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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Overstaying in the U.S. could cause trouble for international Hawks

Left: Chai Kalidindi ’18 from Hyderbad, India. Right: Lili Zhang ’18 from Uhu, China (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

A policy memo issued in August by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) changed the way “unlawful presence” is determined and has the potential to affect international students at St. Joe’s.

The USCIS posted the memorandum on Aug. 9, explaining changes to the way “unlawful presence” days are calculated for all immigrants who are granted F, J and M student visa statuses.

Historically, people under F visas who overstayed after finishing their educational programs did not face major consequences as long as they were not involved in any unlawful activities. Under the new rules, however, the moment a person falls out of status, they begin to accrue days of “unlawful presence.”

Student visas are “duration of status” visas, which means that individuals who have them are allowed entry to the U.S. and can remain in the country and “in status” as long as they are enrolled in school to complete their educational program. The memo explained that after that purpose is fulfilled, students either need to leave the country or obtain another legal immigrant status.

The new policy could make it easier for students to unintentionally accrue unlawful presence days, explained Meryl Halpern, director of the Office of International Students & Scholars (ISS). She said her office will need to pay even closer attention to make sure students are aware of what they can and cannot do.

“It used to be much stricter for the unlawful presence to start counting,” Halpern said. “It was very clearly defined strict reasons of why someone would be considered unlawfully present, but now it’s a much broader definition.”

After a student graduates from either a graduate or undergraduate program, they have the right to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which gives students the opportunity to get work experience during a 12-month period after finishing their educational program.

Chai Kalidindi ’18, from Hyderabad, India, expects to graduate in December with a master’s degree in business intelligence and analytics. If he decided not to apply for OPT, he would receive a “grace period” of 60 days to leave the country. After those 60 days have passed, if he were still in the country, he would be under “unlawful presence” and could be banned from re-entry of the U.S. from a period ranging anywhere from three to 10 years.

“There are some employers who will accept international students and some who don’t,” Kalidindi said. “It will be quite a struggle. If you fall under a particular category of the visa status and down the line, if you want to extend your stay in this country, you need the visa sponsorship.”

Lili Zhang ’18, from Uhu, China, has already started her OPT application. Zhang, a double major in marketing and business intelligence and analytics, is also planning to graduate in December. Zhang is mostly interested in marketing but thought her second major might help increase her chances of staying in the U.S.

For majors considered to fall under the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) category, there is also an extension opportunity of two more years after the initial period.

This STEM OPT period is company-exclusive, so students must find a company that would like to hire them during that time.

Halpern explained the new policy should not be a problem for students and alumni who stay on top of everything and who pay attention to communications from her office, which regularly updates current students and provides information on what they should do and what they should avoid. After graduation, alumni who stay in the country working through OPT are still the university’s responsibility, so they try to keep them informed as well.

This is not a policy that will impact those who follow the rules and do what has to be done, Halpern said. Hence, the ISS did not communicate this policy change with the international students to avoid creating unnecessary stress or anxiety. Neither Kalidindi nor Zhang was aware that this policy change had occurred.

“As long as they’re maintaining their status and following all the regulations, everything is the same,” Halpern said. “But for those students whose status may be in jeopardy, those are the ones we need to make sure that we are very clear in [explaining] that the results can be significant.”

The best way for international students to be informed is to pay attention to emails from St. Joe’s ISS office, be wary about rumors they hear and reach out to the ISS office if they have any questions, Halpern said.

For cases that fall outside what ISS can do, ISS staff will recommend students seek legal guidance from an immigration attorney. Many immigration lawyers offer free consultations. Students who have more in-depth questions or who are simply looking for professional advice can brainstorm with an immigration lawyer and clarify how things work, according to Matthew J. Hartnett, an immigration attorney for Solow, Isbell & Palladino.

“Keep yourself informed,” Hartnett said “Every person should be their own advocate. If you are not sure about something, certainly consult.”

Hartnett said there have been big and small changes to immigration policies and laws in the past few years that have made it difficult for students and professionals not only to live and work in the U.S. but to feel welcome to do so.

“What the current administration is doing, they’ve made it harder for people who are professional and looking for H1B [work] visas,” Hartnett said. “There’s just this concerted effort to attack immigrants and to be tough on immigration.”

Zhang said while she has found the Americans she has met to be open to Chinese people, she has also noticed a change in the way the U.S. receives immigrants by the language she finds on the USCIS website.

“In the last year the government changed the introduction on the immigration website,” Zhang said. “Usually, it would be ‘America is an immigration country,’ but they deleted this sentence. So maybe in the future, America will not be an immigration country anymore.”

Both Zhang and Kalidindi said they plan on staying in the country after graduating if given the chance, but if they do not find any opportunities to stay legally they will return to their home countries and use what they have learned.

“I haven’t thought anything much beyond,” Kalidindi said. “So, as long as I’m legal here, I’ll be staying here and if I get a chance to be sponsored or anything, I’ll be happy to stay. Or else, I’ll go back. That’s fine.”

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    lance johnsonOct 21, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Sadly, Trump’s contentious issue is yet one more thing that makes being an international student away from home difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.