about CPT.