The Problems with Foreign Student Visas
Since 9/11 foreign students have come under great scrutiny and have been targeted as scapegoats for our security breaches allowing the 9/11 terrorists to enter and remain in this country. Yet, our university system would have difficulty surviving without them.
Foreign students who enter on F-1 student visas pay full tuition rates and are not eligible for government-funded financial aid. F-1 visas can be granted only to students who will attend SEVIS-approved schools, colleges and universities. Most often, public or government-run schools have not complied with the requirements for SEVIS qualification. Therefore, for the most part, we are talking about private schools.
Foreign students contribute millions of dollars to the local economies and are not authorized to work off-campus. They add a diversity that a university environment should offer and represent the top academic echelon from their home countries. Many of our world leaders were educated in the U.S. and fostered continuing life friendships here which further contribute to our diplomatic relationships worldwide. Yet, only approximately 65% of those foreign students who are academically admitted to American universities and colleges successfully navigate the process of applying for an obtaining
F-1 visas at our U.S. Consulates abroad and enter the US to begin studies.
The monitoring of foreign students has become more intrusive since 9/11. Designated School Officials (DSO) for each authorized institution must register students with an electronically-monitored program known as SEVIS and immediately report any violation of student status. Those violations include working without authorization, falling below the required 12 credit hour full-time course of study, and academic probation. The DSO at the school has substantial control over the student’s immigration status. Regulations dictate the timeliness of changing schools, taking leave, and commencement dates for study.
Upon completion of each academic level, a foreign student is eligible for one year of employment authorization, known typically as Optional Practical Training or OPT. This is granted to foreign students to allow them time to practice the skills and apply the knowledge gained in the US. It can be extended for an additional 17 months if the student graduated with a degree in the sciences, engineering, technology or mathematics (STEM disciplines) and the US employer participates in the federal E-verify program.
The student’s status can be converted to another non-immigrant status or the student can register for the next academic level program. Additionally, the student is considered to be in lawful status for a grace period of 60 days following the completion of either simply the degree program or when the OPT has run its course. Most students who wish to remain in the US will look to convert the F-1 to the H-1B professional work visa. If a student applies for the H-1B and the OPT runs out before the commencement date of the H-1B, the USCIS considers the OPT work authorization to be automatically extended to fill the “gap” between these two dates. However, given the 65,000 limit for professional work visas, it is becoming more difficult for foreign students to stay in the US.