Unpaid Internships and Volunteer Work

Got an unpaid internship and wondering if you can do it? Want to volunteer at a local charity you care about? Find out if you need authorization, and make sure you have the authorization you need.

How the US Government Defines Unpaid Internship

To protect US and international workers from abuse, the US government says that if a person provides a service for which a person would normally be employed, the activity is considered work or employment. This means that the employer must then pay the person.

Some training programs where the trainee is under close supervision and provides no significant measurable work for the employer are exceptions to this rule. The exceptions are detailed on these documents from New York State and the US Department of Labor:

How to Tell if Your Unpaid Internship Needs Authorization

Here are the basic criteria of an unpaid internship

  1. The training is similar to one you would receive at a vocational school.
  2. The training is for your benefit.
  3. You do not displace a regular worker.
  4. You provide no immediate advantage to your employer, and their operations may even be slowed by your presence.
  5. You are not entitled to a job upon completion of your internship.
  6. You understand no wages or other benefits (like free lunch, Metrocards, etc.) will be paid or given to you.

If your unpaid internship does NOT meet all the criteria, we recommend you get authorization for practical training (either CPT or OPT for F-1 students or Academic Training for J-1 students). If you need help determining whether you need authorization for your situation, contact us.

Volunteer Work

Any unpaid charitable work at a non-profit charity is fine and will NOT need any form of employment authorization.