Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
I’m an F-1 student who graduated this month with my bachelor’s in computer science. I received work authorization under OPT and had a job lined up with a crypto company. I was planning to take some time off before starting the job in July, but the company rescinded my job offer. Do I need to let my DSO know that my job offer was rescinded? What are my options, especially if I want to create my own Web3 startup? How long can I stay in the U.S. without a job? Thanks in advance for your help!
— Gallant Grad
Sorry to hear you’re being forced into a last-minute change of plans. Although it’s inconvenient, this may be an exciting opportunity to explore, and even create something on your own!
In considering founding or co-founding, take some inspiration from Kevin Chou – a serial entrepreneur who worked in finance and venture capital before creating a host of highly successful companies – notably Kabam, a mobile gaming platform; Gen.G, a global esports organization; Forte, a blockchain gaming platform; Rally, a blockchain project for creators; and his latest, SuperLayer, a venture studio that incubates and funds Web3 companies.
Exciting that you are exploring the world of crypto, it has been all over the news lately. In my recent talk with Kevin, he shares his take on the recent crypto crash, Web3 and entrepreneurship.
Chou says it’s never been easier to be a startup founder even in this market. “Obviously, when the markets are good, it’s easier to raise money. But when the markets are bad, it’s easier to recruit a co-founder. And there are still a lot of sources of capital. Seed funding is still very vibrant,” he says. My recommendation,“graduate from college and immediately start on the entrepreneurship path. For an increasing number of people, being an entrepreneur will be a very viable career path. I’d rather do that than work for a big company.”
“A lot of people think the crypto crash means Web3 is dead or that it’s just a fad,” Chou told me. “But crashes get a lot of the excesses out of the system, which is good. Crashes get the tourists out of the system—people who are not building anything of substance and are just looking to collect their millions. Now is a great time to put your head down and get a team together that’s really passionate about building a new service or product.”
Keep Chou’s words of wisdom in mind as I lay out some options and answer your questions.
Do I need to notify the DSO?
Yes, you should absolutely notify the Designated School Official (DSO) at your university ASAP about your situation. Federal regulations require you to notify your DSO within 10 days of any changes to your employment or personal information. DSOs are required to update information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) system within 21 days.
How long can I stay unemployed?
F-1 students on OPT are only allowed to stay unemployed for 90 days after they graduate before having to leave the United States.
Without Optional Practical Training (OPT), F-1 students can remain in the U.S. for 60 days after graduation. This 60-day grace period also applies after OPT expires unless the F-1 student applies for a two-year extension known as STEM OPT or finds another visa category.
What are my options?
The first option is to take Chou’s advice and create your own job opportunity by founding or co-founding a startup! Web3 is hot right now and it will relate to your Computer Science degree from an F-1 OPT standpoint. Founders are allowed to be self-employed in F-1 Regular OPT once you receive your EAD card.
If you’re not ready to make that move just yet, you have a few options for finding another job in your field of study…
Regardless of layoffs and hiring freezes at crypto and other tech companies, the unemployment rate, particularly within computer systems design and services, remains low. So finding another job in your field should be fairly easy, particularly since you already have your employment authorization in hand.
Launching a startup on OPT
Back to that startup option. You can start your own company under an OPT EAD (Employment Authorization Document). You just need to set up your company and obtain any business licenses required by your state. Note that most of the work done at your startup must be related to your field of study.
As a STEM grad, you can apply for STEM OPT as early as 90 days before your OPT EAD is scheduled to expire. However, for a STEM OPT EAD, your startup must have an employer-employee relationship with you. That might have implications for the ownership of your startup, and you will need someone else to supervise you and have the ability to fire you, such as a co-founder. Your startup must also create a training program for you, get approval from your DSO and enroll in the government’s e-Verify system. These are all very doable, but you should keep these factors and compliance to-do’s in mind if you proceed down this path.
Whether you find a position at another company or create one at your own company, either company can register you in the annual H-1B visa lottery every March for the next three years while you are under OPT and STEM OPT if you set things up to qualify.
If your startup plans to sponsor you for an H-1B, you will need to demonstrate an employer-employee relationship; startups with multiple co-founders make this process easier. Your startup will also have to meet other requirements, which you should discuss with an immigration attorney.
The three years under OPT and STEM OPT will also give you a great chance to build up your qualifications for an O-1A extraordinary ability visa, which is ideal for startup founders and entrepreneurs! So many options!
This is an exciting time, enjoy it!
All my best,
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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!