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As I've understood, its not allowed to work off campus on F-1 visa. However what about online freelance work, for example something on fiverr or some other freelance website? Is that against the law too? I couldn't find information related to it.

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It is prohibited. "Off-campus" refers to the identity of the employer, not to your physical location. Freelance work would be for an employer who is not affiliated with your university, so it would not meet the requirements of your F-1 status.

A commenter raises the question of doing freelance work for a client outside the US. The US position is that if the worker is physically in the US when the work is performed then US work authorization is required. It does not matter whether the non-university client or employer is in the US or outside of it; such work is a violation of status.

  • Is this the case if the source of your income is in your home country, and has nothing to do with your presence in the US? – R.. Aug 26 at 20:37
  • @R.. Yes, working online for a foreign employer or client is also prohibited. The US position is that you must be authorized to work in the US if you are physically in the US when doing the work. The recourse in this answer to the "source of the income" is perhaps confusing. I will edit. – phoog Aug 26 at 21:12
  • How does that come into play if you have income that doesn't involve actually doing work from existing status back home, e.g. dividends, royalties, pass-through profits from a company you own but aren't actually involved in running while in the US, etc. etc. etc.? – R.. Aug 26 at 21:41
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    @R.. such income is not "earned income" (for the purpose of income tax, which isn't terribly important here). More to the point, there is no "employment" or "work" involved. Having income is not prohibited. Working is (except for on-campus work). – phoog Aug 27 at 3:13
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    @R.. no. Performing a service in the US without work authorization is prohibited regardless of the compensation (even if the client isn't paying anyone and the person performing the service isn't paid by anyone) unless it is a service that is normally provided on a volunteer basis. So, for example, a wealthy foreign retiree can come to the US without work authorization and be a volunteer usher at a summer arts festival that typically uses volunteer ushers, but the same person cannot volunteer to be the artistic director of the festival. – phoog Aug 27 at 3:39
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Apparently it’s allowed. What the law, specifically 8 CFR 214.1(e), prohibits, is employment. Employment, according to 8 CFR 274(a)(1)(h), is something only employees do. An independent contractor is not an employee (Id., (j) and (f)).

Or maybe not, according to a Connecticut Law Tribune article which says “A B-1 visitor cannot engage in productive employment in the U.S. either as an employee or as an independent contractor” (without, however, citing any laws, which do not appear to say anything about nonimmigrant independent contractors; whatever reasoning they had likely applies to F-1 as well).

  • You have identified an incorrect definition of "employment." The definition at 8 CFR 274a.1(h) applies only to "this part," which means part 274a. It therefore does not govern the meaning of the term in part 214. – phoog Aug 26 at 21:10
  • Now it is a good question as to where (or whether) the general prohibition against nonimmigrant employment is extended to earning money outside of an employer/employee relationship, but it is certainly the position of the executive that it is so, and I imagine this has been upheld by the courts, although I do not know for sure. Perhaps you would like to ask on Law. – phoog Aug 26 at 21:10
  • @phoog There is no general prohibition against nonimmigrant employment. H-1B is a nonimmigrant class. – Roman Odaisky Aug 26 at 21:17
  • @phoog Which is the applicable definition then, I wonder. – Roman Odaisky Aug 26 at 21:17
  • There absolutely is a general prohibition against nonimmigrant employment. It is found at 8 CFR 214.1(e): "... Any other nonimmigrant in the United States may not engage in any employment unless he has been accorded a nonimmigrant classification which authorizes employment or he has been granted permission to engage in employment in accordance with the provisions of this chapter." That is a general prohibition which allows for exceptions. H-1B is one of the exceptions. – phoog Aug 26 at 21:20

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