International Students Struggle with Post-Grad Visas

Emmagrace Sperle | The PhoenixInternational students are facing obstacles with the visa approval process ahead of graduation.

While many Loyola seniors are facing the stress of finding a job after graduation, international students have additional obstacles as they struggle to find employment allowed under their visas.

The timeline for all international students is tight, as they must leave 60 days after graduation if they haven’t found work or made other visa arrangements.

Flavia Festa, a senior journalism major at Loyola who’s from Italy, said she’s feeling this pressure.

“Stress levels for me right now are the highest ever,” Festa said.

There were 775 international students enrolled at Loyola, the most recent data said, according to Marian Carlson, the associate director for the Office of International Students and Scholars.

Festa, 22, said she is hoping to find work so she can stay in the United States.

“For me, if I go back to Italy it will almost be impossible to find a job because of the economic situation in the country right now,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the degree, the field you graduated in or the country.”

The first problem international students such as Festa face is finding employment in the U.S. Businesses who hire international workers must also pay an additional cost to sponsor them, which can discourage employers from hiring international people rather than U.S. citizens.

Sponsorship requires the employer to pay a fee, as well as file paperwork proving the international student is qualified for the position and the position draws on the student’s education, according to Chicago Immigration Attorney Justin Hoefflicker. He said these include three basic filing and background check fees and may also include additional costs to expedite the process or pay an attorney.

Festa said this can be especially difficult for small businesses who can’t afford the sponsorship cost.

“For me, as a journalist, most people don’t start in big companies,” she said. “So, if you start at a local newspaper, they probably won’t have the money to sponsor you and if you don’t get a visa you still need to leave.”

Loyola senior economics major Ximena Aranda is originally from Mexico and attended school in Venezuela before coming to the U.S. She said most companies she applied to won’t take international students because of the extra paperwork required for the sponsorship process.

“When I say I’m an international student [employers] say ‘Sorry, but we don’t sponsor.’ So it’s the first thing I need to tell them, even before I give them my resume,” she said. “I could be a great candidate but if they don’t sponsor, my loss.”

Festa said even with a sponsorship, international students still have to rely on chance to get a work visa due to the high volume of requests and limited positions available.

“You have to be lucky to get that first try,” Festa said. “There’s a lot of people who apply every year and there are a limited number available, so it’s if you get lucky and your application is better than other people, then you get a visa.”

Once a student is sponsored, they’re entered into a pool of people waiting for a work visa.

In 2018, 199,000 work visa applications were received; however, there are only 65,000 H-1B work visas available each year for anyone, including those who aren’t students, according to the U.S. Department of State. Due to the high volume of applications, it closed after six days and a lottery system chose which applications would be processed.

Other international students, such as Loyola senior international business major Dayan Paiewonsky, who’s from the Dominican Republic, pursue options such as the Optional Practical Training program (OPT), which is a temporary work permit for up to 12 months after graduation.

In the email, Carlson said 173 Loyola graduates are on post-completion OPT.

Paiewonsky said the OPT comes with its own problems. He explained the forms can take three to five months to be processed and verified so students often fill them out before they have employment lined up. This means students often have to guess an exact start date for a future position.

Hoefflicker stressed people must start on the date listed on their form. If they start before or after the estimated start date it’s considered a breach in compliance.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the work must also be directly related to the student’s major or a class they’ve taken, which can limit the options available. Hoefflicker said this is true for both H-1B and OPT positions.

“This can be as murky or as clear as immigration wants it to be,” he said.

Paiewonsky, 22, acknowledged it’s a struggle for all students to find work, but the lack of networking and advising for international students makes it more difficult for them.

Aranda and Festa said while ISS was helpful in the original visa process, it hasn’t been as useful since students arrived at Loyola. The ISS helps international students access resources and handle their visas.

Aranda said it’s disappointing how there’s only two counselors available to help international students with paperwork, despite the great number of international students. She said it’s frustrating to rely on a third party such as Loyola to sort out any pressing visa issues when the counselors don’t always give a quick response.

In an email, Carlson said the ISS services almost 1,000 students and the requests they handle are often difficult due to complicated federal immigration rules.

“Our team does its best to ensure that student issues are resolved in a way that is both federally compliant and supportive of the student’s long-term goals,” she wrote. “Our team is proud of the work we do.”

Aranda said she wishes people were more understanding of the pressures international students face and were more accepting of their differences.

“For a university that encourages community and diversity, we shouldn’t be a little group of international students over here and a little group of Americans over here,” she said. “Everyone should be more understanding of what others are going through.”

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