Snowbirding 101

Working while you play: volunteer opportunities for snowbirds

National and state parks may have openings for volunteers

Joshua tree, red rock
Joshua Tree National Park in California. — Kerry Shellborn photo

Question: During the summer, we host at an RV park in B.C. As a Canadian, can I work or volunteer in the States while we are there in the winter?

Answer: Well, the answer to that is both no and yes. Without the proper process and paperwork, working or even volunteering in the U.S.A. while you are a visitor can lead to charges, deportation and restricted entry into the country.

Having said that, there are visas and programs you may qualify for. But the processes tend to be complex and most need to be initiated by the prospective employer.

National Park Service

The volunteer situations we found are under the International Volunteer-in-Parks program (IVIP) of the National Park Service.

You must have the appropriate visa to volunteer for the U.S. National Park Service. They say to allow at least two to three months to find a volunteer position, receive the proper form and apply for a visa.

The first step is to get and complete the NPS IVIP application. You can download the application at the National Park Service website.

  • Step 1: Submit the completed application to the NSP IVIP co-ordinator. You can email the completed application by clicking on the email icon on the NPS website.
  • Step 2:  Once you receive a positive response from the NPS IVIP co-ordinator, you can work with the co-ordinator to find a NPS park to host you or search for a position at a park that interests you. NPS volunteer positions are also listed on http://www.volunteer.gov/gov—this is a U.S. government website that contains volunteer listings for other federal agencies.
  • Step 3: Obtain a medical insurance policy and submit proof of your coverage to the volunteer co-ordinator at the park where you want to volunteer. Your visa application, proof of insurance, a position description and a training plan written by the supervisor is sent to the Office of International Affairs.
  • Step 4: NPS IVIP co-ordinator in Washington, D.C., sends you the DS-2019 visa form.
  • Step 5: Make an appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate to have the material processed and give you your visa.
  • Step 6: Go to your park in the U.S. and and have your supervisor notify the IVIP co-ordinator of your arrival.

We met fellow Canadian RVers who were volunteering at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. They applied to the National Park Service through the International Visitors program (IVIP).

U.S. Forest Service

Check the U.S. Forest Service's global visitor program to identify areas and offices of interest and contact them directly for more information about positions that may interest you. You will need to complete an International Visitor Application and Information Sheet along with other information they may request.

Other possible opportunities

  • If you are interested in a working visa, there is a whole different process. The McGill University Career Centre has a fairly comprehensive handout that outlines most of the options.
  • ACE: American Conservation Experience http://usaconservation.org An International Conservation Corps affiliate member of the Corps Network
  • State parks: Many state parks can qualify for the IVIP program.

Enjoy your experience.

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