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International Students and Entrepreneurship

In October 2011, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced the Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative. This initiative will help “harness industry expertise from the public and private sectors and increase the job creation potential of employment-based and high-skilled visa categories” by allowing F-1 students to start a business that is directly related to their major area of study and giving them a financial stake in its success.

Because starting your own business constitutes work, while in F-1 status a student must qualify and apply for optional practical training (OPT) if they plan to do so. OPT, and thus the business, must relate to a student’s program of study and can occur either before (pre-completion OPT) or after the completion of a program of study (post-completion OPT).

There are different guidelines for F-1 students depending on their situation:

  • Students participating in pre-completion OPT may not work more than 20 hours a week while school is in session
  • Students participating in post-completion OPT may work full-time
  • F-1 students are generally authorized up to 12 months of OPT (part-time pre-completion OPT, on a 2:1 prorated basis, and post-completion OPT combined)
  • F-1 students who have graduated with a degree in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field may be eligible for a 17-month extension of their authorized period of post-completion OPT, if their degree is listed on this Department of Homeland Security STEM-Designated Degree Program List.

After your OPT has ended, you may not continue to work either for your business or for other employers unless you qualify for and receive a nonimmigrant or immigrant status that authorizes you to continue working in the United States.   

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