If you’re hoping to volunteer off-campus with a charity or accept an unpaid internship offer, you first want to find out if you’ll need work authorization.

Unpaid Internships

Off-campus internships that are completely voluntary and unpaid are not actually considered “employment,” and therefore do not require USCIS authorization. In order for work to be considered “voluntary,” it must be unpaid (or supported only by Amherst College funds) and it must be work that would not otherwise be a paid position if taken by a US citizen or legal permanent resident.

The US Department of Labor (DOL) provides a helpful guide with seven criteria to help you to determine whether your unpaid internship is truly voluntary. If the position you are considering passes the DOL’s “primary beneficiary” test, then it is not considered “employment” and would not require work authorization.

If the internship does not fit the criteria outlined by the DOL, it is recommended that you apply for Optional Practical Training work authorization.  If you have any questions or aren’t sure whether a position is considered “employment” or not, please visit us during advising hours or email us.


If you are interested in pursuing unpaid charitable work at a non-profit or charity, this will not require work authorization.