Starting a Business as an International Student

Did you know an international student on F-1 visa can start a business while in the United States? It could even lead to a working visa, but there are some major details you need to know. It’s not easy, yet not impossible.

Yes, an international student on a F-1 visa can start and own a business. HOWEVER, the business can’t pay the owner, the international student. That is illegal. So, instead the student has two options.

1. Use Optional Practical Training (OPT)

A student can receive OPT for at least one year after graduating, in this case the student can be paid. This time is used to look for jobs that are related to the area of study and to get more work experience. Most OPTs are 12 months, depending on the degree of study, it may be longer. That is the drawback. You’re only allowed to be on OPT for a year, so by the time you start the business OPT is done! Plus, this can be good or bad, in order to qualify for OPT the work has to be related to your area of study. So if you have a degree in engineering, you can’t start a baking business.

2. Get a H-1B visa

Since OPT is only good for a year, most people go for the H-1B visa. This allows you to work for three years, but can be even extended to six years. But, it has a strict application process:

  • You  need bona fide employer/employee relationship. This means a “genuine” employer, employee relationship.
  • You cannot sponsor yourself
  • You cannot have majority ownership of the company
  • Employer must pay prevailing wage and agree to labor condition attestation

To help explain, read the following scenarios.

This would be a correct way to have your company sponsor your H-1B:

“Tom set up a clinic with Jay in which Tom possesses 70% of the stocks. However, Tom built a perfect company structure and set up company rules that are binding on everyone in the clinic, including him. His personal discretion over the affairs and direction of the clinic is very limited. Under these circumstances, Tom can use the clinic to file an H-1B petition for himself.”

Now this scenario would be the WRONG way and you couldn’t have your company sponsor your H-1B:
“Lee built a sole proprietorship online -trading company. The whole company has only one employee: Lee. Under these circumstances, it will be difficult to persuade the USCIS that the company has any independent control over Lee.”
Examples found at


If you are interested in staying in the United States after graduation and think starting a business would be the way to go, we recommend seeking an immigration attorney who is specialized in this area. Don’t start a business until you know EVERYTHING. It’s not worth getting into trouble.

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