Many new residents in the United States work two or more jobs at once to help reach their goals faster. Extra income can help you pay off debts and save up money quickly, and it also provides you with a sense of financial security.
There are many resources available for someone motivated to earn multiple incomes. However, if you’re in the United States on a visa, there are some limitations. In this article, we’ll explain the options for working more than one job while still complying with your visa regulations.
How to work more than one job on an H-1B visa
If you are in the US on an H-1B visa, that means your employer filed an I-129 petition on your behalf. You may think that since you already have a visa, you can take on extra jobs at different companies while still being employed with your sponsoring company. Unfortunately, that’s not the case—if you work for more than one employer under a single H-1B visa, this is considered a visa violation.
You need to have an I-129 petition filed for each company you work for, even for part-time positions. An employee–employer relationship must be established if you are working for multiple companies, and all of your employers are required to prove they will abide by the legal requirements involved in sponsoring an H-1B visa.
Extra H-1B visa processes are not counted against the annual H-1B visa cap, because the visa cap counts individuals, not applications, and you were already counted in the cap during your first H-1B application. This is an advantage because any other companies that sponsor you are not under any deadlines to file the I-129 petition. You are also not required to wait for application approval to begin working for extra employers—you may start working as soon as the H-1B petition is filed.
Can you do freelance or contract work while on a US employment-based visa?
Unfortunately, USCIS does not allow employment-based visa holders to work for more than one employer without filing a visa application for all employers.
When you do freelance or contract work, you are not an employee of the company that is paying you. Therefore, you cannot prove an employee–employer relationship, which employment-based visas require. As an employee of a US company, you are required to pay taxes each year through W-2 tax forms. Freelance and contract workers pay yearly tax contributions through 1099 forms, which means they are not eligible for employment-based visa status.
Can you freelance on an O-1 visa?
An O-1 visa is still considered an employment-based visa, which prohibits contracting or freelancing. You may have heard that an O-1 visa is the closest to a “freelancing visa.” But that is not the case. The US immigration process is not currently set up to support any freelance or contract work. Under an O-1 visa, you still have to be employed by one managing company that sponsors you, even if you are working with many clients/companies simultaneously.
O-1 visas are for persons of “extraordinary abilities”, such as actors, athletes, musicians, models, and photographers. In some cases, an O-1 visa holder will be employed by a US-based agent who handles contracting the visa holder for short-term employment with multiple employers, e.g. for bookings, performances, or appearances.
If you are an O-1 visa holder working in this way, you will need to file an I-129 petition with supporting documentation that includes:
- a schedule of bookings
- proof of the agency’s legitimacy
- copies of contracts, including dates and pay.
How to work more than one job on a marriage-based visa
When applying for a marriage-based visa, you can simultaneously apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which allows you to work in the US. If you are the spouse of an L-1 or E-3 visa holder, you are are also eligible to obtain an EAD card, which does not restrict any type of work and gives you flexibility to work multiple jobs without the need for numerous work authorizations. EAD cards also permit the holders to do freelance contract work.
According to the USCIS website, to request an EAD, you must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. You will need to apply for an EAD if you:
- are authorized to work in the United States because of your immigration status (for example, you are an asylee, refugee, or U nonimmigrant) and need evidence of that employment authorization, or
- are required to apply for permission to work; in other words, you need to request employment authorization itself. For example:
- You have a pending Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
- You have a pending Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.
- You have a nonimmigrant status that allows you to be in the United States but does not allow you to work in the United States without first seeking permission from USCIS (such as an F-1 or M-1 student).
You do not need to apply for an EAD if you are a lawful permanent resident. Your green card is evidence of your employment authorization. You also do not need to apply for an EAD if you have a nonimmigrant visa that authorizes you to work for a specific employer (for example, you have an H-1B, L-1B, O, or P visa).
Student visa work permissions
While still in school, you are only allowed to work one job that is directly related to your studies or through the university. You are allowed to work 20 hours a week while classes are in session, and you must maintain full-time student status, which makes working multiple jobs very difficult.
If you are a student on an F-1 visa, once you have completed at least one year of your studies, you can begin optional practical training (OPT) and work in the US for up to twelve months after graduation, or up to 24 months if your field of study is STEM-related. While in OPT, you can work for more than one employer, but the work you do must be related to your field of study.
The OPT program offers you flexibility with how you work—you can do freelance or contract work, or start your own business. In either case, you need to prove that the industry you’re working in is related to your field of study and that any businesses you work with or start are legitimate US companies.
Special work allowances for TN visa holders
TN visas are special nonimmigrant visas under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that allow Canadian and Mexican professionals to work in the US with certain TN-eligible occupations.
Some professions eligible for a TN visa include accountants, architects, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, teachers, and zoologists. TN visas work like H-1B visas in that the employer must be based in the US. You may be eligible for TN visa status if:
- you are a Canadian or Mexican citizen
- you gain employment with a TN-1 granted employer
- your profession is approved under TN regulations
- you meet the educational or qualification requirements for the position.
You may work for more than one TN employer simultaneously. While you are in the US, you must file a Form I-129 concurrent TN petition with USCIS. This form should be submitted for each employer you work for. Valid TN visa holders in the US must go to a port of entry and present the required supporting letters and documents signed by each employer to customs and border patrol. If you file for multiple employers at the same time, you only need to pay one filing fee.
Much like other employment-based visas, you are not able to work for your employers until your petition has been approved.
Ways to supplement your income without a concurrent employment-based visa
Finding multiple employers simultaneously that can sponsor your work-based visas can be a challenge. However, if you are just looking to make a little extra money, other options are available that will not affect your citizen status.
Invest in stocks
When you invest in stocks, you buy a small stake in the ownership of the company you invest in. Depending on the amount you invest, you’re eligible to receive an amount in return without having to lodge a new visa petition. You can make up to four stock trades a week, but any more would be over the legal limit for a visa holder. Investments are a great way to earn some extra income—but do some research in trading stocks before you get involved. Making bad investments could cost you more money than you earn.
Invest in a business
You are legally able to invest in a business while on a work-based visa, as long as you don’t actually work for the business. As an investor, you are limited to a silent partnership with no say in how the company is run, and you are eligible to receive a share of the profits.
Complete paid surveys and enter contests
You can legally earn extra income by completing paid surveys and entering contests. Many websites will pay you a small amount for every survey you are qualified for. Building up a worthwhile amount may take time, but it could be something fun to do in your spare time. Remember: Be cautious about any information you share on the internet.
Entering contests and winning prizes, whether they be for cash or material prizes will not affect your visa status.
Tell your story
If you’re creative, you could write a book and sell it to a publishing house to earn extra income; however, you cannot work with a US-based publisher—the publisher must be based outside the US to avoid affecting your visa status. Of course, this is a long process in order to make some extra money, but if you have a compelling story, you should consider sharing it with the world. Keep in mind that you will have to declare any money you make on your book in the passive income section of your tax returns.
Working multiple jobs while in the US on a visa requires you to have a firm understanding of the rules and regulations, including how many hours you can work, what jobs you can apply for, and who you can work for. It is always recommended that you talk to an immigration attorney to help you navigate the important details. Any misinterpretation might render you in violation of your visa agreement.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to any of our knowledgeable attorneys at Stump & Associates. We’re happy to help ensure that your time in the United States is successful and profitable.
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