International students recommend changes to College in letter

by Elizabeth Janowski | 6/21/19 2:15am

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Parkhurst Hall houses the offices of the president and the provost. 

by Adrian Russian / The Dartmouth

Last week, a group of international students sent a letter to the College administration to call attention to the challenges they have encountered in pursuing off-campus internship and job opportunities. The letter contained six anonymous testimonials from international students and presented six recommendations to the College to better support international undergraduates. 

The recommendations asked that the College increase offerings of Curricular Practical Training — work authorization granted by the College — so that international students could pursue internships and jobs without the longer wait times associated with Optional Practical Training authorization, which the federal government grants to international students. Since the letter and a separate petition requesting CPT for this summer were sent to administrators, the College announced on June 15 that it will offer CPT. 21 students have applied for CPT authorization as of Monday afternoon, according to College spokesperson Diana Lawrence. 

The letter made additional requests that were not acted on by the College. It requested that the College expand the Office of Visa and Immigration Services and improve the resources and information available to international students throughout the process of finding work in the US. The letter also urges the College to advocate for the “expansion of the rights of international students at the federal level.”

“I think that it’s important that Dartmouth takes a political stance on this issue,” said international student and letter co-writer Gustavo de Almeida ’20. “If you look at some of the hostile rhetoric around this issue and around international students and immigrants, this really is an issue that’s harming the Dartmouth community.”

Provost Joseph Helble said that the College currently has no plans of expanding OVIS, despite international students’ concerns over slow communication outlined in their letter. 

“I was very surprised that the CPT option was able to happen this summer,” de Almeida said. “I’ve had issues with OPT twice throughout my Dartmouth career, and therefore I had to give up opportunities in the past. I felt very alone, and it was very frustrating to go through.”

However, letter co-writer Janvi Kalra ’21 expressed frustration that the College had not acted in response to OPT concerns sooner. 

“I know this issue had been brought up to them before, and they had a chance to act rather than react,” she said.

Provost Joseph Helble acknowledged that prior to the dissemination of the letter and petition, a group of students had alerted himself and College president Phil Hanlon to the issue via an email statement. 

“We have been aware for several months, maybe six months, that this was potentially going to be a challenge for international students,” Helble said. “But we — the faculty, administration and staff — were under the impression that the OPT process was still functioning in a reasonably timely manner.”

He added that upon receiving the email, the administration began to discuss work authorization opportunities for international students that would have become effective in the summer of 2020.

“The students played an important part in raising the urgency of the issue, doing it in a way that was constructive and helpful, helping us very quickly understand the impact on them and also helping identify … other colleges and universities that had addressed the issue in different ways,” Helble noted. 

However, for recent graduates, like Lucia Caballero ’19, the College’s expansion of CPT options does not offer a solution to the issues created by the delay. By the time she graduated, Caballero had not yet received OPT authorization that she needs in order to pursue her post-graduation job and consequently could not begin her work as scheduled. She was also unable to return home, since she would not be allowed back into the United States without her student status or OPT authorization. 

“Dartmouth hasn’t offered us a place to stay, a stipend, a meal plan or any reparations in that sense,” Caballero said. “I know that it isn’t Dartmouth’s fault that the government process is delayed, but I do think they have the resources to provide support during this time.”

While Caballero received her OPT authorization earlier this week, she expressed hope that the administration will create a plan to address the needs of international students and recent graduates left stranded by the delays in OPT processing.

De Almeida similarly stressed his desire for the administration to continue evaluating ways that it can support Dartmouth’s international student body. He views the student body’s concern over the work authorization delays as an opportunity to initiate broader conversations regarding the issues that international students face. 

 “Going forward, we want to take this momentum and use it to discuss what still needs to be done and what we should be pushing for,” de Almeida said.