Entrepreneurship and International Students

Many students have expressed interest in starting a business, but wonder how their immigration status affects the process.

In February, we held a forum for students: Explore Entrepreneurship and we plan to hold a similar (and even better!) event this October.

In the meantime, where can you learn more? We highly suggest that you contact an immigration attorney to learn about your options. The Small Business & Non-profit Law Clinic at the Michigan State University College of Law is just one place you can go for more information.

We know that students on F-1 visas can be self-employed during Optional Practical Training (OPT), but it gets complicated when a student wants to start their business before OPT.

Beyond an F-1 visa, what are your options? The International Educator recently published an article about international students starting businesses in the U.S. and how it can be difficult.

However, some students have successfully petitioned for an H-1B visa using their own businesses – with the help of immigration counsel. Others have explored the E-2 (Treaty Investor) visa category though this requires a significant amount of money and is only available to foreign nationals from treaty countries.

There is some good news.

USCIS has recently announced the Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) initiative which aims to focus on optimizing the range of existing visa categories used by entrepreneurs to provide pathways that are clear, consistent and aligned with business realities. (USCIS)

Legislation has also been introduced in the United States Congress to establish an employment-based immigrant visa for alien entrepreneurs. This is known as the StartUp Visa Act of 2011.

Though it is anyone’s guess whether it will be easier for foreign nationals to start businesses in the U.S., it is promising that the conversation is taking place.

What do you think?

Photo Credit

Laura Wise is an International Student Advisor and Experiential Learning Coordinator at Michigan State University. She works to connect students with campus and community partners through professional development opportunities and is currently working on Employer Education and Entrepreneurship as they relate to international students and economic development. She writes for OISS Live on Career Opportunities/Experiential Learning.

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