"Volunteering" means donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without payment or any other type of compensation. The position must be advertised as a volunteer opportunity and no one should have ever been previously paid for the position. Many other factors need to be taken into consideration when determining if a volunteer opportunity would be allowable, so make sure to contact the International Student Coordinator before accepting any volunteer position in order to protect your F-1 status to the utmost.

Below are some examples that usually fit the definition of "volunteering" for F-1 status:

  • Walking dogs at the Souris Valley Animal Shelter
  • Helping with campus clean-up
  • Service learning activities in First Year Experience courses
  • Mentoring a child through Companions for Children 
  • Club fundraisers, as long as the money goes to the club and not individual students.

International students may not volunteer to work a job that is normally a paid position, nor are they allowed by immigration regulations to trade a service (i.e. babysitting, yard work, house-sitting, etc.) in exchange for any type of compensation (i.e. food, housing, small gifts, etc.). Doing so is illegal and grounds for termination of student status.

For the purposes of F-1 and J-1 student status requirements, students should consider any activity to be "employment" if any type of compensation is exchanged for performing a task or providing a service, even if the compensation is not money. Many forms of unpaid work or internships are considered employment. 

Volunteering must conform to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) definition of volunteering versus employment. See the U.S. Department of Labor's FLSA Advisor article on Volunteers and this SEVP Study in the States article: Volunteering in the United States

Last updated: April 30, 2020 ES