F1签证留学生是否可以创业自己开公司?

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今天有朋友问我,她在美国留学的儿子想注册公司、销售中国公司的产品,是否可以?

这个问题我先用中文搜索了一下,发现好几个排在前面的答案不靠谱,有明显的错误。

这种问题不要轻信网上的博客、知乎「达人」、自媒体和所谓的「成功人士」,因为涉及到 legal status,不是说创业失败赔了几万块钱的小事情,而是可能触犯移民法规、给自己的合法身份带来风险。当然,并不是说 F1 学生创业一定违反身份、也不是说违反身份就一定会被抓,而是说不应该因为微信朋友圈或公众号有人说可以,就去冒这样的风险。

这种问题应该请教谁呢?移民或商业法律师,或你所在学校主管国际学生的官员/机构。如果一定要在网上找资料,只应该相信(1)移民局官网的资料,(2)能核实身份的律师说法,和(3)知名学校主管国际学生的官员或机构的官方说法。注意一定要能核实身份、是官方的说法,而不是一个自称移民律师、或「我有个朋友是移民律师」、或自称在学校国际部工作过的人在公众号、朋友圈、社交网站上说的话。

卡耐基梅隆大学 Swartz 创业中心的说法

卡耐基梅隆大学是美国著名的私立高校(在2018年 US News Report 中排名全美25,参见这篇文章),每年招收数千名国际学生(2017 年 statictics 参见这里)。它的「Swartz 创业中心」“Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship” 致力于帮助该校学生、员工和校友创业,并在卡耐基梅隆大学官网发表了一系列问答:Starting a Business While in F-1 Student Status;原文参见这里。下面是我的编译/解读。

Q. I’m in F-1 status. Can I work in the US?
A. Yes, you are eligible to work part-time for Carnegie Mellon University while school is in session and full-time (for Carnegie Mellon) during your vacation periods.

解读:F-1 可为所在学校工作。

Q. Can I work off campus?
A. To work off campus or for an employer other than Carnegie Mellon, you must have some type of employment authorization. The most common types of off campus employment authorization for F-1 students are Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).

解读:F-1 若为其他雇主工作必须有工作许可,最常见的是 CPT/OPT。

Q. Can I invest in the market or in a business?
A. Yes, but profits will be taxable and there may be immigration implications if it’s your business.

解读:F-1 可以投资,但是收入需要报税。另外,投资自己的生意可能被视为移民倾向。

Q. Can I start a business while I’m in F-1 status?
A. Maybe—in terms of immigration rules, guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has been that starting a business is likely to constitute employment and an F-1 student would therefore need to have employment authorization in order to maintain F-1 status. Government guidance is that OPT would be the appropriate employment authorization for starting a business.

解读:创业可能被视为「工作」,F-1 创业必须要有工作许可,比如 OPT。

Q. What if I volunteer—is that legal for F-1 students?
A. While Immigration regulations allow F-1 students to volunteer, labor regulations do not allow employers to have “volunteers” performing work they would normally hire someone to perform. We do not recommend that F-1 students “volunteer” for professional positions as the employer may be obligated to provide compensation for the services rendered and pay the student for the “volunteer” work. If an F-1 student doesn’t have employment authorizationand the employer pays them for the “volunteer” work, the student may end up working without authorization. The US Dept. of Labor is increasingly interested in monitoring employers who may be improperly using volunteers.
Additionally, students often like to note “volunteer” opportunities on resumes which may give the impression that the experience was “employment” for which the individual should have had employment authorization. Students, and employers, need to be careful about “volunteer” experiences to make sure there are no violations of any applicable regulations.

解读:如果是正常情况下应该支付报酬的工作,雇主不可以不发薪水、F-1 学生也不能假装这是「volunteer」。当然 F-1 可以做真正的志愿工作,比如去社区中心帮助流浪汉。

Q. If starting a business is likely to constitute employment, what employment authorization should I have?
A. For students in F-1 status, the US Dept. of Homeland Security indicates: “The U.S. government considers starting your own business in the United States, also known as entrepreneurship, as work. Therefore, if you are an F-1 student who plans to start your own business in the United States, you must qualify and apply for OPT. Employment on OPT must be directly related to your major field of study. Information about other immigration options may be found at: https://www.uscis.gov/eir/visaguide/entrepreneur-visa-guide#Nonimmigrant

解读:F-1 创业需要申请 OPT,必须与你所学专业有关。

Q: Is there anything that I can do toward starting my business while still on an F-1 visa that doesn’t violate my student status or specifically require employment authorization?
A: Yes. You can engage in discussions or conduct research such as performing customer discovery, engaging in competitive Analysis, exploring potential company formation options and equity arrangements with cofounders, building a test model to explore the technical feasibility of a product, drafting potential marketing materials, etc.

