Volunteering & Moonlighting

Volunteering and moonlighting refer to activities outside the scope of the foreign national's employment authorization. Participating in these kinds of activities may put violate the individual's visa status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides the following guidance regarding authorized work, volunteering, and moonlighting.

Allowed Volunteering

Volunteering may be allowed if the individual does not expect compensation, reward, or future benefit. Many community-based and student based organizations offer opportunities for volunteering. As long as no compensation is involved, and the opportunity is officially advertised as a volunteer position, the foreign national may participate.

Unauthorized Volunteering

If the individual expects compensation, reward, or future benefit, then the volunteer worker probably violates their visa status and is not authorized. This includes the following situations:

  • A foreign national cannot perform work as a volunteer in a position that would normally be a paid position or if the foreign national believes that some form of compensation will follow. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) view such volunteering as “work” and requires proper employment authorization issued by that agency. This specifically includes volunteering by a foreign national for a trial period leading up to compensated employment.
  • (A)n applicant for a change of status may not offer his or her services to a prospective employer, even on a volunteer basis.
  • The volunteer employment is unauthorized as long as the alien derives any benefit from it. (Lawrence J. Weinig, INS Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Adjudications, 66 NO. 19 Interpreter Releases 539).
  • In addition, the volunteer rule may give rise to a number of potential abuses:
    • For example, may an employer lawfully suggest to an alien that he or she should do a period of “volunteer” work while the employer is deciding whether or not to file a non-immigrant visa petition or a labor certification application? USCIS has indicated that an applicant for change in non-immigrant status may not offer his or her services to a prospective employer on a “volunteer” basis. USCIS has stated that: “if any type of benefit could accrue to the alien, though it may not be wages or fringe benefits, the services will be considered unauthorized employment.” (89-05 Immigr. Briefings 1).
    • Volunteer services for a prospective employer constitute unauthorized employment if the alien will ultimately derive some benefit from the work.


The term "moonlighting" is defined as working an additional job after one's regular, full-time employment. Many visa types are employer-specific, such as H-1B, TN, O-1, & J-1. Business activities are strictly enforced for all nonimmigrant workers and activities at other businesses or organizations must meet USCIS and the U.S. Department of Labor regulations. Moonlighting for J-1 Exchange Visitors in the program category of Alien Physician is NOT permitted.