How can students work or start a startup while maintaining their immigration status? •


Here’s another edition from “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at tech companies.

“Your questions are vital to the dissemination of knowledge that empowers people around the world to rise above limits and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in the People-Ops, a founder, or looking for a job in Silicon Valley, I’d love to answer your questions in my next column.” members get access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to buy a one or two year subscription with 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

I am studying bioinformatics at a university in the US

What options do I have to work on my student visa before and after graduation? Can I start my own startup with one of these options?

– Want to work

Dear wish,

I applaud your enthusiasm to get started! The opportunity to work and get an education in your field is one of the draws of studying in the US. Complex immigration rules and regulations for international students – not to mention delays and time limits in processing – can make things challenging, but all you need is a little planning to overcome those challenges!

Your ability to work in your field of study — and for how long — will depend on the type of student visa you have:

  • F-1 student visa;
  • J-1 educational and cultural exchange visa;
  • M-1 student visa.

F-1 offers the most flexible work options

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

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

The F-1 student visa offers the most opportunities to work, both before you graduate and after you graduate. There are two types of training programs available to most international students with an F-1 visa, making them eligible to work in their field:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is available to students at some colleges and universities;
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available before or after graduation;
  • STEM OPT is a 24-month extension of OPT available to students who graduated with a STEM degree designated by the United States Department of Homeland Security.

Working under CPT

If CPT is available at a university or college, students with an F-1 visa are eligible if they have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year and have not yet graduated. Some graduate programs allow or even require students to apply for CPT at the beginning of their program.


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