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Ask Sophie: Can I launch a startup if I’m in the US on a student visa?

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Here’s another edition of “Ask Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Ask Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I just found out that I’ve been accepted to an American university, which was my first choice!

One day, my dream would be to create my own startup in the U.S. Is there any groundwork I am allowed to lay to make my dream come true?

— Forward-Looking Founder

Dear Forward-Looking,

Congratulations on starting your U.S. journey to make your dreams come true! The United States needs entrepreneurs like you who have the grit, determination, and innovative vision to create technologies that improve our world!

I want to launch my own startup in the U.S. If if I have a student visa, what groundwork am I allowed to lay to make my dream come true?

However, a word of caution: the F-1 student visa is only for individuals who do not intend to permanently immigrate to the United States. I’ll share more details below.

Following through with your studies and graduating will set the stage for you to get an employment authorization document (work permit) so you can embark on fulfilling your dream. Let me start at the beginning and talk about the F-1 student visa.

F-1 visa

The F-1 student visa is a non-immigrant visa that enables you to study in the United States at a SEVP-certified school and offers the most options to work both before you graduate and after. For a non-immigrant visa, you must demonstrate to immigration officials—at visa interviews and when you enter the U.S. at the airport or other port of entry—that you intend to eventually return to your home country. If you express immigrant intent (the intention of remaining in the U.S. permanently), you may be denied an F-1 visa or entry into the U.S.

As an international student, you—neither the university admissions office nor the international student office nor the university’s Designated Student Officer (DSO)—are responsible for your maintaining legal status. Villalobos strongly recommends attending your university’s orientation for international students and staying in close contact with the DSO at your university. A DSO will need to sign off for your work authorization under OPT and STEM OPT.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Getting practical training

As a full-time F-1 student, you cannot work in the U.S. without proper work authorization. If you do, you risk severe consequences, including denial of future immigration benefits or even removal proceedings.

OPT enables you to get a proper work authorization (an Employment Authorization Document, also known as a work permit) to gain practical work experience in your field of study. Students are eligible for up to 12 months of full-time work under OPT either before they graduate (pre-completion OPT) or after they graduate (post-completion OPT).





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