Volunteering and Labor Law


We ask that students proceed with caution when accepting volunteering or unpaid positions while on OPT. If you have further questions, please make an appointment to see an ISS advisor BEFORE starting your volunteer position.

Volunteer Positions and Labor Laws

According to The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), "The FLSA exempts certain people who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency or who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for non-profit food banks. WHD also recognizes an exception for individuals who volunteer their time, freely and without anticipation of compensation, for religious, charitable, civic, or humanitarian purposes to non-profit organizations. Unpaid internships for public sector and non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible.”

Can you pass The DOL’s Test for Unpaid Interns and Students if you want to volunteer? If analysis of the following circumstances reveals that you should be considered as an employee, then you should be entitled to both minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA. On the other hand, if the analysis confirms that you are not an employee, then you are not entitled to either minimum wage or overtime pay under the FLSA. 
  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee-and vice versa. 
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions. 
  3.  The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern's formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit. 
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern's academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar. 
  5. The extent to which the internship's duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning. 
  6. The extent to which the intern's work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern. 
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship. 
For more information about labor laws:

Unpaid/Volunteering positions and Practical Training

  • CPT: Possible where it does not violate labor laws
  • OPT: Possible where it does not violate labor laws AND meets all OPT employment requirements
  • STEM OPT: No volunteering allowed
    •  “… a student seeking a STEM OPT extension will not be allowed to use a volunteer opportunity as a basis for a STEM OPT extension... The rule effectively prohibits students from using the STEM OPT extension to work in a volunteer capacity, among other requirements to ensure appropriate oversight and training in connection with the extension.” (Regulatory citation: 81 FR 13071 par. 437)
    • 24-month STEM OPT Students Must Receive Compensation. Please remember that in addition to receiving compensation, STEM OPT students must complete at least 20 hours of training per week. 

More Important Information about Volunteering on OPT


Any volunteer position used to satisfy the minimum 20 hours per week of employment to avoid accruing 90 days of unemployment:
  • Must be directly related to the student's major field of study.  
  • Must not violate labor laws. 
  • Accepting an unpaid opportunity that does not qualify as optional practical training (OPT):  
    • Must not be listed as OPT employment. Reporting non-qualifying volunteer opportunities as OPT employment will be deemed a violation of your reporting requirements and subject you to removal from the United States. 
    • Does not stop the accrual of unemployment which is limited to a total of 90 days during OPT. Accordingly, if you have been unemployed for more than 90 days, you must leave the United States or be subject to removal even if you have volunteered while unemployed.
    • Will expose the employer to wage/hour law penalties such as having to pay back wages.
SEVP states, “Reporting non-qualifying volunteer opportunities as OPT employment will be deemed a violation of your reporting requirements and subject you to removal from the United States."
  • For Post-Completion OPT: “In addition, non-qualifying volunteer positions do not stop the accrual of unemployment which is limited to a total of 90 days during OPT. Accordingly, if you have been unemployed for more than 90 days, you must leave the United States or be subject to removal even if you have volunteered while unemployed." 
IMPORTANT NOTES
  • If you are thinking about taking an unpaid position at Texas A&M Univeristy, make sure you AND your supervisor know and understand Texas A&M University's Policy on Volunteers, Interns and Unpaid Internships. If you ever have doubts, please consult an HR representative.
  • Volunteering for a private company through an unpaid intership is risky without any work authorization. Please consult with a Human Resource specialist or an experienced immigration attorney before you do so.