Even though Babson specializes in teaching entrepreneurship, international students face limitations on actually operating a business in the U.S. While in the U.S., employment (including self-employment) without appropriate authorization is a serious violation of lawful status.
The following overview is in response to common questions from international students in F-1/J-1 status who wish to engage in entrepreneurial endeavors in the U.S. Because there is much speculation around what activities are considered employment in the U.S. (and therefore require authorization), students are strongly encouraged to get professional independent legal advice (from an exclusive practitioner of immigration law) to avoid accidentally engaging in unlawful activities. Email email@example.com to request a list of immigration attorneys.
Some activities may be authorized if F-1 practical training or J-1 academic training (described below) is granted. Consult the Glavin Office to determine eligibility.
F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT): Immigration regulations permit self-employment.
F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Self-employment is not permitted; a clear employer-employee relationship must exist.
J-1 Academic Training: Self-employment is not permitted; a clear employer-employee relationship must exist.
OPT, CPT, and Academic training allow a student to engage in activities (that may or may not involve payment) that are educational in nature and involve a trainer/supervisor in the role of employer*. An employer is someone with the authority to: hire/fire the student trainee; to set an appropriate wage (if applicable); and to assign, monitor, and evaluate the activities being performed by the student trainee.
View the 2010 USCIS memo on the employer/employee relationship.
*Regulations specifically allow a student to employ themselves during OPT.
Planning vs. Operating a Business
Employment can be seen as providing goods or services in exchange for some kind of compensation (monetary or otherwise).
Some planning activities that are generally not considered to be employment (and therefore permissible without specific authorization) are: conducting market research; scoping out and even purchasing physical space for your business; registering a business under your name; securing any necessary business licensing; preliminary meetings with potential clients/customers and/or employees/contractors.
While inside the U.S. in F or J status, you are neither permitted to develop products and services, nor permitted to work for a business that is registered online or outside the U.S. (including a family business) unless you qualify for, and have been granted specific authorization (practical or academic training, as described above).
Blank Center Summer Venture Program & Butler Venture Accelerator
While much of what occurs during membership in the Butler Venture Accelerator (BVA) and Summer Venture Program (SVP) is not considered employment (research, feasibility studies, business planning, etc.), any activity that directly results in income generation is considered employment and requires specific authorization.
International students must consider limitations of their immigration status when setting goals and determining whether the BVA or SVP is right for them.
Passive vs. Active Income
International students must not actively be involved in making money in any way while in the U.S. in student status without authorization (CPT, OPT, Academic Training).
Passive income (dividends, interest received, capital gains, etc.) may be permissible. Consult an immigration attorney to be sure.
U.S. Department of Labor laws prohibit an international student from choosing to be unpaid for work that would otherwise be paid to someone else.
If engaged in activities that would normally be paid, you are considered to be working even if payment occurs at a later time (this means you can’t choose to volunteer until work authorization is approved).
On-Campus Work Considerations
Work that qualifies as on-campus employment must be paid through Babson's payroll with two specific exceptions explained here.
A student must never be paid directly by a Babson employee for activities, including assistance with research, grading, or personal tasks such as babysitting, yard work, etc. as these are not permitted under the definition of on-campus employment.