Working for Your Own Startup with an F-1 Visa
The F-1 Visa is a visa classification that lets you study in the United States. So, if you have an idea for a startup while in college with an F-1 visa, can you establish it and work for your startup?
The good news is that you can – with Optional Practical Training.
F-1 Visa Optional Practical Training (OPT)The Optional Practical Training is a 12 month period within which you are allowed to work for your own startup. The purpose of the OPT is to let you implement your course of study in the real world. Essentially, this means that the startup you want to found and work for has to be something related to your present course of study.
As an F-1 student, you have 12 months of full time OPT for an educational level. You can decide to use this to work part-time or full time. However, two months of part-time is equal to one month of full time.
If you are working for yourself, the only available option is for you to work full time. If you are a student in a STEM field, you can get an extension of 17 months, making it a total of 29 months.
When you should apply for an F-1 Visa OPTWhen your OPT expires, you can no longer work for your startup. So, you need to efficiently plan your application for OPT. You need to ensure that you are well positioned to get another means of work authorization when your OPT expires.
One thing you can do is to make sure you do not apply for OPT until you need it. A lot of the preliminary activities related to setting up a startup are not considered work in immigration law.
This includes things like incorporating your startup, leasing office space, meeting with funders, negotiating contracts with vendors etc. To efficiently make use of your OPT time, you can do all these before you apply for an OPT.
Considering your Options after your Optional Practical TrainingOne of the options available to you after your OPT expires is to let your startup sponsor you for an H-1B visa. Applications for an H-1B visa have to be made on April 1 for an October 1 start date.
Also, you cannot apply for an H-1B while you are still studying. This means a lot of F-1 visa holders have to wait for the April 1st after graduation before applying. If your OPT is still valid when you apply on April 1st, it will extend until October 1st if you get an H-1B visa. On the other hand, if your OPT ends before April 1st, you have to leave the US while your H-1B application is pending.
Other options after your OPT include applying for an E-1, E-2 status or an EB-2 national interest waiver green card. In order to get these visas, you need to prove that your business is viable. So, during your OPT, make sure you get angel funding to prove your business' viability.