Can You Volunteer to Work on a Tourist Visa in the USA?

According to a report by the US Department of State, the United States issued more than 90 lakh B1/B2 visas in 2018. While the B1 visa is typically thought of as the visa that allows foreign nationals to enter the US for business purposes, it can also be used for engaging in other types of activities in the country.

If you want to visit the United States as a volunteer, you can apply for a B1 visitor visa. You need to mention that you are a part of a recognized non-profit, charitable or religious organization and will take part in their “voluntary service program.”

Basic Requirements

The program that you participate in should be involved in helping the needy, poor or support a charitable or religious cause. It should not include any means to earn money via the sale of items or by soliciting and accepting donations. You cannot be paid by the organization for your services, but they should provide some kind of reimbursement or allowance for incidental expenses.

Some examples of volunteer work are disaster relief, religious missions or other similar programs.

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How to Apply for a B1 Visa

After you have found a suitable voluntary service program, you need to apply for the B1 or business tourist visa at the US consular website. Here, you will find complete instructions on how to complete the application form and pay the visa fee.

Read the instructions under the “Before You Start” section and from the dropdown select the country from where you will be applying. After filling the form and paying the fee of $160, you need to schedule your visa interview.

Documents Needed for the Visa Interview

Apart from the basic documents, such as passport, application form and the visa fee receipt, you will also need to provide a letter from the concerned organization. This letter should include details of the organization, the program that you will be a part of, duration of the assignment, you name and date of birth, your permanent residential address in your home country, and name and address of the location where you will be initially placed.

During your visa interview, you will have to explain to the consular officer details of the above-mentioned information. If the interview goes well, you can expect to receive your passport back in a few weeks. The processing time depends on the consulate’s workload.

Validity of the Passport

The “reciprocity agreement” between your country and the US will decide the duration of the visa. This can range between a few months and up to several years, with single or multiple entries.

Usually, with a B1 visa, you will be allowed to stay in the US for a period of up to one year. In case you get a shorter period or your volunteer program is expected to last longer than the authorized stay, you can submit Form I-539, along with the fee and relevant documents to the USCIS to extend your stay.

The documents needed for filing an extension include an updated letter from the charitable organization, copy of your passport, the I-94 Arrival-Departure record, and proof of sufficient funds to sustain yourself without working in the United States.

You can apply for a maximum extension of 6 months.

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Mani Karthik

About the Author

Mani Karthik

Ex “NRI” and Founder of the “Back to India” movement. I share my experience about immigrating to USA here.