Six (Legal) Ways to Earn Money in the U.S. Without a Work Visa

Making money doesn’t need to be difficult, even without a work visa. (Imaginechina via AP Images)

Not all foreigners who are given permission to live in the U.S. are entitled to work here. Most notably, H-4 visas holders — the spouses and children under 21 of an H-1B recipient — are viewed as dependents, ineligible for work in the U.S. Frustratingly, these people are also banned from making a living as freelancers in their home nation. However, there are some clever — and lawful — ways to draw an income even on the most prohibitive visa. (Be sure to consult a tax professional or immigration attorney who can answer your specific questions about any of the following.)

Invest in Stocks
So long as you make no more than four trades per week (more than this would be considered day-trading), you can legally make an income this way. But don’t jump in without first practicing on sites like wallstreetsurvivor.com and marketwatch.com/game, which let you invest in a virtual stock market using fake money. Once you’re confident, open a real-money account with a site like zecco.com.

Lend Money
As a non-work approved U.S. resident, you can legally loan money to (and receive interest from) Americans wanting to start a business. Peer-to-peer lending websites like prosper.com and lendingclub.com facilitate this, whether you want to loan large lump sums to one or two borrowers, or spread your money across the board. Spend some time reading up on peer-to-peer lending before deciding what’s best for you and your savings.

Invest in a Business
You can plumb money into a venture so long as you’re an entirely passive party, which means you can’t actually work for the business. So, if a friend wants to open a restaurant and you want to invest, that’s fine. What’s not fine is for you to take on shifts, or even help with the behind the scenes running of the joint. But there’s nothing to stop you taking the time to evaluate investment opportunities and drill potential partners on how they’ll be spending your cash.

Write a Book
Although you cannot submit a manuscript for consideration in the U.S., there’s nothing to stop you sending your magnum opus to agents and publishers in the U.K. Any royalties you might receive from the U.K. while living in America fall under the heading “passive income” and are permitted. You will, however, need to declare them on a U.S. tax return. Similarly, any earnings accrued from existing investments (so long as you’re not actively working for a business) are legitimate.

Enter Competitions
Contest winnings, such as lottery money, are classified as “passive income,” so you can accumulate cash and non-cash prizes without breaking any laws. That is, so long as the competition small print doesn’t stipulate that foreign nationals are banned from entering. And unlike in the U.K., U.S. law requires that you pay tax on most winnings, so you might decide to focus on British-run competitions. Both here and at home, “comping” is a full-time and potentially lucrative hobby for many who don’t — or can’t — work. British financial guru Martin Lewis’s site moneysavingexpert.com offers tips on becoming a comper. But remember, always check the rules to see if you’re eligible to win. Some competition guidelines may require you to be a permanent U.K. resident. And remember that while entering competitions is fun and possibly financially rewarding, there are no guarantees. It’s up to you to judge whether this is the best use of your time.

Get Training
You might not be able to actually get a job in the U.S. but there’s nothing to stop you from taking a course, volunteering (so long as you’re not depriving an American of a job that they might be paid for) or teaching yourself a new set of skills. Then, when you eventually return to the U.K., or get a U.S. work permit or green card, you’ll be much more employable, and possibly fall into a higher-earning category.

Have you discovered ways to legally earn money in the U.S. while not on a work visa? Tell us below:

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis