Earning through online surveys on H1b visa Hi, I'm on H1b visa and this year earned money through various websites doing surveys.I was not aware that it is illegal.This year I earned about $800 from 10 websites.Should I report that on my tax form next year?What legal action can be taken on me?
H1B can do stock trading in the US as well as open a business legally.
H1B can also receive a 1099 income form legally and show it on its 140 tax return legally without affecting the H1B extension, amendment, transfer, and Green card (i-485).
You need to be aware of a couple of things before you jump on to start a business though and keep your activity in check to comply with USCIS visa rules.
This article will discuss:
- USCIS Rules
You can do day trading as long as it is for your personal investment and that too as a hobby.
If you do day trading 5 days a week and that too 4+ hours a day, then it may be seen as full-time work by USCIS.
You can invest in US stock markets as a passive investor anytime and for any amount. You do know that 401k is one of the passive investment examples that almost everyone in the US invests including H1B and L1 workers.
- The stock trading should be done for yourself and not for any employer or on behalf of any group that you may have created on social networking sites.
- You can share your stock trading tips with your friends on WhatsApp or Telegram groups but should not be compensated for giving out these tips.
- It does not matter if it is a day trade, delivery trade, swing trade, or any other type of way that you invest in the US stock market. As long as you can prove that it was a passive investment, you are safe.
Robinhood is a favorite stock trading app for many high skilled immigrant workers and getting the referral share is acceptable on an H1B visa.
You can buy shares with Scott trade, Ameritrade, WeBull, TradeKing among others, and declare income on IRS tax return legally.
The rule of thumb: Just try to be a passive investor as much as possible.
You can invest in any stock including Bitcoin, Gold, Crypto, Apple, Amazon, Tesla.
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We suggest staying away from buying Cannabis or weed stocks though as the Federal government is not clear about the legality even though many states in the US have legalized the medical use of some weeds.
Open a Business
You can open a business on H1B or L visa but you should not be an active member with respect to day to day activities.
You can open a restaurant and invest your money in it but look into the business passively. Do not write checks and sign them yourself.
The best and safest option is to hire a restaurant manager and let him manage all daily activities for your restaurant.
If you do not want to hire an outside manager, you can let your H4 or L2 spouse manage it for you if they have EAD. H4 and L2 EAD have unrestricted work authorizations.
#2 YouTube, Facebook or TikTok Videos
You can make the videos and upload them on a social media website with no issues on H1B or any other work visa. Just make sure that you do not earn money especially on your SSN or ITIN using these channels.
If you do not know, these YouTube and Facebook do make money by showing ads on your channel even if you do not get benefitted. This is acceptable as long as you are not involved in earning directly with it.
#3 Write a Blog, Create a website, Start up?
You can write a blog or create a website as long as you invest passively in it. Your blog and website can earn money legally.
You just need to follow the rules that you (the H1B or L1 worker) has passive investments in your online startup.
Again, the best way is to hire someone to work on your blog or website and create content.
- If you start a photography website and sell photos, then it will be considered active employment. The better option would be to create an LLC, hire a manager or spouse with EAD as a managing member.
- You, as an H1B, can invest money and still be an LLC member to have management control. You can take out profits on H1B SSN and show them on your tax return legally.
#4 Work without Pay (As Volunteer)
You should not work as an unpaid volunteer for a job on an H1B and L1 visa if that job is usually a paid job. If you do, then it may create a contradiction and USCIS may see it as a willful violation of your visa terms.
The same holds true for H4 or L2 visa unless they have an EAD which allows them to do any job whatsoever.
#5 Drive User/Lyft part time
You cannot drive Uber or Lyft part-time as it is considered an active activity and will violate your H1B or L visa terms and conditions.
You can buy a car and give it out on rent for a driver to drive. This will be the same as starting a business and hiring someone to do daily tasks.
H1B can buy a car and give it on rent on sites like Turo but should not be involved in daily renting activities personally.
#6 Affiliate Marketing/ Referral Bonus
An H1B can get a referral bonus for credit cards and Bank account on their own SSN and show it as taxable income.
Make sure that you do not take it up as a regular activity. If you start the business of referral and affiliate marketing where you are actively involved and get commissions every day, then it might be looked at with suspicion and you may be held responsible for work visa rules.
There is no ‘once a week’ or ‘thrice a month’ rule defined for such activities by USCIS. If you want to do it regularly, it is best to create an LLC and hire a person to do this work for you instead of doing it yourself. This will help you stay on the safe track.
#7 AMWAY Multi-level marketing business
You can join a multi-marketing business on an H1B visa. They usually issue a 1099 form for your income and you can show it legally as long as the business was conducted passively.
Again, the onus of proving that you were not involved in it actively on daily basis will lie on you if USCIS questions your ‘intent’.
#8 Rental Property, AirBnB
Nonimmigrants from south Asia are usually attracted to investing in rental properties. It is definitely a good business but an H1B or L1 visa holder should hire a property manager to take care of normal maintenance activities like normal repairs and collecting rent.
The best way to stay clear of visa status trouble would be to create an LLC and make your H4 EAD spouse the primary member.
H1B can do the repairs in the property once in a while but if this is a regular activity like a couple of times every week, then it may pose a problem.
Airbnb requires active participation which has the potential of contradicting your H1B status. The better way again is to create an LLC, invest as H1B, and have someone from outside or your spouse with EAD as a manager.
#9 H1B Working Remotely For Employer Outside US
Legally, USCIS counts your physical presence to check the visa violations. So, if you are in the US on H1B and still working for an employer outside the US and receiving payments there, it may be counted as a violation.
Working for a Chinese employer and getting payments in China may be counted as a violation of the H1B visa if caught. Generally, it might be difficult to prove.
Many people have rental properties in their home country and receive rent monthly. This is perfectly legal and you can receive it in your name. Just add the income to your US taxes and keep everything legal.
Some people who have written books in the past may receive royalties regularly. There is no need to worry and you can keep receiving that money.
There is no official USCIS rule that we could find with respect to stock trading on the USCIS website. The primary takeaway here is that you can invest or open a business as long as you are a passive investor.
Investing passively means that you are not involved in the business daily.
A good example would be things that you do as a hobby and maybe once a week.
180 days of Unauthorized Work
USCIS can forego or pardon your ‘unauthorized work’ in the US if it is less than 180 days while evaluating your green card i-485 application.
If you have worked for more than 180 days actively in employment for which your H1B was not approved, you should contact an attorney to check if you have violated any law.
These kinds of issues are checked by USCIS at the time of the Green card application and may prove dangerous for your 485 approval.
Whatever you do and even if you have unintentionally been involved in an unauthorized work/business or employment in the US, do always pay the income taxes. Not paying the taxes is considered a serious offense and will create problems even if the USCIS officer decides to forgive your unintentional work.
H1B and L workers are liable to pay income taxes the same as any other green card holder or a US citizen. You should declare all your US and global income from business investments even though you are on a work visa in the US.
H1B can have legal income on 1099 along with W2 from H1B employment. There is no issue with having 1099MISC, 1099INT, and 1099DIV.
Tax software like TaxAct, TurboTax, HR Block has the option of adding your business income to 1044 tax return.
Sale of Indian Mutual Funds/Shares
You (H1B worker) has invested in mutual funds in India. You sold your shares and did not pay any income tax there as capital gains tax is not applicable as per Indian taxation laws.
You should still declare this income from the sale of Indian shares in your US tax return (Form 1040) and pay tax as per US laws.
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Your H1B or L status is not affected simply because you were trading in India.
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