What to Do When Your Internship Could Get You Deported

Giulia Magnelli*, a New York University junior, considered herself lucky to land an internship at a prestigious television station. That is- until she was informed that she could be deported back to France for not following conditions necessary to begin her internship.

One day she received an email from Homeland Security saying she had a “tentative nonconfirmation” status regarding her internship. She had no idea why. All she knew is that she was at risk of being flagged and deported if she continued to attend her internship.

International students with F1 visas are at risk of deportation if they try to work off-campus without receiving academic credit. Millions of international students are in the United States with student visas. Magnelli’s error? Beginning work while her credit paperwork had not yet cleared. The television station’s error? Not following protocol with her citizenship paperwork.

“It’s not fair that we have everything made more difficult for us,” said Magnelli. “We’ve earned our place here as NYU students, just like anybody else. I’ve worked harder than some people to get here because of the obstacles that stand in the way of international students.”

Students who want to study in the United States must obtain a student visa, either an F-1 or an M-1. F-1 visas allow students to enroll in traditional academic programs, whereas M-1 students enroll in vocational programs.

The F-1 visa is the most common visa. Students in the United States with this visa are allowed to obtain off-campus employment as long as they are receiving academic credit. There are two kinds of off-campus work: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is mostly used by students after graduation because it allows them to work for one year. Students who participate in CPT must submit employment paperwork to their academic department and to the Office of Global Services in order to get it approved.

“The problem was that I accepted an internship when I didn’t have the proper work authorization. They told me everything was fine. At no point was I informed that anything was wrong,” said Magnelli.

NYU offers resources to international students to help them through the internship process. The Wasserman Center for Career Development is available to help them find internships. Individual academic departments have internship advisors and the Office of Global Services is available to assist students with their CPT or OPT paperwork.

Internship coordinators often coach students as to when they should mention they are international: it has to be the right time, not too soon as to hurt your chances, but not too late as to hurt your immigration status, said Thomas Sirinides, Associate Director for International Student Services at the Office of Global Services (OGS).

Oftentimes, employers are less open to hiring international students because the background checks take three times as long as for a domestic student. Ridwaan Omar, an NYU senior who studies finance in Stern, speaks from extensive experience.

“Having recruited both junior and senior year, I have a fair amount of interview experience. It becomes more of an issue of your nationality and working rights. It’s really a question of employers being more open to international students,” said Omar, who is originally from South Africa.

The problem arises because some employers just don’t want to go through the worry of whether a student is going to cost them more money because they might have to sponsor them, said Jonathan Martinez, Academic Advisor & Internship Coordinator for the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication in Steinhardt, adding that some employers are hesitant as to whether it’s legal or not to hire the student.

“A large reason that international students must jump so many hurdles for off-campus employment approved is the government wants to keep tabs on whom they’ve granted visas. The paperwork necessary for CPT is a way to check that students are following the terms of their visas,” said Martinez. “If you’re not doing things that are related to being a student, then you’re not following the terms of your visa,” he said.

The elephant in the room is that the government, as well as educational institutions in compliance with government programs, tend to favor domestic students over international students regarding off-campus employment. If an influx of international students came to the United States to work under the guise of studying, there would be no jobs left for domestic students, said a Wasserman Center advisor.

“I absolutely hate the fact that international students cannot obtain off-campus employment without academic credit. It is made unnecessarily difficult for us which is ridiculous considering we contribute more than $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy,” said senior Hiyori Takashima, a Steinhardt Education Studies Major.

After being alerted to the problem, Magnelli discovered that she needed more paperwork to verify her student status. She was encouraged to contact Homeland Security, who in turn told her to contact her employer. She sought out NYU’s Office of Global Services, and they helped her submit the necessary paperwork. It has been over one month since she began working and her paperwork is still processing.

She is still devoting two full days a week to her internship, despite her paperwork still being in transit. Who knows what will happen next?

“I came to NYU because it was, in my opinion, a school where I would fit in the most, and I wasn’t wrong. If I had to do it again, I definitely would.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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