“Employment” is any type of work performed, or services provided, in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, lodging, or any other benefit. The U.S. government has a wide definition of employment, so it is very important to understand your work options and have any necessary approvals/documentation before work begins.

Unpaid Internships and Volunteer Positions

Unpaid internships or volunteer positions that are not recreational, including unpaid or volunteer opportunities related to a student’s area of study, would require work authorization. Refusing or delaying payment to make a position “unpaid” is considered a violation of your J-1 student status. If you will eventually get paid for employment, then it is most likely not a bona fide unpaid internship and you would need approved work authorization. We strongly suggest you check with ISSP if you are not sure if a volunteer opportunity is approved.

Unpaid internships are a very specific type of opportunity, are advertised as unpaid, and are usually specifically called ‘unpaid intern’ in the job posting.

We recommend you print and keep documentation including the original position posting and confirmation from the organization that identifies the position as an unpaid internship or volunteer opportunity.

See the Department of Labor Unpaid Internship Factsheet for more information.

Unpaid Work for the University

Any unpaid work for a UC Santa Cruz faculty member, department, or division must meet the unpaid work criteria stipulated on the Department of Labor fact sheet listed above.

Work that is normally performed by paid employees may not be assigned to someone who is not a paid employee. If you are offered unpaid research with the university, you must check with the department’s HR administrator to confirm: 1) If it is a bona fide unpaid internship, and 2) If the unpaid employment would violate labor law.

In this section

Last modified: Nov 21, 2023