TN Visa Status as University Teacher & Aspiring Actor?

Question: I am working as a teacher at a university under a TN NAFTA Visa status. I plan to apply for an H1B visa this spring. I am also an actor, and plan to act full time in the future. I am currently in a stage production that plans to pay me $500. They are aware of my situation, and want to make sure that I am paid. However, they are required to have all actors fill out W-9 forms. I am worried that I will be subject to deportation if I receive this payment, especially with the submission of a W-9.

An immigration lawyer told me a few months ago that I will be able to receive payment for acting jobs, as long as I am not an employee of any of the companies, and the work is sporadic, short-term, low-paying. I recently signed with a talent agent as well, for whom I filled out a W-9, but have not received any paying jobs from yet.

Answer: You may run into trouble here. While under TN status (or any non-immigrant worker category), you are limited to working only for the employer that sponsored you – the university. To engage in any other type of employment, even for a meager fee, would be considered unauthorized employment and may subject you to removal (i.e., deportation).

If you want to teach on your TN/H-1B for the university, then any acting you do should be done as an amateur, without pay and generally in a social or charitable context. You may receive incidental expenses though. To go beyond these limitations can subject you to allegations of unauthorized employment. It may also subject the theater company to employer sanctions.

If you really want to pursue acting professionally, then you should consider changing status to the P visa category for entertainers. Unfortunately, you can only hold one non-immigrant worker category at a time. You may either continue working as a teacher under TN or H-1B status, or pursue acting professionally under P visa status. Now an individual may possess more than one TN (or H-1B) at the same time. For example, if you wanted to teach at another university you could obtain another TN (or H-1B) and do that simultaneously with your current job. The problem here is that professional actor is not an occupation available under TN or H-1B visa status.