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International students playing waiting game with OPT uneasiness

Like many graduating international students, senior Ye Ri Lee waits for her OPT documents in order to  legally stay in the states to work.               Photo by Chelsea Tyler

Like many graduating international students, senior Ye Ri Lee waits for her OPT documents in order to legally stay in the states to work. Photo by Chelsea Tyler

With graduation approaching in less than two weeks, senior Ye Ri Lee’s anxiety about her future grows daily as she waits in anticipation to hear whether or not she will receive an Optional Practical Training visa.

“If I don’t get the visa, even though I got the job, then I just cannot take the job,” said Lee, president of International Student Council.

OPT is a program that allows international students to continue living in the United States, without becoming a U.S. citizen, after completing their four-year undergraduate degrees.

“Every international student has to have a visa to come to the United States,” Lee said. “[An] OPT visa allows you to stay another year after graduation and work in your major-related field.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are currently an estimated 70,000 students with OPT visas.

In the application process, Lee enlisted the help of Margaret Pasko, administrative assistant to the vice president for student life and designated school official for international students. One of Pasko’s responsibilities is reviewing OPT visa application  documents.

“[Pasko] is the person who really helps out with this,” Lee said. “She will tell you what website to go to, what forms to complete, and she’ll check all your information and documents before you send [them] to the government department that organizes this [OPT visas].”

International students applying for this type of visa have to complete a substantial amount of paperwork and pay an application fee.

The government then sends out a confirmation letter saying they have received all of the student’s information. However, applicants may not hear whether or not they were granted an OPT visa for up to 90 days.

Lee must now endure the silence as she waits to be notified about the status of her application. This uncertainty makes planning for her future tricky.

“It’s really hard to plan for this,” Lee said. “Some people get [the visa] within a month, some people get it within 3 months, some people even get it after 3 months.”

While the application process has run fairly smoothly for her, Lee has encountered a few minor problems.

“I had passport pictures taken in Korea,” Lee said. “I knew the picture had to be two-by-two because that’s what it said on the website. I was like ‘Well, this is my passport picture, so it must be two-by-two!’”

But, when she brought the picture to Pasko, they measured it and discovered the was photo one-and-a-half-by-two inches in size.

One student had a problem much larger than Lee’s concerning the OPT program.

“In the 20 years of my employment, there was only one student that was not approved for the OPT program,” Pasko said. “The student had moved and didn’t have their mail forwarded.”

The government had requested a clarification regarding an item in the application, which must be answered within five days.

“It would have been a simple fix, if the student would have gotten the mailing,” Pasko said. “However, once the deadline passes, there is no appeal process available. The petition was denied.”

Associate director of the Institute for TESOL Studies and international admissions counselor Shoshannah McKinney thinks that students applying for the visas need to really focus on the application process and  work to assure they are completing the necessary procedures in a timely manner.

“[International] Students are being given an amazing opportunity from the US government and should take advantage of that,” McKinney said. “However, students need to take responsibility for understanding that process and doing their due diligence in that process just as all graduating students should in preparing for the job search and securing a job after graduation.”

While Lee is hopeful that her petition will not be denied and that she will receive it in time, she is aware of the frightening possibility that it could be. She has to be prepared and consider possible backup plans.

“I could go back to Korea and get a job, but then that’s something I would have to plan from then on,” said Lee. “My sister is in Australia, so I could go there.”

If she does receive the visa, Lee intends to pursue a career in  music business.

She hopes to find work in a bigger city where there are more job opportunities; however, the city, and the country, she will reside in remains a mystery.

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