International Office Responds to Criticism

By Cathy Xu ’21

Staff writer

Post-graduate plans are a stressful matter for seniors, but international students face the added stress of obtaining permission to stay in the United States. Doing so requires either Curricular Practical Training (CPT) like work/study or internships granted by sponsoring employers who cooperate with schools, Optional Practical Training (OPT) which allows students to work for up to one year in their area of study, or a federally granted H-1B Visa for specialty occupations. Students also tackle hurdles like the ever-changing and tightening immigration laws, the lottery system, and employers who are unwilling to take chances by sponsoring them.

Given all the above, it was not easy for Maria Antonia Bravo ’18, a student from Colombia, to acquire her post-graduate position in Washington, D.C. However, she was ultimately unable to follow through due to legal issues and had to return to Colombia. 

Bravo worked three on-campus jobs and exceeded the twenty hour per week work limit that the U.S. Citizenship Immigration and Services (USCIS) imposes on international students. Bravo first learned about the restriction during her first-year orientation but forgot it by her senior year. She was reminded of the rule three weeks before her graduation after she had unknowingly violated it. Having failed to comply with the requirements necessary for her to maintain her visa status, Bravo became ineligible for her OPT and returned home. 

Bravo admitted, “I take every responsibility for not being more educated about the process…but on the other hand, I [had] been to [the former International Student Advisor’s] office many times before, encouraging her to do a mandatory meeting for all international students. There are things that we should know that we are not doing.”

In the past, international students have raised concerns about a lack of communication from the International Student Office’s administration. “There are a lot of legal procedures here if you’re not an American citizen, and it can get quite confusing,” says Ylin Wang ‘20. “Currently there’s no clear instruction… of legal procedures that international students can follow. ”

The lack of communication between administration and students has resulted in many complications similar to Bravo’s situation. During his first year, Zouzou Debbs ’20 obtained a work-study job at the Ada Jenkins Center, only to find out that doing so was against the rules of his I-20 visa, despite the position being paid by the college. 

Yasemin Tekgurler ‘19 offered that Human Resources “should know that international students have this regulation…and with the time clock system, it’s very easy to follow hours…if [TimeClock Plus] is not allowing me to clock-in without getting my location, then they can also put a system in the app to…prevent us from clocking in [if we are close to reaching our hour limit].” 

Students also commented that faculty and staff knew too little about international student circumstances, needs, and immigration laws. 

In response, the office is undergoing administrative changes and altering its operations to better support international students. First and foremost, rather than reporting to the Dean Rusk International Students Program, the office now reports directly to Byron McCrae, the Dean of Students.

Bea Cornett, former international student advisor, resigned from her position earlier this year, returning to her own graduate studies. Susan Hatchett is now serving as an interim advisor and, according to Dean McCrae, “has served as an International Exchange Coordinator with a nonprofit organization that places international high school students with American host families. She has also worked with the Center for International Education at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, California.”

According to Carol Sandke, the Administrative Assistant of the International Student Office, staff members are receiving training on the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. “We know this is a concern of the students, and we are doing our best to keep up with things,” she commented.

Sandke then addressed that “[the] office is fully aware that communication was not ideal, and we are going to great lengths to be sure that we respond to students in a timely manner.” She also stated that immigration attorney Will Hummel ‘06 “will be coming on campus… to have an info session with students on CPT and OPT.” 

Additionally, former Davidson parent Carlos Alvarez recently donated $8.4 million to further support international students, on top of the scholarship program that he and his wife have sponsored since 2010. As McCrae expressed, the grant “will work to directly assist [three categories of international students–] international students with financial needs…students beyond college, [and] part of the grant is for all international students.” 

McCrae added that the “Alvarez grant will allow us to hire a full-time position in the career center. The Alvarez grant will help us fill a director position [and] transform [the international student advisor] into an assistant director and have an entirely new position…One of our priorities for the new director of the international program is for [him/her] to be an expert in [immigration laws]…” 

The office is committing itself to various changes with, as McCrae affirmed, “a shared desire to provide international students with more experiences, more opportunities.” Bravo pointed out that here is still much to consider, including international student financial aid “not taking into account exchange rate.”

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