Law Offices of Stuart J. Reich, PLLC

Practice Limited to Immigration & Nationality Law

11 Broadway, Suite 615
New York, NY 10004

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I just finished my degree - can I use my Optional Practical Training (OPT) to Start a Business?

Q: I just graduated from school, and I’m on F-1 Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) - can I start a business while on OPT?

A: If your business is in your area of study, it is legally possible to do this – but there are some practical problems with going this route and we therefore generally don’t necessarily recommend least not without due consideration of the potential issues.

The Employment Authorization granted under OPT isn’t employer-specific or job-specific; the only real requirement is that the position be in the area of intended employment. So, there wouldn't necessarily be an issue in starting your own company using F-1 OPT as long as the area of your degree is arguably related to the business of the new startup..

However, there are three potential issues to think about when considering starting a business while still on OPT:

  • International travel. The F-1 visa which underlies the OPT is still considered a “non-immigrant intent only” visa; it requires the intent to return to a home country at the end of F-1 studies plus the OPT period. Starting a business in the U.S. may be viewed as inconsistent with this required intent to return should the fact of entrepreneurship arise either when requesting a new F-1 stamp at a U.S. consular post abroad or at a point of entry, and admission may be refused - leaving the new business tuck without a leader, and the entrepreneur stranded abroad.
  • Obtaining funding for the new venture. Sophisticated investors often want to be sure that the management team has the ability to remain and drive development of the business for at least some defined period of time, which may be longer than what is allowed on the remainder of the OPT period.
  • Planning is a related issue here - the OPT normally provides a short window, at most 36 months with a STEM extension (which would require the new company to be an E-Verify employer - a pretty big administrative hassle for a new company to take on). Without the STEM extension (either because no STEM degree, or not signing up for E-Verify), we're only looking at 12 months of employment authorization..perhaps less if some was used up pre-graduation. If there's no way to be certain that the entrepreneur will have a valid visa status past the end of the OPT period, the planning required for corporate strategy becomes extremely difficult.

True, some people will simply choose not to travel, or do not need to travel during the OPT period. Some individuals considering entrepreneurship opportunities may have the ability to obtain prolonged STEM OPT extensions and so may have enough as not to concern potential investors. There may be enough confidence in visa options to allow planning beyond the OPT period.

We present these points merely as items to consider in the decision-making process.

Contact us here to arrange a consultation, to inquire about retaining us to handle your immigration matter, or simply to suggest topics you would like to see covered on our site.

The above is presented for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship with our firm. The information provided should not be used as guidance in pursuing an immigration matter absent consultation with a qualified immigration attorney.