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June 9, 2009


Do you wish to become a volunteer in the United States?

You will qualify for a B-1 visa or travel under the Visa Waiver Program to undertake voluntary work in the United States if you are able to show that:

  • You will participate in a voluntary service program that benefits a U.S. local community, and that you are a member of, and have a commitment to, a particular recognized religious or nonprofit charitable organization;
  • The work you are to perform is traditionally done by volunteer charity workers;
  • You will not receive a salary or any remuneration from a U.S. source, other than an allowance or other reimbursement for expenses incidental to your stay; and
  • You will not engage in the selling of articles and/or the solicitation and acceptance of donations.

A voluntary service program is an organized project conducted by a recognized religious or nonprofit charitable organization to provide assistance to the poor or the needy, or to further a religious or charitable cause.

If you meet the criteria for the B-1 visa you may either apply for a visa, or if qualified, may travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.
When applying for entry into the United States as a voluntary worker with a visa or under the VWP, you should furnish a letter from your U.S. sponsor which contains the following information:

  • Your name and date and place of birth;
  • Your foreign permanent residence address;
  • The name and address of initial destination in the U.S.; and
  • The anticipated duration of your assignment.

If your proposed activities as a voluntary worker are not exactly as described, you will require either an exchange visitor (J-1) or temporary worker (H-2B) visa.

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  1. Sean
    Nov 21 2010

    If the volunteer position in the U.S. was advertised a ‘live-in volunteer’ and included room and board (say a room and two meals a day) but was not a paid position (i.e. no financial salary whatsoever) – would that be acceptable under the criteria for a B-1 visa?

    Kind regards

    • Nov 23 2010

      Sean – if you will be employed in the United States, even if you will not be paid for the work, you must obtain the appropriate employment based visa before attempting to travel. Travel under the B-1 visa is not acceptable. Information about employment based visas is available from our website, here.

      • Sean
        Nov 23 2010

        Thank you for your response. Just to clarify, I have read that under the activities approved by a B-1 visa (including voluntary work):

        “A U.S. source, however, may provide the alien with an expense allowance or reimbursement for expenses incidental to the temporary stay. Incidental expenses may not exceed the actual reasonable expenses the alien will incur in travelling to and from the event, together with living expenses the alien reasonably can be expected to incur for meals, lodging, laundry, and other basic services.” (9 FAM 41.31 N11.1).

        Assuming a project met all of the other criteria set out above for a voluntary service program (i.e. was charitable/ non-profit assisting the poor and needy, benefited a U.S community and the work was traditionally done by charity workers), would the above definition rule out the provision of actual meals and lodging by the charity (as opposed to providing an allowance for such expenses)?

        Many thanks

        • Nov 24 2010

          Sean – we cannot pre-adjudicate visa applications. If you believe that your intended activities in the United States are covered by the B-1 visa, you are not prohibited from applying. A consular officer will adjudicate your case and make a final determination on your eligibility.

Comments are closed.