Joya Breems — Staff Writer
Dordt University international students can come to the United States to study on an F-1 visa, a five-year visa allowing students to go to school in the U.S. with a non-immigrant status. To stay in the U.S. after graduation they must apply for one year of OPT, or Optional Practical Training in their field. Several international students and recent graduates have experienced problems with delayed or missing paperwork.
Students have an interview with their embassy to get approved to study in the U.S.
“It’s important to emphasize the fact that you’re reasoning for attending a U.S. university is to study there full-time, and upon completion return to your home country,” David Lee, director of global education at Dordt, said.
There are roughly 710,000 international students in the U.S. and another 200,000 gaining work experience through the OPT program in the 2021 school year, according to BestColleges.
Priscilla Pangestu, a recent Dordt graduate, applied for the OPT program. She now works in Chicago. Pangestu could only start applying for OPT within 90 days of her graduation date, a fast turnaround for starting work that summer. She paid a $410 charge with the application.
“You want to have as much documentation as possible,” Pangestu said. “It’s easier when you have records of everything.”
After a student’s OPT status is confirmed they have 90 days to find employment.
“After you pay so much, you want to ensure you get hired,” Pangestu said.
International students have the extra pressure of proving why a company should hire them instead of a U.S. citizen.
“It’s important for international students to set themselves apart from their competition because many companies argue why should we hire [an international student] when we can hire a citizen or permanent resident right off the bat?” Lee said.
When a student applies for OPT, they receive three pieces of mail from the immigration office: an application confirmation, a document stating whether they accepted or rejected the case, and the confirmation card.
Unfortunately for Pangestu, the confirmation card for her OPT status was lost in the mail, causing a two-week delay in the start of her work. She expected the card to arrive in the mail around July 28, 2022.
“I already knew where I was going to work, I was going to get the card and start the job,” Pangestu said. “They can’t employ me without that card.”
Pangestu didn’t receive a tracking number or instructions on what to do if the card was lost. She consulted her company’s lawyer and together they decided the best option was to start the application process over. By mid-August, her original card finally arrived in the mail. She started work on Aug. 17, 2022.
“I was really frustrated; I cried every day. It’s a time-ticking document; I could’ve gotten paid, done projects, or found a place to live. It’s wasting my money,” Pangestu said.
Pangestu is not the only international student who struggled with delayed paperwork. Adonis Salazar, a Dordt student from Thailand, started class two weeks late because the embassy still had his passport.
Salazar applied for an F-1 student visa so he could study in the U.S. His family hired an agent to help the application process go smoothly. His agent helped him gather the correct paperwork and have everything prepared for the embassy interview.
“It took them three weeks to return my passport,” Salazar said.
The embassy never gave him any reasons for the delay, just instructed him to wait. Salazar was not able to attend Dordt’s week of welcome.
“I thought there was a possibility I might not be able to come [to Dordt] at all; I prayed that [my passport] would come successfully,” Salazar said.
For Salazar, the most difficult part of being an international student is being away from his family.
“At first, I was reluctant [to study off campus] because I’m not that confident about living alone. I thought I would not be able to survive a month without them.” Salazar said.
He calls his mom every night, which is morning for her because of the time change.
Dianna Zepeda is a Dordt international student from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
“I love being different, I love sharing my culture,” Zepeda said.
She cooks genuine Latin food for her roommates, and they have a corner of their room dedicated to dancing.
“Never forget where you come from,” Zepeda said.
The main complication of Zepeda’s immigration process was vaccines. She had to travel to another city to get a specialized second vaccine dose for the mumps. Upon arrival to the United States, she had to submit to a complete medical test and tuberculosis testing.
In her room, Dianna’s dad helped her make a folder with all her documents, passport, tourist visa, F-1 visa, and other important documents
“If you’re going to study abroad be prepared with paperwork,” Zepeda said. “Make sure you have time to reapply if needed and have a plan B.”