The topic of H1B visa holders engaging in influencer activities, such as being a KOL (Key Opinion Leader) or a YouTuber, has generated significant interest. In today's blog post, we'll delve into the details of if you can become an influencer while on an H1B visa. Lets get started!
As we know, the H1B visa is tied to your employer, and it generally prohibits active income sources outside of your primary employment. However, passive income streams like stock investments are allowed. But some passive income sources, including influencer earnings, fall into a gray area, blurring the line between passive and active income.
Two Categories of Influencer Activities
Influencer activities can be classified into two categories: those targeting for US platforms, such as YouTube and TikTok, and those aimed at oversea platforms in your home country, such as Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok) or certain local platforms.
Engaging with U.S. Platforms
Let's take YouTube as an example. YouTube monetization is often set up through Google AdSense, and earnings need to accumulate to a certain threshold, often in the hundreds of dollars, before withdrawal. During the withdrawal process, you'd typically need to provide your Social Security Number (SSN), leaving a trace. However, if you never withdraw funds and thus never provide your SSN, there won't be a trace linked to you.
Yet, if you do withdraw funds, especially involving your SSN, it's advisable to consult an accountant or lawyer to assess potential remedies or consequences.
H1B and Income Reporting
If your influencer income is reported on your tax return alongside your other active income, your H1B status could be jeopardized. Although the immigration agency and IRS don't directly communicate during H1B, they do during green card processing. If discrepancies are found between your reported incomes, your H1B status might be invalidated, leading to potential complications during green card application.
Engaging with Oversea Platforms
For influencer earnings on overseas platforms, the process often doesn't require submitting your SSN or transferring funds to the U.S. While government tracking might be limited, public platforms leave room for reports, which could lead to IRS involvement similar to the withdrawal scenario mentioned earlier.
Potential Solution—Starting Your Own Business
H1B visa holders can legally start a business, but they must play a passive role and have U.S. citizens or green card holders as operational partners. If your influencer endeavors grow substantial, forming a company and funneling your income through it could be an option to explore.
Engaging in influencer activities while on an H1B visa requires careful consideration due to the intricate interaction of immigration status, tax reporting, and passive/active income. Whether working with U.S. or overseas platforms, it's essential to be aware of the potential implications and seek professional advice when needed.