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Volunteering on ESTA?

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Filed: Timeline

I'll be heading to the U.S.A for just over 80 days later this year, and this will be via the ESTA waiver program (I thought it would be more relevant to post here rather than that forum because I was approved for it).

I'll be staying with a friend while I'm there and she is a citizen (not sure if relevant), and she'll be showing me around her town etc.

However, she works full-time and doesn't want me to get bored while I'm there (I think I can agree with this) and she suggested that I possibly do a bit of volunteering at the local animal shelter or some other charity work. However I have no intention of violating my visa conditions and getting deported so I thought I might check here for some clarification?

Obviously, I won't be paid and will not accept any sort of gift for this volunteering, I am just looking for something to occupy a couple hours in the week when I feel like it. Would this be allowed under ESTA?

Cheers

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Filed: Country: United Kingdom
Timeline

I'll be heading to the U.S.A for just over 80 days later this year, and this will be via the ESTA waiver program (I thought it would be more relevant to post here rather than that forum because I was approved for it).

I'll be staying with a friend while I'm there and she is a citizen (not sure if relevant), and she'll be showing me around her town etc.

However, she works full-time and doesn't want me to get bored while I'm there (I think I can agree with this) and she suggested that I possibly do a bit of volunteering at the local animal shelter or some other charity work. However I have no intention of violating my visa conditions and getting deported so I thought I might check here for some clarification?

Obviously, I won't be paid and will not accept any sort of gift for this volunteering, I am just looking for something to occupy a couple hours in the week when I feel like it. Would this be allowed under ESTA?

Cheers

NO, even though you are not been paid its still classed as work.

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Filed: Timeline

NO, even though you are not been paid its still classed as work.

That's what I thought also, aree there any specific documents that would explicitly say this? The stuff I've read is all a bit of a generalisation

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Filed: IR-1/CR-1 Visa Country: England
Timeline

If its unpaid and not something that would deprive someone in the US of work then maybe but it's a huge grey area and if someone decides that what you are going to do constitutes work then you are screwed. Not worth the risk in my opinion.

Edited by Hotter Otter

My blog about my visa journey and adjusting to my new life in the US http://albiontoamerica.wordpress.com/

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Filed: Other Country: Canada
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Nope. I have heard people being denied because they said that they were going to look after family, babysit for free, etc and it was denied. Even mowing your grandmothers lawn could be perceived as work. Silly but it's the rules

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Filed: Timeline

If its unpaid and not something that would deprive someone in the US of work then maybe but it's a huge grey area and if someone decides that what you are going to do constitutes work then you are screwed. Not worth the risk in my opinion.

Nope. I have heard people being denied because they said that they were going to look after family, babysit for free, etc and it was denied. Even mowing your grandmothers lawn could be perceived as work. Silly but it's the rules

I could understand the babysitting/mowing lawn purely because someone could be actually paid to do that, although it might be silly. As far as I know whatever I would be doing wouldn't be depriving someone of work but I think it would be best to err on the side of caution and just not do it. Thanks for the advice though!

Now I'm just hoping I don't get deported for shovelling the driveway while she's at work haha

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Filed: K-1 Visa Country: Wales
Timeline

If its something that would not be paid then you are OK..


“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

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Volunteer work is classified as charitable work you will provide to a non-profit organization, and that you receive absolutely no compensation whatsoever. Compensation includes ANYTHING that will benefit you: money, training, future job position, etc.

The Department of Labor establishes what they call volunteer work, which is loosely defined as "Individuals who volunteer or donate their services, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, not as employees and without contemplation of pay.." (Source: http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/docs/volunteers.asp)

I also found another resource to help you determine if it is truly volunteer work or if it is unpaid employment: http://www.nonprofitrisk.org/library/articles/employee_or_volunteer.shtml

Basically you answer these questions:

  1. Is the entity that will benefit/receive services from the volunteer a nonprofit organization?
  2. Is the activity less than a full-time occupation?
  3. Are the services offered freely and without pressure or coercion?
  4. Are the services of the kind typically associated with volunteer work?
  5. Have regular employees been displaced to accommodate the volunteer?
  6. Does the worker receive (or expect) any benefit from the entity to which it is providing services?

If you answer YES to the first 4 and NO to the last 2, then it is considered volunteer work.


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Filed: Other Country: Canada
Timeline

So I suppose hypothetically you volunteer for the ASPCA and want to go to vet school later in life you can't use the volunteer work as reference on an application for school. Sorry just playing devil's advocate for curiosity.

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Filed: Timeline

Well it would be at an animal shelter or with I think big sisters/big brothers (I am not entirely sure what that is, apparently it's working with children and I am not familiar) my friend has told me. I have no plans to get into either of these fields and as far as I know both are non-profit?

I answered Yes to the first four questions and No to the last two, so still a bit of a grey area. So is volunteer work classified as work/employment as per the ESTA terms and conditions?

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Filed: Timeline

You are right not to assume anything and to check out what you can and cannot do before you travel – to get it wrong could get you into considerable trouble and affect your chances of getting another visa or traveling to the US in the future. The information on the ESTA waiver says you cannot use it for employment, and as the other posts have said, volunteer work can be classed as employment because you are working for someone else.

You can try and ask a question on the US Customs and Border Control website - https://help.cbp.gov/ - there is the facility to email your question and they can advise you whether you can work as a volunteer. But I would say don’t risk it and use your time in other ways.

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