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I received a job offer from a company in Austin, Texas for an internship for the summer. I'm really interested in going to the US and working for the summer, I feel like it'd be a great opportunity.

I'm new to visas and whatnot, and I talked to the company about it. They mentioned that they consulted an immigration lawyer and she suggested that instead of going through the J-1 or H1-B (I can't do TN as I'm still in the middle of my degree) that it would be easiest just to come to the states as a normal Canadian citizen (which you can do for up to six months) and just work as a "contractor" more or less.

I'm totally fine with this, but I wanted to make sure it was indeed legal. For instance, when I get to the border and they ask my reason for visiting the states, what would I say?

My university has connections with Cultural Vistas I think, but it's $1,700 and takes 4-6 weeks to process, and I'd like to start work before then preferably.

Am I going to be in legal trouble if I take the "contractor" route?

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2 Answers 2

Short answer: Absolutely not legal.

Entering the US as a visitor means that you are not permitted to take up employment of any kind. This includes being a contractor. And this also applies to Canadians.

I find it appalling that an immigration lawyer even suggested such a thing.

From Information for Canadians:

All Canadians are reminded that U.S. law requires all foreigners to qualify for the desired stay and purpose at the time of their initial entry. A visitor who intends to live, work or study in the U.S. without disclosing this information beforehand may be permanently barred from the U.S.

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Not legal, but also very unlikely that you'd be caught doing this--this is probably why the immigration lawyer suggested it. –  Flimzy Apr 8 at 6:20
    
Don't US companies report their employees for tax/SS purposes? That would be a way of automatically flag such cases to deny entry at any future time. –  Peteris Apr 8 at 9:00
    
Employers can only report wages paid to employees if the employee has an SSN. One cannot get an SSN without authorization to work, which is checked by the SSA with USCIS. If your employer pays you under the table, they're taking a risk too. –  Greg Hewgill Apr 8 at 11:12
    
@Peteris: The OP is asking about working as a contractor--i.e. not an employee. The employer might still issue a 1099, but there's no requirement that the recipients of contract income are in the US--so the employer would simply want to issue the 1099 to the Canadian address, and hope the IRS doesn't notice the contractor was physically in the US at the time. –  Flimzy Apr 8 at 16:27

You definitely have to have a visa. The only way I see you not needing a visa is if you physically stay in Canada and work remotely. I am sure this I not the experience you are looking for, however.

They could be shooting for a B-1 visa if they are talking about employing you as a subcontractor. In this scenario, you would be self employed and paid as a business instead of a person, and they would be paying a Canadian business instead of a Canadian national. The maximum length of stay for a B-1 visa is 6 months, so it would be valid for an entire summer. However, you are not permitted to work directly as an intern or in an internship training program for a US based company on a B-1 visa. You would have to be paid by a Canadian company under a contract. Their immigration lawyer may be trying to open or exploit a legal loophole, but it would need to be done very carefully if you chose to go this route. Since you would be the one risking being permanently barred from entering the US, you may not want to risk it. Here is a link for more details on B-1 visas: http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-visitors-business/b-1-temporary-business-visitor

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