Faculty & Departments

Employment Concerns

International Visitors & Employment Issues


"Self-employment" means carrying on a "trade or business". It excludes such things as an occasional lecture honorarium, occasional gambling income, occasional trading in financial securities, selling a house you've fixed up yourself, etc. Any of these items of income can rise to the level of self-employment if they "are carried on by" (occur regularly for) the taxpayer. (For more information, see IRC, Title 26, Subtitle A, Chapter 2, §1402 and Regs §1.1402(a)-2(b)).

Various activities can be construed to be business income and subject to self-employment (FICA) tax if they are done frequently enough to constitute a business. Such same activities would be exempt from self-employment tax if they were "occasional". (Note that the taxpayer may choose to make the activity a business under §162 in order to deduct all expenses related to generating the taxable income. The same expenses are not deductible unless the activity is a "trade or business").

While the tax law permits what has just been described in the previous paragraphs, the visting student present in the U.S. under F-1 or J-1 immigration status (including OPT) is explicitly prohibited by USCIS law from becoming self-employed.

Consequences of Being Classified An Independent Contractor

As long as your proposed type of work is permitted by your CPT, OPT, or economic necessity authorization, you can do that work as an employee or as an independent contractor. It is legal and without adverse immigration consequences to work as an independent contractor during summer or other off-campus employment.

An independent contract amount means any payment for services that does not flow through Payroll. Such payments include honoraria, awards, lottery winnings, and contract payments. These are not self-employment in essence and they have to avoid occurring so frequently that they take on the appearance of a trade or business.

A search for 'independent contractor' on the IRS web site provides the following information:

If you find that you are eligible to be an independent contractor, ask: "Is it to your advantage to be treated as an employee or as an independent contractor?" You also need to know an employer’s intention. In other words, are you being asked to be an employee or an independent contractor?

When determining answers to the questions above, consider these important facts and issues:

Further Assistance

If you wish to discuss immigration-related aspects of off-campus employment, please email the Immigration Services Office.

If you wish to discuss any tax aspects of the message above, please email the Tax Assistance Program.

For any/all other summer employment questions, please email International Student Services and Activities.

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