Can a Student Present in the U.S. on an F-1 Visa Open a Business?

Navigating the complexities of U.S. immigration laws can be challenging, especially for international students on an F-1 visa. At Hasbini Law Firm in San Diego, we often receive inquiries about whether F-1 visa holders can open and run their own business while studying in the United States. This blog aims to provide a clear and straightforward explanation of the regulations and possibilities for F-1 visa students considering entrepreneurship.

Understanding the F-1 Visa

The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa that allows foreign nationals to pursue academic studies in the United States. It comes with specific regulations regarding work and business activities. The primary purpose of the F-1 visa is to allow students to focus on their studies, and as such, there are strict limitations on employment and business activities.

Work Restrictions on an F-1 Visa

F-1 visa holders are allowed to work under certain conditions, but these are primarily tied to their educational program. The main types of authorized employment include:

On-Campus Employment

F-1 students can work on their school campus without special authorization for up to 20 hours per week during the academic term and full-time during breaks.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT allows F-1 students to engage in off-campus work that is directly related to their field of study. This work must be part of their curriculum and authorized by their school.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT provides F-1 students the opportunity to work in their field of study for up to 12 months after completing their academic program. For STEM graduates, this period can be extended by an additional 24 months.

Entrepreneurship on an F-1 Visa

Opening a business while on an F-1 visa is a gray area that requires careful navigation of immigration laws. The F-1 visa does not explicitly prohibit starting a business, but it does restrict the activities F-1 visa holders can engage in.

Passive Investment

F-1 visa holders can engage in passive investment activities. This means you can invest in a business and receive profits from that investment without actively managing or working for the business. For instance, owning shares in a company or being a silent partner in a business is generally permissible.

Active Management and Employment

Running or actively managing a business is where complications arise. Engaging in day-to-day operations, making business decisions, or working for the business in any capacity is considered employment. Without proper authorization, this can violate F-1 visa conditions, potentially leading to severe consequences such as visa revocation or deportation.

Legal Pathways to Entrepreneurship

If you are an F-1 student with entrepreneurial aspirations, there are legal pathways you can explore:

Change of Status

You can consider changing your status from F-1 to another visa category that allows business activities. For example, the E-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals who wish to invest in and run a business in the U.S. However, eligibility requirements must be met, including a substantial investment in the business.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

During your OPT period, you can start a business related to your field of study. This period allows you to work and manage your business legally. However, once the OPT period ends, you will need another visa type to continue working for your business.

Forming Partnerships

You can partner with someone who has the legal right to work in the U.S. while you remain a passive investor. This way, your partner can handle the active management of the business, ensuring compliance with your F-1 visa status.


While the F-1 visa primarily focuses on academic pursuits, there are ways for enterprising students to engage in business activities within legal boundaries. Understanding the limitations and exploring the appropriate legal pathways is crucial to avoid jeopardizing your visa status. At Hasbini Law Firm in San Diego, we are committed to helping international students navigate these complex issues. If you have any questions or need legal assistance, please contact us for a consultation.

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