While on an H1B visa in the United States, you may want to volunteer your time to a nonprofit or community organization. Volunteering can be a great way to give back to your community, to occupy time you are not working, and to form friendships. Volunteering is generally permitted with some restrictions. You can volunteer your time unpaid for a nonprofit organization while you are on an H1B visa as long as the work you are doing would typically be performed by unpaid volunteers.
Can I volunteer my time unpaid to a nonprofit organization?
Yes, if you are on an H1B visa, you can volunteer for a nonprofit or local organization as long as the work would not otherwise be paid. Examples include volunteering for a church or school or soup kitchen. These positions would normally be filled by volunteers and so they are permitted.
Several immigration law firms have also addressed this question on their blogs:
Murthy Law Firm: Can I do volunteer work while in H1B status?
Capital Immigration Law Group: Unpaid Volunteer Work on H-1B, H-4, F-1 or Similar Visas
Alagiri Law Firm: Can an H1B Visa Holder Work As a Volunteer?
Can I volunteer my time unpaid to a for-profit company?
On an H1B visa, you are permitted to work only for the employer on your I-129 form. You can’t take an unpaid internship at a for-profit organization because this still constitutes a form of - albeit an illegal form of - work. The USCIS’ goal in creating H1B work restrictions is to make sure that H1B workers with employment restrictions do not engage in work that might otherwise be filled by an American worker. As such, you can’t volunteer in a position which is ordinarily paid. In USCIS’ eyes, you could be taking the job of an American who would fill the position. In addition, it is illegal for a for-profit company to “hire” you as an unpaid worker without meeting a very strict select criteria that are mutually exclusive with being an H1B worker. When a for-profit company “hires” a worker and does not pay them, it may be considered a minimum wage violation. The employer would face penalties.
Can I volunteer with my coworkers at a company volunteer event?
Absolutely! Many firms have “volunteer days” where employees might spend an entire day volunteering (for example: a food bank or local park). This is permitted since it’s your employer requesting that you commit your time to this effort. It’s essentially part of your job description and it is fine for you to partake.
How can I find volunteer opportunities while I am on an H1B visa?
- Visit the websites or locations of community based organizations or nonprofits (schools, churches, libraries, fire stations, hospitals, animal shelters, homeless shelters, food banks) that often have a large need for volunteer help
- Search websites like VolunteerMatch and Idealist.org which often have lists of local opportunities
- Ask friends and family for suggestions about where to volunteer
- Look for local flyers on community bulletin boards at the library or local coffee shop
- Note that some volunteer opportunities such as those that involve working with vulnerable populations (like a homeless shelter or hospital) may require a background check which usually requires a social security number
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