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March 10, 2012 6:15 AM   Subscribe

As a Canadian, can I do freelance design work in the U.S. if I move there?

I'm Canadian, currently living with my American girlfriend here in Canada. She has a job offer in the U.S., so we are looking at moving to California. I will be applying for a teaching job there and am hoping to get a work visa before we move.

While teaching part-time here in Canada, I also do freelance web design work (for both Canadian and American clients). I would like to continue doing freelance work in California. Would I be legally able to do freelance design work there? Will it depend on where my clients are located? Will it depend on whether or not I get a work visa?

Thanks for any assistance!
posted by oulipian to Work & Money (6 answers total)
There are many different kinds of work visas. Do you know what kind of visa you are hoping to get for that teaching job? That will affect the answer. Where are you hoping to teach? A university? A high school?
posted by ManInSuit at 6:50 AM on March 10, 2012

My quick broad sense is this:

Most visas that you would get to do particular job (eg: teaching) would be fairly restrictive in terms of what other employment would be allowed. Doing freelance work, for American clients, while resident in the US, would definitely be considered employment.

Depending on how you feel, both about your girlfriend, and your move to the US - the most flexible work permit would be a green card (permanent residence status). You could get that by marrying your American girlfriend. If you have a green card, you can do pretty much any work in the U.S.

People do get married for green cards. People also do freelance work under the table. So there may be some choices there.

More knowledgeable people here will likely fill in the details. And your own personal details (what teaching job and visa your are hoping for, etc) will matter....
posted by ManInSuit at 7:03 AM on March 10, 2012

Also - If folks on ask.mefi are not forthcoming with answers (or even if they are, I guess), here is a forum specifically about US visa questions for Canadians.
posted by ManInSuit at 7:31 AM on March 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks! The visa would be for a part-time lecturer position at a university.
posted by oulipian at 7:44 AM on March 10, 2012

First, sessional jobs in the US pay MUCH, MUCH less than those in Canada. A full (year) course at U of T will pay around $12,000. A half course at Calgary pays about $5800. A half course at the last uni I taught at in the US paid $1500- $1200 if you only had an MA.

Second, those courses are going to fund the school's grad students, and net of those, there will be several- maybe dozens- of both underpaid regular profs who've been hammered by cutbacks and furloughs who are desperate for overloads and of course the American PhDs who don't have jobs and are willing to cobble together a "career" from sessional scraps.

And none of these- grad students, itinerant PhDs and slumming profs- will need a work visa and the headache that their respective HR depts will have to go through to grant you one.

Long story short: You're not going to need a work visa for part-time uni teaching because you're never going to get hired.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:41 AM on March 10, 2012

It depends on what meaning of can are you interested in. As a Canadian working in the US myself, the short answer is that no, you will not be authorized by the US gov't to do this work in the US.

That is to say, you wouldn't be able to get an American SSN, pay taxes, qualify for unemployment, etc, because you can't get a work visa for that type of work. Working under the table is an option (by definition this works anywhere in the world), and since it's online work, you may be able to maintain a Canadian residence (at your parent's address, maybe?) and conduct your business from there.

Your teaching job [if you get it; I'm crossposting with ethnomethodologist] will get you into the country but will not authorize you for this kind of work - if it's a TN visa, then you are only allowed to earn income from the employer specifically stated on the visa. The IRS will catch any other above-the-table earnings; maybe not this year, but they will crunch the data and discover unauthorized reported income. H1 visas are also tied to a specific employer; unlike TN they can be transferred from one employer to another but each one must apply to and be approved by USCIS before you are authorized to work.

Getting a green card would let you work any job for any employer (maybe not federal employers), or be self employed legally in the US. Be aware that getting a GC through marriage will still take some time, around 1-2 years.

TL;DR: your permit/visa won't authorize the freelance work. You'll have to figure out how to perform this work as a Canadian resident who just happens to be somewhere else at the moment. Sorry I don't know the legal specifics of that.

PS. The teaching visas (all US work visas, actually) require a job offer as part of the application process - you get an offer, you and the company jointly fill in a form/letter to USCIS, who evaluate your application and hopefully issue the visa. There's no blanket work permit that isn't tied to an employer. (There is a B1 visa, which is a permit to enter the country to conduct business related meetings - such as interviews, trade shows, conferences - but you aren't allowed to earn any US income from a B1).
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:51 AM on March 10, 2012

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