I remember a long time ago I was in some charity event my parents basically dragged me to, and I remember a girl there who said she's Canadian/from Canada and so it got me wondering:

1.If she's Canadian she's born in Canada and is probably not a U.S. citizen.

2.If she was in a charity event and wasn't a U.S. citizen, does that mean anyone can volunteer?

I ask because I think you need a work permit if you do any kind of paid work abroad when you're not a citizen, but volunteer/charity work isn't paid and the situation is obviously different.

Can non-citizens and/or only temporary visitors/residents do charity/volunteer work in the US?

marked as duplicate by phoog, DJClayworth, JonathanReez, CGCampbell, drat Jan 27 '16 at 3:25

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    In what country? The rules for this circumstance vary by country. – Michael Hampton Jan 26 '16 at 21:21
  • Canada-U.S. for example. – Senejerry Jan 26 '16 at 21:21
  • Whether you need a work permit even for paid work varies widely from country to country. Within just a single country the need for a work permit can depend on one's legal status. For the US example, see hooyou.com/ead/noneed.html. – phoog Jan 26 '16 at 21:58
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    @phoog: Technically, Canada is not part of the VWP, so the answers there may not be 100% applicable. Good find for other countries, though. – Michael Seifert Jan 26 '16 at 22:32
  • @MichaelSeifert regardless of whether one is in the country as a Canadian tourist, on the VWP, or with a B-2 visa, the rules about what you can and can't do are the same. As you can see from this stamp, Canadians are still admitted under B-2 status. thepassportoffice.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/… – phoog Jan 26 '16 at 22:41

I looked into the rules for this for Canada because the situation was relevant to someone close to me - not sure about rules in the US but I'm guessing they're similar. Basically, you can do volunteer work as long as it's genuinely volunteer work that doesn't have an "ulterior motive". For example:

  • If you "volunteer" to work for free for a company in your regular profession, with the expectation that if they like you they might hire you later on (when/if your immigration status changes), it's probably not considered volunteering.
  • If the company promises to reimburse you later, it's obviously not volunteering.
  • If you get any compensation at all (not necessarily money), it's not volunteering
  • If the position is normally a paid position but you're doing it for free, you're in a gray area
  • However, if it's clearly a volunteer position, with an organization that normally deals with a lot of genuine volunteers, and you get nothing from it, and the position is unrelated to your regular profession, you're in the clear.

Canadian citizens do not require a visa to enter the USA for short term visits except for certain situations. They are allowed to perform "work" activities during their stay, including volunteering, which is normally covered by the B-1 visa.

Nationals of countries that are covered by the Visa Waiver Program can also do volunteer work as that covers both B-1 and B-2. An excellent TSE answer here.

Other nationals must apply for the B-1 visa.


In a fair percentage of countries, if you receive compensation for your volunteer duties, then it becomes work. Compensation can be most anything of value you receive, be it lodging or meals or transport expenses (cash of course is an immediate go to work item :).

The determination of whether you need a special visa or work permit for this varies infinitely from country to country.

Charities in countries that require work permits/visas get around this by offering voluntourism packages, where the "tourist volunteers" pay for everything they receive, room, board, transport, "guides" (usually charity staff not licensed tour guides) and then their tourist activities involve helping the charity. The tourists go home with a good feeling and the charity gets a bit of help.

As for the girl you saw, who knows maybe she was a resident, a student or perhaps a visitor, was getting paid or simply spending her day helping.

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