International Students Face Increasing Difficulties Staying in the US, NYU Says in Letter to Congress

NYU and 57 other New York colleges signed a letter to the state’s congressional delegates asking for help in dealing with visa processing delays and other issues international students are facing.

NYU international students have been having trouble with visas including delayed processing and losing job opportunity because people don't want to sponsor them. NYU wrote a letter to New York Congress representatives on this issue. (Photo by Alan Tran and illustration by Jorene He)

Gallatin senior Gleb Shcherbakov, who is originally from Russia, reapplied for his student visa last summer. When he submitted the application, he was told that his visa would require more time to process.

“They say administrative processing can take up to 90 days,” Shcherbakov said. “I’ve been waiting for over a year now.”

International students like Scherbakov have faced demands for more evidence and increased delays when obtaining visas, leading NYU and 57 other New York colleges to write a letter last week asking state representatives to monitor and alleviate the situation.

NYU has the highest international student population in the U.S., with over 17,000 students from other countries. New York state is second only to California in total international students. As a result, New York colleges are particularly concerned about policies that have made it more difficult for international students and staff to continue their education and work in the U.S., according to a press release.

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Fifty-seven of these colleges signed a letter to New York Congressmembers raising concerns over delays in processing visas and in a federal job-training program, in addition to increased requests for evidence during the visa application process.

“The bottom line is that current policies have made it harder for foreign students to study and work in the U.S., resulting in many international students choosing to study in other countries,” the letter reads. “Which not only weakens America’s higher education system, but our overall global competitiveness.”

For Shcherbakov, this policy debate has manifested in his inability to study in the U.S. After reaching out to NYU for help, he was referred to a government liaison and told he could send a request to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to petition the U.S. Embassy to receive his visa. He got the same response from the senator as the liaison — that his visa was undergoing processing that cannot be expedited.

Shcherbakov also went to NYU’s Immigration Defense Initiative, but received no help.

“It seemed as though they were getting bored with people inquiring about my case,” Shcherbakov said.

Before visas are finalized, they undergo another round of security precautions and review during a period known as administrative processing, the step Shcherbakov is stuck at. The duration of this period has dramatically increased from 45 days to 180 in the past two years, according to the press release.

As a result of delays in processing visas, students like Scherbakov have been unable to complete their studies in a timely manner and have been forced to miss entire semesters.

The letter highlighted international students’ and workers’ contributions to innovative research and the academic community in general. 

“As someone who was educated in three countries and pursued my professional career in a fourth — the U.S. — I can attest to how important openness and mobility are in developing students’ talents,” NYU President Andrew Hamilton said in the press release.

The letter also mentions that delays for Optional Practical Training — a federal program connecting foreign students to job opportunities — have increased, making the transition from student to worker more difficult. OPT gives students 90 days to get a job before they have to leave the country.

2019 Steinhardt graduate Arielle Zhao applied to over 400 jobs between October 2018 and May 2019 while applying for OPT, hoping to be sponsored. While many employers were interested in Zhao’s credentials, she cited multiple instances where the tone changed after they discovered her visa status.

In one instance, she had an interview with Discovery Channel after which the hiring manager invited her to the office to see if she’d be interested in the work they were doing.

“I emailed her and I was just like, I should be up front with her and tell her about my visa status, because that’s what you should do,” Zhao said in a May interview. “So I told her, ‘by the way, I’m international and I would require H-1B eventually,’ […] she got back to me and [said] ‘I’m sorry but we’re not participating in that, we’re very sorry.’”

Zhao said she experienced similar situations with other companies, where the application and interview process went well until she mentioned her international status, at which point communication would be cut off.

“Even if I do my job better and work harder and am more competent, [companies] have to pay money, they have to send in a lot of paperwork,” Zhao said. “The way it’s set up for them right now, a company would probably just rather hire someone who is American.”

Companies aren’t the only ones required to fill out a litany of paperwork. Zhao said in previous years the application for OPT was two pages long, but by the time she applied it was seven. She said the application takes three months to process. 

“I think that just goes to show that every year, it’s still an ongoing thing where it’s getting harder and harder and the government is just putting up more and more barriers for if you want to stay in the United States,” Zhao said.

Zhao said she is disappointed that legal barriers stopped her from getting a job.

“I decided to go to New York; I thought it was very open and there was a lot of cultural diversity here,” Zhao said. “But at this point I feel like there’s sort of this new policy [that] is forcing companies to intentionally squeeze out all the actual interesting perspectives and diversity that it could be including.”

Additional reporting by Sakshi Venkatraman.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, October 21, 2019 print edition. Email Julia Santiago and Victor Porcelli at [email protected]

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