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Many international students come to the U.S. with great ideas for starting a business.  The rules surrounding whether a student can start a business are a bit complicated. Here’s what you need to know.

What is a F-1 Visa?

F-1 Student Visa – Issued to international students who are attending a college or university in the United States. Students in the U.S. on F-1 status must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. They can remain in the US up to 60 days beyond the length of time it takes to complete their academic program, unless they have applied and been approved to stay and work for a period of time under the OPT Program.

How Can an International Student/F1 Visa Student Run Their Own Business Lawfully?

Curricular Practice Training (CPT) – Allows international students (F-1 status) to receive work authorization, which will allow them to work for their own companies. CPT must relate to the students major and the course of study and allows the student to work as many or as little hours as he/she desires.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) – Similar to CPT in that it authorizes international students to work for their own business, provided the business is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program. Students must obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) prior to applying for an OPT.

H-1B Visa – Allows a student to continue his or her career working for his/her company, after a one-year OPT period. In order to apply for H-1B visa status, students must at least have a bachelor’s degree of the equivalent in a field related to the position. More commonly, {International Students, F1 visa holders} find an independent company to file an H-1B petition for him/her. That company “sponsors” the student. Once approved, the student will be granted an H-1B visa for three years, with the possibility of extension. International students are not allowed to file for an H-1B visa without the support of another company.

Can I Start A Business While In The U.S. On A Student Visa?

In general, international students in F1 status are forbidden from “engaging in business.” However, immigration law does not expressly forbid F1 visa students from establishing their own business because “preliminary business planning” is not considered “engagement.”

Once the business is established, however, international students and F1 Visa holders are not permitted to operate their own business, engage in business, or receive revenue, compensation, or salary.

A common question that is asked is whether they can “run” their own business without being paid which isn’t allowed because working for a for-profit company without receiving pay cannot be considered volunteering, and is therefore forbidden for F1 visa holders.

Immigration law allows International Students and F1 visa holders to invest in their own company and receive dividends. An income tax return will have to be filed annually if dividend income is earned. Students are able to receive dividend income because it is passive.

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