Occasionally you may be asked to appoint an international visitor for administrative purposes, use of UAB facilities, or other reasons. Internationals without work authorization who want to do something with their time—even highly skilled and highly motivated internationals without work authorization, and even highly skilled, highly motivated internationals related to someone on campus—cannot be offered unpaid grant positions, research, grant writing, literature review, or other tasks for which UAB would normally hire and pay an employee. Even unpaid activities most people would not consider “work” can have disastrous immigration and compliance consequences in the context of international visitors.

Overlapping Definitions of Volunteer

UAB HR’s definition: true “volunteers,” like candy stripers, gift wrappers during holidays, high school students stuffing envelopes for fundraising, etc.

Immigration and Nationality Act [8 C.F.R. § 274(f)] defines “employee” as “An individual who provides services or labor for an employer for wages or other remuneration.” “Other remuneration” can encompass items such as housing, childcare, transportation, etc. 

Department of Labor (DOL) defines a “volunteer” as an “individual who performs hours of service ... for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered.” The DOL has two concerns: protecting jobs for US workers and preventing exploitation of all workers.

How to Determine if the Position Really is “Volunteer”?

  • Are the person’s prospective duties ones that are normally filled by a paid employee?
  • Are there other individuals in the department who perform such tasks without pay?
  • USCIS considers “work” to include performing a job that is normally paid, or if other people performing the same or similar jobs are compensated. Basically, anything done for UAB’s benefit (including for a UAB faculty member’s benefit) on a consistent or daily basis is considered “work.” J-2s without an EAD can participate only in true volunteer activities (i.e., for charities, religious or community organizations, or other similar entities).

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  • This person I’m being asked to appoint as a Volunteer has a visa. They’re not getting paid. Why does it matter?

Many spouses of J-1 and H-1B primary visa holders at UAB are established, talented scientists in their own right and seek opportunities to “stay active” in the field or keep up their CV while in the US accompanying their J-1 or H-1B spouse. However, as stated above, "volunteering" cannot displace a US worker and is reserved for truly charitable opportunities.

J-2 dependents cannot “volunteer” to help in a lab, with research or literature review, or any other activity in any capacity that would displace a paid worker (including post-docs, student assistants, GRAs, etc.) or result in a benefit to UAB.

H-4 dependents also cannot participate in any activity outlined above ("helping" in a lab, etc.).

B-1/VWP status is appropriate ONLY for visitors who will come to UAB to engage in independent research as long as BOTH: a) neither UAB nor any other US source is paying the visitor, AND b) the results of the visitor’s independent research will not benefit UAB. If the visitor will receive payment from a US source and/or UAB will benefit from the results of the research, the visitor MUST come to UAB in J-1 or H-1B status.