If you’re hoping to volunteer off-campus or accept an unpaid internship offer, you first want to find out if you’ll need work authorization.
Off-campus internships that are completely voluntary and unpaid are not actually considered “employment,” and therefore do not require work authorization. In order for work to be considered “voluntary,” however, 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 another individual.
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. (Note: Per the DOL, "courts have described the “primary beneficiary test” as a flexible test, and no single factor is determinative. Accordingly, whether an intern or student is an employee under the FLSA necessarily depends on the unique circumstances of each case.")
If the internship does not fit the criteria outlined by the DOL, it is recommended that you apply for work authorization (Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training). If you have any questions, please visit us during advising hours or email us.