Many international students will want to do an internship or volunteer while they are in the United States and OIS advisors want to help international students do internships or volunteer whenever it is possible, permissible, and appropriate. This document explains a little bit about internships and volunteering.
What is Volunteering?
Volunteering to help someone (or a group of people) out of the kindness of one’s heart or for the personal pleasure of learning something with no remuneration or benefit is always acceptable if it does not result in violating a law or violating one’s nonimmigrant status (e.g., it results in a student not being able to complete the academic program on time or making bad grades and being suspended). There are many opportunities for students to volunteer in the community through OIS programs (I-SSERV or Culture Corps), through Leadership and Civic Engagement, or other community and student organizations.
What are Internships?
Internships have more of a focus on the academic and experiential learning aspect of a particular activity and it is best for international students to treat all such engagements and experiences as “employment” whether or not wages or other benefits are offered or accepted. The immigration regulations permit internships and co-ops for those in F-1 or J-1 status if certain conditions are met and OIS advisors will gladly authorize them when possible. Employment in the case of nonresident aliens is generally understood as any activity or service that is performed for pay (or other tangible benefit) or if there exists the expectation of pay or for which payment would normally be made. Since unauthorized employment is a reportable and terminable offense in SEVIS, international students should never engage in performing services that are paid or for which payment would normally be paid without it being authorized in SEVIS first.
Internships or other academic activities that may involve payment or benefits are treated as employment and must be approved in SEVIS (as Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, or J-1 Academic Training) before the student begins the activity. Students should refer to the links above for eligibility requirements and application procedures before making an appointment with an OIS advisor, or before making a commitment to the employer or intern supervisor. Internships or other training opportunities may be on or off campus and may occur before or after the completion of the academic program – but they must be authorized in SEVIS. Internships that take place overseas and are paid by foreign sources are not subject to US immigration or employment law and consequently do not have to be entered into the SEVIS system. Internships that take place before a student graduates and utilize Curricular Practical Training or J-1 Academic Training employment authorizations are also processed through Co-operative Education and require registration for Co-op as an integral part of the academic justification and experience.
For more information about the difference between volunteering and employment please view the US Department of Labor web site.