While the issue of volunteering may seem simple (“I’m not getting paid, therefore I am volunteering”), it is actually a complex area in which immigration regulations and labor laws intersect. If you are interested in volunteering, you must be aware of the relevant regulations so that you and the organization for which you are volunteering do not inadvertently violate any laws and don’t get penalized for unauthorized employment.
If you are an international student in F-1 or J-1 status, please remember that any off campus employment for F-1 or J-1 students must be authorized! Without proper work authorization, off campus employment would be considered a violation of your F-1 or J-1 requirements. The consequences may include loss of valid immigration status in the U.S. and great difficulty in re-acquiring lawful status in the future.
According to U.S. immigration regulations, 8 Code of Federal Regulations 214.1(e): “A nonimmigrant who is permitted to engage in employment may engage only in such employment as has been authorized. Any unauthorized employment by a nonimmigrant constitutes a failure to maintain status…”