Internships and Volunteering
Doing an internship or volunteering can be a valuable experience for many international students.
Every year, dozens of VCU international students engage in rewarding internships and volunteer activities.
The internship and volunteer guidance here is written for VCU students who have F-1 or J-1 visas and incorporates key aspects of the F-1 and J-1 visa regulations.
Keeping in mind that this guidance is meant for students with F-1 and J-1 visas, an internship is:
- An experiential learning activity outside the classroom, such as alternative work/study, internship, co-operative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum.
- Tied directly to the major on your current VCU I-20 or DS-2019.
Some students, organizations, and even other VCU units use a definition of internship that does not necessarily tie the internship directly to your major. But if you have an F-1 or J-1 student visa, the internship must be tied directly to your major.
Paid or Unpaid Internship
An internship that meets the definition above can be paid or unpaid. Please see below “Do I need authorization for an internship?”
Do not confuse an unpaid internship with volunteering. The fact that you will not be paid for the internship does not mean the activity counts as volunteering.
Keeping in mind that this guidance is meant for students with F-1 and J-1 visas, volunteering means:
- The work is charitable (serves the needy) or civic (serves the wider community).
- The work does not provide the organization with free labor to support their business operations.
- You receive no material benefit for the work, including enhanced skills, professional networking, or pay (any form or amount).
Do not confuse volunteering with an unpaid internship. The fact that you will not be paid for the internship does not mean the activity counts as volunteering.
For F-1 and J-1 visa purposes, shadowing is best thought of as a form of short-term, casual, unpaid internship where activity is limited to observation (in a lab, studio, or office) and getting a sense what it would be like if you entered the field.
Please read the following very carefully. It is your responsibility to ensure that you understand this guidance and follow it as directed or to seek clarification from Immigration Services before acting.
If the internship is unpaid—meaning you will receive no compensation for the work in any amount or form—you may take the internship without authorization.
If the internship is paid—meaning you will receive compensation for the work in any amount or form—you need authorization to take the internship.
In the interest of risk management, GEO strongly recommends obtaining authorization even for unpaid internships.
No. If the work meets the definition of volunteering above, you do not need authorization to do the work.
Remember: Volunteering is not the same thing as an unpaid internship. The fact that you will not be paid for the internship does not mean the activity counts as volunteering.
F-1 Student Visa
- If your internship will be paid and on campus (hired and paid by VCU), the internship could be authorized under On Campus Employment Authorization.
- If the internship will be off-campus, you would use Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization for it.
J-1 Student Visa
For information about J-1 student visa internship authorization options, please contact Immigration Services by email at GEOIS@vcu.edu