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F-1 Student Optional Practical Training Visa for Entrepreneurs

If you are a foreign national entrepreneur seeking to start a US business, one of the visa categories that may be available to you is the F-1 Student Optional Practical Training visa provided that you meet the requisite criteria. For additional information, or for a consultation with an attorney about the specific facts and circumstances of your case, call or contact the experienced attorneys at The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates. Our lawyers have more than 50 years of combined experience in a multitude of complex immigration law matters.

What is the F-1 Student Optional Practical Training Visa?

The F-1 student optional practical training visa (OPT) is available for foreign nationals who are students in the US, to engage in temporary employment that relates to their major area of study. OPT status is available for an initial period of up to 12 months for each level of education (undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate), with extensions up to 17 months available for those with a course of study in a STEM field.

How does the F-1 OPT visa work for an entrepreneur?

The F-1 OPT would be an option to look at if you are will study at a US college or university in a field that would qualify as a specialty occupation, you plan to start up a new business in the US, and you will work for the business in your area of expertise. OPT would allow you to work while in school or shortly after graduation. This visa is limited to a maximum of 12 to 29 months, depending on certain factors, after which you should switch to a different visa category such as H-1B, E-2, or a permanent resident solution. Let us plan a business strategy that works best for you. We are an innovative firm with proven results.

Requirement 1: The OPT must be related to your major area of study

In order to utilize OPT for starting a business, the work that you will perform in the new business must be directly related to your major course of study.

Requirement 2: Determine whether your OPT will be during school, after graduation, or both

Pre-completion OPT

You may be eligible for pre-completion OPT after you have been enrolled for a full academic year. Work authorization is for part-time during the school semester or term, and for full-time during vacations and while school is not in session. Part-time work means not more than 20 hours per week.

Post-completion OPT

Eligibility for post-completion OPT begins after you have completed your studies. The reason you must decide between the two is because the time you work in pre-completion OPT is deducted from the time available to you in post-completion OPT. If you are working in pre-completion OPT status, the amount of post-completion OPT that is available to you is reduced by one month for every two months of part-time pre-completion OPT work, and is reduced by one month for every one month of full-time pre-completion OPT work.

Do I qualify for the 17 month STEM extension?

The 17 month extension may be available to you if you have completed a qualifying STEM degree, which means a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. You must also be currently in an approved post-completion OPT employment status based on your STEM degree. Additional qualifications are that you must have a bachelor’s, master's, or doctorate degree that is included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, your employer must be enrolled in E-Verify, and you must submit your application before your current post-completion OPT status expires. The purpose of the STEM extension is to allow a US employer to recruit those students and allow enough time for an H-1B petition to be filed. As an entrepreneur, the H-1B pathway may be available to you as well, as explained in our previous article.

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an Internet-based program, a system run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The purpose of E-Verify is to determine whether Social Security numbers are valid and whether new hires are eligible for employment. The system accesses a database of information from the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 compared with SSA and DHS database records verifying employment eligibility and identity.

How do I apply for OPT?

In order to apply for F-1 OPT, you must obtain a recommendation from the Designated School Official (DSO) who will endorse your Form I-20 and make the necessary notation in the SEVIS system, which is utilized to keep track of F-1 students. After filing your application with USCIS, upon approval you will receive an Employment Authorization Document card, otherwise known as an “EAD,” at which time you may begin employment.

Additional information about F-1 OPT

There are currently about 70,000 students in OPT status according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Approximately 23,000 of those students are currently enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) courses of study. ICE estimates show that around 12,000 will utilize the STEM extension. If you have any questions about the F-1 student optional practical training visa for entrepreneurs or any of the other types of immigration visas that may be available to you. Please contact our immigration attorneys at The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates, Co., LPA for a consultation with an attorney at an office near you.

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