解读:F-1 学生可以为创业做准备,无需工作许可,如前期市场调研、竞争对手分析等。

Q. Can I use OPT during my program?
A. Yes, OPT can be used part-time while school is in session or full-time during vacation periods or full-time after all requirements for the degree, excluding the thesis or dissertation, are complete.

解读:尚未毕业也可使用 OPT 工作,但有些限制条件。

Q. OPT is only for 12 months per level of study. What do I do after that?
A. If you pursue a higher level of study, you would be eligible for another 12-month period of OPT (which could be used part-time while school is in session). Alternatively, if you are in your post-completion period of OPT, if you were in a designated STEM field and if your company fully participates in E-Verify, you are eligible to apply for a 24- month STEM OPT extension. If you don’t qualify for the STEM OPT extension, you would need to change to another immigration status. One possible option is to have your employer/company file for H-1B status on your behalf. NOTE: SEVP guidance is that “F-1 students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983 because F-1 students may not provide employer attestations on their own behalf.” The STEM OPT cannot, therefore, be used if you are the sole proprieter of the company as you cannot be your own employer.

解读:OPT 一年之后若想继续工作,需延期或转换到其他身份。

Q. Are there other options for employment authorization besides OPT?
A. If the company is financially viable, it may be able to sponsor you for H-1B status. Alternatively, the International Entrepreneur Rule that will become effective July 17, 2017. This rule provides employment authorization for eligible entrepreneurs who have established a start-up and who meets the specified criteria. NOTE: US immigration regulations, policies and procedures are subject to change. As you make your plans, pay attention to the current regulatory/policy environment.

解读:这一条恐怕不适用于大部分 F-1 学生,感兴趣的可参考 USCIS 官网

律师事务所的说法

波士顿的律师事务所 The Jacobs Law LLC 在官网发表了一篇文章,Can I Start a Business While in the U.S. on a Student Visa? 原文在这里。我引用摘要如下:

In general, international students in F1 status are forbidden from “engaging in business.” However, immigration law does not expressly forbid F1 visa students from establishing their own business because ‘preliminary business planning’ is not considered ‘engagement’. Once the business is established, however, International Students are not permitted to operate their own business, engage in business, or receive revenue, compensation or salary. [...]

Often International Students will ask whether they can ‘run’ their own business without receiving any compensation, revenue or salary. But consider this – Working for a for-profit company without receiving pay cannot be considered volunteering, and is therefore forbidden for F1 visa holders.

Through investments, International students can receive benefits from their company, without engaging in business. Immigration law allows International Students to invest in their own company and receive dividends. [...] However, an F1 visa student still cannot engage in business without obtaining additional visa status.

简单点说,学生签证可以注册、成立公司,因为注册和成立公司属于前期规划(类似于上面提到的市场调研、竞争对手分析等),但是公司成立之后不能参与运营,哪怕不拿薪水也不可以 -- 为盈利性公司工作,不管是否拿薪水,都不属于“volunteer”性质,必须要有工作许可才行。但是,学生签证可以投资,包括投资自己的公司、以及分红 -- 就是不能参与运营。

结论

若你只是普通的 F/M 学生签证,没有 OPT 等工作许可,你可以在美国注册公司、可以投资、包括投资自己的公司、可以分红,但是不能参与公司运营,拿不拿薪水都不行。另外,自己投资成立一家公司,哪怕不参与运营,也有可能被怀疑有移民倾向的风险。

若你一定想要创业、开公司并且实际参与公司运营,建议你请律师详细咨询。相比创业需要投入的时间、精力和金钱,以及违反身份可能带来的法律风险和后果,花几百或一两千美金咨询律师是件小事,应该花这钱。

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生于湘西农村,毕业于北京大学,曾在广东省中山电视台、北京盛唐传扬公关公司、迪思传媒集团工作,2012 年底搬到美国首都华府,两个儿子都在 Arlington 出生,先后在 Falls Church 和 Vienna 买了两套房。「美国攻略」给新移民提供实用可靠的美国生活信息,很多是亲身经历。如果你经常网上购物,记得用 Rebate 返利,我几年来返了5万多美元。回国探亲请参考《回国礼物攻略》。另外,我还撰写博客「戴睿可美国日记」,偶尔在微信上发一些琐事。如果你觉得本站内容有用,欢迎点击这里订阅

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