Volunteering while in J-1/J-2 Status

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:

  1. 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.
  2. There is to be no form of compensation or expectation of compensation.
  3. 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.


Other sources:

J-1 volunteering | International Student and Scholar Services (nau.edu)

(Northern Arizona University)

Employment and Volunteering | International Center (umich.edu)

Volunteers & Moonlighting – OU Human Resources

Volunteering and Unpaid Internships for F-1 and J-1 Students Prior to Graduation | Bechtel International Center (stanford.edu)

Volunteering vs. Unpaid Employment | International Student and Scholar Office | UNC Charlotte