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Can I volunteer in the U.S. on a B visa?

By December 25, 2023Family Immigration

When an individual would like to travel to the U.S. for business, a B-1 visa may be an option. Please see our blog post on What activities are permitted in the U.S. on a B-1 visa here.

When an individual would like to travel to the U.S. for pleasure/tourism, B-2 visa may be an option.

Nationals of certain countries could also apply for an ESTA.

A question that sometimes comes up is whether you can do a volunteer/unpaid work in the U.S. while visiting the U.S. on a B visa.

The general answer is that you should not engage in any work in the U.S. (paid or unpaid, volunteer work, internship, clerkship), unless you have a proper work visa in the U.S.

B visa is a tourist/short-term business visa that allows you to visit the U.S., but working is generally not permitted under this category. If you want to work in the U.S., then you will need to apply for an appropriate work visa such as (TN visa, H-1B visa, L-1 visa, or if you want to work for your own business, an E-2 visa may be an option.

If you want to volunteer in the U.S. on a B-1 visa, you can only do so if you will be participating in a voluntary service program that benefits U.S. local communities and you can establish that you are a member of and have commitment to a specific religious/non-profit charitable organization.

Voluntary service program is defined as an organized project conducted by a recognized religious or nonprofit charitable organization to assist the poor or the needy or to further a religious or charitable cause. The organization you are coming to volunteer for has a burden of proof to show that the program meets this requirement.

One important thing to keep in mind is that you cannot get any sort of salary/remuneration from a U.S. source while volunteering on a B visa under this exception (although certain expenses incidental to your stay in the U.S. could be re-imbursed).

One other thing you will need when entering the U.S. is a written statement issued by the US organization that should be attached to your passport.  The written statement should contain information such as: your name and DOB, your foreign address, your address in the U.S. and the anticipated duration of stay. You should present this to the CBP officer when entering the U.S.

There are two additional exceptions for certain people who can do clerkships/observe business operations in the U.S.:

  1. Medical Clerkships: If you are studying at a foreign medical school and you want to come to the U.S. to take an elective clerkship at a U.S. medical school’s hospital. You will not be able to receive any remuneration for the clerkship. Please see more about the Medical Clerkship on a B visa in our blog post here.
  2. Business or other Professional or Vocational Activities: If you are coming merely and exclusively to observe the conduct of business or other professional or vocational activity, you could come on a B-1 visa. This is a very narrow exception and if you want to gain practical experience through on-the-job training or clerkships, you would not qualify under this exception.

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