by Serhat Pala, President and founder of RhinoForce
The United States is the Land of Opportunity for many. This includes the almost 820,000 foreign students who were enrolled in US universities in 2013. They all came for their own reasons, but the one thing the vast majority of them have in common is they probably want to stay here past graduation and build their lives here.
And why wouldn’t they?
As a first generation Turkish-American immigrant who came here as one of these bright-eyed students two decades ago, I can confidently say:
In the US, hard work, education, a positive attitude and a bit of luck can work wonders, even if you are not born into a golden opportunity.
The US is a true capitalist society with a huge market size, where creativity and courage are rewarded.
These reasons and more are why many foreign students at US universities try their best to stay here beyond the 60-day visa granted to them after they graduate. To stay here beyond graduation, these freshly graduated students have only a few options available to them:
1. Find an employer that can apply for an H1-B specialty occupation work visa for them.
The problem with these visas is they are in such high demand that last year the entire cap of 85,000 visa applications was exhausted within one week of its application start date.
2. Do more schooling, like going on to get a graduate degree.
This is good if you can afford it and you have the stamina for it. By continuing with school, you are increasing your chances of staying here, especially if you are in one of the STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and math).
3. Start a business, grow the business and make it succeed.
True, it is not easy to start a business with limited resources in a foreign country, but this is the easiest option of the three. The other two options are equally as difficult, and with starting a business, there are at least more things in your control. With Option 1 and Option 2, you are at the mercy of companies and schools and in the end, you might not even get lucky with what is available to you. With your own business, on the other hand; it is hard and you might fail, but the chances of success are more in your control.
Starting a new business is a terrifying prospect no matter who you are. But, desperate times encourage you to do things that you would not otherwise do. What’s the old saying? Desperation is the mother of invention … or something like that.
Here are the reasons why starting a business in the US may be a better option than leaving your future in the hands of company HR departments and school officials who do not have your best interests at heart.
1. You are in the driver’s seat.
Starting your own business (with or without a partner) puts you in the driver’s seat. You will need help from others, you will have to beg and do things you may not want to, but it will still be you in the driver seat (even if the road is rather bumpy).
2. You have extra motivation.
As an immigrant, or, technically, more like an immigrant-wannabe (until you get your Green Card, the term Non-Resident Alien applies), you have a slight advantage over people born in the US; motivation to stay here. It’s easy to stay here if you were born here, but it’s much more difficult if you weren’t. You will have that added drive and desire to take a risk to build a new life here.
3. You don’t have to pick just one option.
Just because you start a business doesn’t mean you also can’t try to find a job that’ll sponsor you or continue with school in the meantime. Why not have multiple things on the go to increase your chances of staying, right?
4. You probably already want to do it anyway.
According to this Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation poll, more than half of 18-34 year olds (54%) want to start their own business. And that number does not get any less as you get older. There are so many surveys out there that show how people from the older generations want to work for themselves in their own business rather than working for someone else. So, why wait for later to do it?
If you have any inkling of entrepreneurial spirit, you might as well use it at the most opportune time. And, for foreign students who want to stay in the US, the most opportune time is right after graduation when they have six months to sort out how they can establish themselves enough to get a foothold. One of the best ways to get that foothold is to start your own successful business. Every country could use more of those.
A note to young students who want to heed this advice: Know what you can and cannot do with your visa. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Policy Guidance (2010) provides some direction about that. And it’s always a good idea to consult an immigration attorney. One small mistake can cost you a lot.
Serhat Pala is the President and founder of RhinoForce, a full-service internet marketing agency that provides expertise to help its clients plan and execute their online marketing strategies. An immigrant from Turkey, Serhat has founded and run various businesses in the United States with a great degree of success.