International Student Entrepreneurs in the United States
For many aspiring international student entrepreneurs, starting a business in the US can be complicated by VISA concerns, access the capital, and exiting the business at the proper time. There are 3 important VISA programs for international students and entrepreneurs to consider.
The H-1B visa program allows founders to own certain types of US companies as long as they hold less than a majority stake in the company.
Under the F-1 VISA program, international students are not allowed to earn revenues or salary for a business they operate. However, they are permitted to become a passive investor or a passive partner in the US startup as long as they’re not too active in the startup’s operations.
The optional practical training or OPT program also allows international students to operate a business that’s related to their field of study for 1 year. Each of these programs comes with different rights and responsibilities concerning your ability to remain in the U.S. Accessing capital for your business as an international founder can have advantages and disadvantages. Some angel investors or venture capital firms may question the long term viability of a company with an international founder, if that founder’s visa status could affect the company’s success on the other hand as an international founder you may be an asset with regard to marketing your expansion potential and your ability to attract foreign investors, likewise having a diverse startup team is often viewed as an asset that protects against groupthink in the entrepreneurial community.
As a non-citizen, exiting your startup may affect your ability to legally remain in the U.S. However, just because you sell your business does not mean you necessarily have to abandon your plans to stay in the U.S. You can ask the buyer to continue to support your employment with the company and your H-1b or another visa status.
This will allow you to continue to pursue a green card even after your business is sold. In the unfortunate event that your startup does not succeed, no you’re not necessarily required to immediately leave the U.S. On an H-1B visa, for example, you are allowed three months of unemployment before you must leave the U.S.You can also go back to school or obtain a job in your field of expertise and then reapply for the H-1B visa. Consider hiring an immigration attorney to help you navigate through the specifics of your legal situation and understand how you can most effectively start a company here in the U.S.