International Internships in the United States: New Challenges

Posted on Aug 23, 2019 | 0 comments

International Internships in the United States: New Challenges

Studying abroad is a dream for many: a chance for travel, exposure to new influences, a way to create meaningful international networks. Hosting countries benefit from the diverse talent international students bring. For international students studying in the United States, however, this past year has presented some unexpected challenges.

International students hoping to gain hands-on experience through summer internships or post-graduate work are required to get a special type of visa in addition to their F-1 student visa, which allows them to work in a defined capacity in connection with pursuing an educational program in the United States. The OPT provision allows F-1 visa holders to work at a summer internship or stay in the U.S. for one to three years after graduation in order to work in their field of study. For a variety of reasons, students seeking the OPT authorization have faced months-long delays.

In previous years, the average wait time for an OPT visa was about three months and appeals were possible to obtain a visa locally if time ran longer. Last year, this possibility was removed, and the current wait time is between five to seven months. Denial rates have also increased in the past year.

College administrators are also raising concern over delays in processing visas for students to begin studying in the United States. International students admitted for the fall semester are seeing delays as long of as six to eight weeks to get their F-1 student visas. Some schools are reporting delays that are affecting over 50% of their international student population.

Many worry about the long-term affect that these delays will have on enrollment and impact to the US labor market. One official points out that international students have faced a stringent selection process that results in some of the best and brightest talent available; these students have the potential for great contributions as students and workers in the United States.

College Administrators have expressed fears that American Universities will face serious losses of talented international students due to these processing delays. A consortium of leaders from schools such as Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Yale have appealed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Congress to decrease OPT visa wait times to avoid significant decreases of international engagement with US higher education.

Colleges around the country are trying various approaches to enable international students to gain professional experience. Once tactic is employing Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Under CPT, students engage in internships/jobs as part of their program of study. Such placements don’t require federal approval; the authorization is derived from the university. While many universities have rushed to create this option, there is a significant area of concern: Any student who completes 12 months or more of full-time CPT is ineligible for the OPT visa, meaning remaining to work after graduation under this visa program would no longer be an option.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is aware that some schools are instigating CPT to avoid OPT authorization delays and have cautioned that the two programs are not interchangeable and should not be treated as such.

Administrators fear that prospective international students may avoid applying to US universities if they feel the process is overly complicated, too difficult or uncertain, or lacking in transparency. A perception of shifting rules/regulations may discourage students from even beginning the labor-intensive application process. There is already a documented trend in declining admissions. In the 2016-2017 school year, more than one million international students added $39 billion dollars to the United States economy. In the fall of 2017, the Institute of International Education reported that 45% of campuses have experienced an average of a 7% drop in international student enrollment. This trend needs to be acknowledged; universities and corporations need to make additional overtures and accommodations to prospective international talent to ensure the United States doesn’t lose a valuable resource.


Interested in learning more about internships in a new country?

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