Just because a job is unpaid, it does not necessarily mean it is volunteer work. It is important to be aware of the differences between volunteer work and unpaid employment. To volunteer as a J-1/J-2 visitor, these criteria must be met:
- A J-1 Visitor may volunteer only at a non-profit organization for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives in areas UNRELATED to their field of study.
- There is to be no form of compensation or expectation of compensation.
- A volunteer may not displace the job of a paid employee.
If all of these criteria are not met, it can be considered unpaid employment which may result in violations and penalties to the J-1/J-2 visitor.
Many community-based, student-based, and religious-based organizations offer opportunities for volunteering. There is to be no compensation involved or expected and should officially be advertised as a volunteer position.
Some examples of allowed volunteering on the J-1/J-2 program are: taking a shift at Feed My Starving Children, donating time with the American Red Cross, serving at a homeless shelter, walking dogs at an animal shelter, building for Habitat for Humanity, etc. This link offers some other ideas of ways to get involved in allowable volunteer work: How to Volunteer as a J-1 International Intern in the U.S. – Cultural Vistas.
(Northern Arizona University)