As of the 2017 fall semester, Trinity enrolled 141 international students from 42 different countries. International students, in this case, are students who are citizens of other countries and are studying in the U.S. All Trinity students have a lot to think about, but international students have more to think about than most U.S. students do. U.S. federal regulations have a significant influence on what decisions they can and cannot make. A primary task of the Trinity International Student & Scholar Services office (ISSS) is to help international students successfully wade through these regulations. The list of international thoughts is quite long. Therefore, I will just scratch the surface on a few of the more significant thoughts here. As you read, try to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes!
All students tend to be under a fair amount of pressure when they begin as first-year students. For one key reason international students are likely to be more stressed than U.S. students are. Undergraduate international students may drop below 12 credits only one time because of academic reasons during their studies at Trinity and still maintain legal status in the U.S. Thankfully, the federal regulations are much more lenient if a documented illness is involved. Most of us would admit to having at least one bad semester when things do not go as planned. The federal regulations hold international students to a much higher standard in this regard than most U.S. students.
In the second semester of sophomore year, most students declare majors. International students may struggle with whether or not to choose a STEM major. Why? Unlike U.S. students who flow freely from graduation to the U.S. job market, international students take additional steps and live with more limitations. The first step is to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), at the ISSS. Once granted, OPT provides work authorization for up to one year. Their employment must directly relate to their majors. Here is where the STEM issue comes in. Students with STEM majors may apply for two additional years of employment. So, as you can see, there is much more involved when choosing a major and planning a career for an international student.
Obtaining a summer or semester internship is on the minds of many third-year international students. They know that having previous employment experience will make them more competitive in the global job market. In addition, they know that an internship with a company before graduation may lead to employment with the same company following graduation. Enter the federal regulations! They require international students to enroll in an internship course and that the internship employment relate to their majors. In addition, students have to obtain employment authorization called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the ISSS. The good news is that this process takes only one to three days.
Graduating international students have to set their clocks to 90 days before graduation. During this time they may apply for OPT, which I mentioned above. The earlier, the better! Why? It usually takes two to three months to receive the OPT employment authorization. A limitation is that students should normally avoid travel outside the U.S. between graduation and when the OPT arrives. As a result, instead of going home or on vacation right after graduation, some international students wait in the U.S. until their OPT is approved.
The plethora of federal regulations governing international students is complicated and far from perfect. Contrary to what we sometimes hear in the media, the U.S. is among the best countries for international students to enter the job market and eventually obtain permanent residency and citizenship. Many successful Trinity international alumni who are now entering or are on the other side of the immigration ladder are proof that the system works. All this to say that the next time you speak with a Trinity international student you will know more about what they are thinking!