Volunteering is a vital part of American society and many academic institutions are enormously indebted to the true volunteers that make many programs possible – the volunteers in our hospitals who read to the patients, candy stripers, alumni volunteers that organize events, interns seeking to observe and learn business practices. The list is almost endless. These activities are wholeheartedly (and rightly) encouraged. Care should be taken to make sure that volunteerism is not abused and does not abuse the Fair Labor Standards Act.


  • a foreign national cannot perform work as a volunteer if the foreign national believes that some form of compensation will follow. This specifically includes volunteering for a trial period leading up to compensated employment.
  • a foreign national may not volunteer while awaiting work authorization or change of status (that would enable them to work), even if for a few days.
  • a person cannot perform work as a volunteer in a position that would normally be a paid position.
  • defining a position as "unpaid" (e.g., an unpaid internship) or "volunteer" does not mean that it is a legitimate volunteer position, given the USCIS guidelines and other relevant labor and employment laws.


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