April 10, 2014
When Hamilton’s international students were accepted to and decided to attend the College, a vast majority of them had to go through an ordeal of paper work and interviews in order to acquire a U.S. visa. In addition, every international student has an I-20 form that is as near and dear as their passport because, without it, they can not reenter the U.S.
Like other international students, once I had arrived on campus with my visa, and had my I-20 form and passport put away in a safe place, I thought that all of my immigration worries were over and that my rights were equal to those of every other Hamilton student.
Unfortunately, I soon understood that that is not the case. An international student can not work more than 20 hours per week and the only place (s)he can work is on the college campus. Also, if an international student decides to stay over the summer for an off-campus internship, (s)he needs to get a supplement to the visa, authorizing him/her to work, called Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Plus, the internship has to be directly related to the student’s major, which means that since first-years do not have declared majors, they cannot have an off-campus internship.
With graduation right around the corner, however, it has become clear to me how complicated the life of an international student becomes post-graduation. The hardships go beyond resumes, job applications and interviews. Applying for an Optional Professional Training (OPT) takes another load of paperwork and many months of waiting. What makes the process especially tricky is that the application takes about four to five months to be approved. If, for example, someone applied for an OPT later in the spring, and the OPT was not valid before July 1, he/she would not be able to accept a job if prior to July 1.
For the most part, students do not have a problem getting the OPT, which allows them to legally reside in the U.S. for 12 months after graduation, but it is very important to note that during that 12-month period, OPT holders cannot leave the U.S. (if they exit the country, they will not be allowed back in, even with an OPT status).
Another challenge some international students face is that many employers do not understand that when a graduate has an OPT status, they do not have to sponsor them or deal with any visa applications. This misinformation often results in companies not hiring international students. A tip for international students applying for post-graduation jobs: be sure to explain to your future employer that once your OPT starts, you are as easy to hire as any American citizen.
If an international student wants to stay and work in the U.S. after the expiration of their OPT status, they have to apply for an H-1B visa, for which they ought to have an employer to sponsor them in front of the immigration authorities. Since there are only 85,000 H-1B visas issued every year, people should submit their visa application between April 1 and April 3 to have a good shot of getting a visa.
Another useful tip for all international students is that every year, usually in the spring semester, Helen Konrad ’84, an experienced immigration lawyer from the McCandlish law firm, comes to campus to explain in detail visa procedures. I attended the meeting with her this past February and now strongly encourage all international students to familiarize themselves with the process. If you plan to spend your junior year abroad, it would be especially useful for you to learn about all the visa tricks as an underclassmen .
Staying in the U.S. after graduation—even if you are lucky to have received a job offer—is not nearly as easy as it may initially seem. This is why many international students decide or are forced to return to their home countries. However, the ones who stay express no doubt that the endless paperwork and waiting is completely worth it. If you or your friends are international students, you can be certain that by the end of your education on the Hill, on top of your B.A. degree, you will have also earned the title of “master” in handling American bureaucracy.
“From Where I Sit” is a column dedicated to the international voices of Hamilton’s campus. If you are an international student and are interested in contributing a column, contact Hristina Mangelova (email@example.com).