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International students utilize resources

Rohan Anand | Thursday, October 4, 2007

With increasing numbers of international undergraduate and post-graduate students from Asia, Europe and Latin America, the International Student Services Association (ISSA) is working to keep those individuals updated on their legal immigration status while studying in the United States.

Typically, international students possess one of two types of visas: the F1 or J1. The majority are F1 visa holders, which is the standard student visa. J1 visa holders are usually sponsored either by the student’s country of origin or the U.S. and are generally short-term.

Most of the J1 visa-holding students at Notre Dame are post-graduate visiting scholars or non-degree undergraduate students pursuing an exchange program, according to the ISSA.

Though the rules of maintaining legal status in the U.S. remain relatively constant, international students have to follow specific precautions if they seek employment opportunities either on or off campus.

“They have to be enrolled full time every term before they graduate, stay within the regulations set by F1 and J1 laws, and limit their hours to 20 hours a week,” if they want to work on campus, said Hong Zhu, an advisor for International Students at the Immigration Services Office (ISO).

Students who wish to seek employment off campus or summer internships must undergo a training program called Optional Practical Training (OPT) sponsored by the ISSA.

OPT guarantees students legal employment status for 12 months after graduation for each degree level in case they plan to stay and work in the U.S.

“Most students wait until after they graduate to apply [for OPT],” Zhu said. “For students who want to continue working even after that 12-month period terminates, they can seek sponsorship from their respective employer.”

Additionally, international students pursuing summer internships in the U.S. can qualify for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which designates that the internship is part of a degree requirement. If the internship is not for credit, it qualifies for OPT.

ISSA also helps students obtain social security numbers, if desired.

Sophomore Sahil Rajvansh, an F1 visa holder from New Delhi, India, currently works on campus at Starbucks. While his visa only permits him to stay in the US until 2011, he appreciates how ISSA monitors a student’s immigration status and can come to their assistance easily if their plan changes.

“I’m allowed to renew my visa whenever I want, or receive sponsorship if I decide to continue my education or get a job,” he said. “Having a social security number helps, too, because I just bought a car, but the only problem is that it requires a lot of documentation.”

Rajvansh, like most international students, plans to stay to work in the US after graduation in major cities like New York or Chicago. But ultimately, he said, he wants to return to his home country for further employment.

ISSA has no records of students in the past who have violated the immigration laws set by the U.S. or of students being deported.

Interim Director of the ISSA Bethany Heet said students are frequently updated and encouraged to pay attention to any changes in the laws that might put them at a disadvantage with their legal status if they do not act promptly.

“It’s not that cut and dry,” she said. “What’s complicated about the laws is that there are lots of loopholes which the government changes at all times, and the ISO communicates these changes to help the students.

“We provide a fairly extensive orientation session for international students at the beginning of each year and we’re also committed to helping them with additional things like drivers’ licenses, off-campus work and social security numbers,” she said.

Still, ISSA is always on the lookout for students who may break the rule. The association has contingency plans ready to assist them in case this occurs.

“The regulations [set by the government] are created to monitor immigration as a whole for the entire country,” Heet said. “If a student, say for example, works a month longer than they were authorized to work, we’ll take a deep look at the case and take any legal action necessary to prevent further problems.

“We encourage them to stay on top of the rules so that they are never in that situation,” he said.