I got an opportunity to work in Las Vegas in a hostel - I clean for four to six hours a day and in return, I'm getting a free bed. I still have to pay for food and what not. I'll be staying for three months and then returning to Canada to work in another hostel in British Columbia.

I thought that since I was Canadian, and I technically am getting no pay and still have to mostly support myself beside a free bed, it would count as me visiting/a vacation, which (I think) means I don't need a visa of any sort, just a passport. I'm starting to worry that maybe I am misunderstanding things though and I thought I'd ask here for some clarification.

Any help is appreciated!

  • 2
    Are those ‘employment’ terms & conditions legal? – Traveller May 29 '18 at 9:06
  • "Technically I am getting no pay." Being paid doesn't have to be in cash. Anything of value that you're given in return for you doing work is pay. Even if they were giving you nothing at all, you couldn't even claim to be a volunteer because cleaning is something that people are normally paid for, and allowing foreigners to work for nothing would still undercut Americans who need to earn a living. – David Richerby May 30 '18 at 16:33

Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding. Working in a hostel constitutes employment, and you cannot come to the United States as a tourist to work. Even if you're not working for money, you're still performing labor for a business and receiving compensation, which is employment.

To do this legally, the hostel would need to sponsor a visa for you (a time-consuming and expensive process if it's possible at all) and comply with federal and state labor laws, including paying wages (which is not simply "a free bed"), paying overtime, paying employment taxes and withholding your taxes, ensuring you are covered by workers compensation if you're injured at work, etc...

If you do this, you could be caught at the border and sent back. A long stay can attract suspicion, which could lead to questions about how you intend to support yourself, and they could conclude you plan to work illegally and return you to Canada. If you do wind up working at the hostel and are caught, you could be deported and banned from the US. And you'll be working for someone who has demonstrated he's willing to break the law by hiring you illegally, which does not inspire confidence you'll be treated well.

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