I Should Have the Right to a Paid Internship

Natasha Jokic, Contributing Writer

This month alone, I learned about a variety of incredible paid internship opportunities from amazing companies like CNN and NBC. However, I cannot apply for a single one. That’s not because of resume issues or time constraints. It’s because I’m a new international student.

If you’re an international student, you can work in a paid off-campus internship by applying for pre-completion Optional Practical Training temporary employment. This lasts for a maximum of 12 months per degree level and is ultimately approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for work that’s related to your field of study. If this all sounds frightfully dry, know that your international peers have already had to go through a proverbial minefield of immigration acronyms. However, there’s one big caveat with OPT: you can only apply after a full academic year has passed.

I can see how waiting a year to apply for OPT might not be the biggest issue in the world for undergraduate students. In my experience, most first-years would rarely prioritize a part-time internship over academic studies, and are generally trying to get to grips with what on earth it is that they actually wish to do. However, I am not an undergraduate student. My master’s program is only three semesters long, but OPT does not recognize this. In practice, this means that I have to wait until two thirds of my degree is complete before I can undertake a paid internship.

While nothing is stopping me from working an unpaid internship, many of the larger New York City companies are now, thankfully, paying their interns. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and I’m not suggesting that companies shouldn’t pay students for their work, but it can leave international students with far less choices than their domestic peers. There is something unfair about the way that my classmates could begin earning money, for almost the exact same work that I will do, just because they’re citizens or residents of the U.S. After all, I also pay tuition, work toward good grades and want to graduate with the best credentials possible.

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I cannot find any reason as to why pre-completion OPT can only begin after an academic year. This is just conjecture, but a lot of U.S. international student policy seems to revolve around proving that you are in this country to learn. I have proved that through embassy interviews, a plethora of government documents and the very fact that I have uprooted my entire life for the opportunity to study at such a prestigious institution. My dedication to my studies should not be continuously called into question simply because I am not a U.S. citizen.

Some may argue that I am fundamentally at NYU to study, not to work. My classes have already proved to be immensely valuable and I don’t doubt that I will learn an incredible amount throughout my time here. However, I am also at grad school to get a great job after graduating. My ability to do so will also depend on the contacts I make, the companies that allow me to learn on the job and the portfolio that I can build. These objectives can only be achieved through undertaking a paid internship. It is time for NYU and the U.S. to strongly reconsider the current system that leaves international students at an unfair disadvantage.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 23 print edition.

Email Natasha Jokic at [email protected]

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