International Students Struggle with Work, Legal Status at U.S. Colleges

By Sarah Jackson on December 30, 2017

Nadja Zakula, a sophomore at N.Y.U., was born in Macedonia and lived there for several years before coming to the United States. She currently studies biology at the private university on an F-1 visa.

In the 2016-2017 academic year, approximately 1,078,822 international students like Zakula—or approximately 1 in 20 students nationwide—attended educational institutions in the United States, according to the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.

These students often face many obstacles to studying at U.S. colleges.

A student worker at the N.Y.U. School of Law, Zakula says her biggest struggle as an international student is staying within the work limitations she must follow.

“They give you a certain amount of hours [you can work], and it has to be in your field of study unless it’s a campus job, so you have to use your hours wisely,” Zakula said. “If I didn’t have that [restriction], I’d apply all over. I’d apply to non-N.Y.U. stuff. [Instead] I’m waiting to find something worth using them on in my third or fourth year probably.”

A close second concern for Zakula involves the complications of travel abroad, including back to her native country.

“There’s a lot more stuff you have to watch out for versus people who just bring their American passport,” Zakula said. “It’d be difficult to study abroad too because you have to make sure everything’s up to date and you have all your signatures, stamps and visas from both countries.”

Image by Francesca Tirico via Unsplash

N.Y.U. had 15,543 F-1 and J-1 international students as of September 2015, more than any other university in the country, according to the most recent annual report compiled by its Office of Global Services.

One of its other international students is Olia Zhang, who comes from Xiamen, China, and attends the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies within the university.

“I had some struggles with the academics, reading and writing intensively, and sometimes I miss my old friends,” Zhang said.

Despite her difficulties learning English as a second language and fending off homesickness, however, she is most worried about job prospects and whether or not they will allow her to stay in the United States after she graduates.

“After graduation, a working visa is hard to get, especially for non-STEM students. For now, foreign students normally get eight months to find a job. For STEM majors, the eight-month period is extended to 24 months,” Zhang said. ”After we get a job, it would depend on whether the company wants to do a sponsorship. And then it would go through a lottery. Last year only about 40 percent, from what I heard, of those who got selected in the lottery get to stay in the U.S.”

Hi there! My name is Sarah, and I'm majoring in Journalism and English at NYU. In my spare time, I like to play the violin, explore the city, and discover more indie rock bands.

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