Petition raises concerns about work authorization delays for international students

by Gigi Grigorian | 6/13/19 9:11pm

hall

Several international students have lost their summer internships or had them delayed due to lags in federal work authorizations.

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Over 1,000 individuals have signed a petition addressed to College President Phil Hanlon and the Board of Trustees expressing frustration over long processing times for international students’ federal work authorizations and calling for support and curricular reform from the College. The delays have resulted in some international students losing internships and money spent on unused housing and flights, according to the petition. 

Optional Practical Training applications, which are required by international students to obtain government authorization to work in the United States, can only be submitted 90 days before students’ internship start dates. However, the petition states that OPT processing is taking up to five months.

International student Lucas Albuquerque De Godoy ’20 said that he has already moved into a Chicago apartment for his summer internship, but has not yet received OPT approval. While his internship offer has not been rescinded due to the delay, he said he must now wait indefinitely, without income, for this authorization.

The delay preventing Godoy from starting work is not an isolated issue, as other international students at the College are dealing with similar problems, resulting in delays and even the loss of job offers. 

To resolve the delays and uncertainty that come with waiting for OPT approval, the petition calls for the College to grant students Curricular Practical Training, an option already employed by several other universities, including Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University. CPT is granted by a college or university and takes an average of two weeks to process, according to the petition. Specifically, the petition asks the College to grant international students “emergency CPT,” or CPT for this summer, so that they can participate in their internships as planned. 

In order for CPT to be approved, however, students must be able to receive course credit for their internships. 

“Under CPT regulations, a CPT course must be part of the student’s legitimate program of study,” College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email statement. 

Lawrence wrote that currently, only two undergraduate credit courses exist at Dartmouth in which students complete specific internships within a designated term. She noted that these kinds of internship-related courses would allow international students to receive CPT authorization.

Hamza Kasumba ’21, who said he will most likely lose his summer internship at Facebook due to OPT delays, said the College is looking into the possibility of modifying a course for Dartmouth graduate students that typically grants CPT so that undergraduate students can enroll in it and participate in internships this summer. 

According to Nour Benmohamed ’21, who has also experienced OPT delays, several professors in the computer science department have expressed their support of undergraduates enrolling in a graduate course that offers CPT. If undergraduates majoring in computer science are permitted to enroll in this course, they can use the CPT approval to participate in their internships. However, Benmohamed said that the international students majoring in other subjects must wait for approval from the respective departments in which they are majoring. 

The offer of “emergency CPT” to students is not unprecedented. Earlier this month, international undergraduate students at Yale faced the same uncertainty regarding their summer internships due to indefinite OPT processing times. However, in response to student concerns, Yale introduced a new course called “Fieldwork Practicum Analysis” — by enrolling in this course for this coming fall semester, students can receive CPT authorization for their internships this summer. 

“I think Dartmouth thinks that [the receipt of course credit for internships] is not compatible with its liberal arts commitment,” Godoy said. “What we’re trying to make them understand is that it’s unacceptable to not become a little bit less liberal arts on paper if this prevents the international student body from incurring major losses.”

Lawrence wrote that the College has informed the New Hampshire congressional delegation of the long OPT processing times, and has reached out for assistance in accelerating the process. Additionally, she wrote that the office of Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) is assisting with individual unprocessed cases, and the Office of Visa and Immigration Services at Dartmouth has contacted all students with pending OPT applications asking if they would like to pursue that option. Lawrence added that the College is also providing meals and housing through the interim period for the affected students. 

According to Kasumba, six international undergraduate students met with College provost Joseph Helble yesterday to express their concerns and discuss possible solutions. Benmohamed, who was in the meeting, said Helble “seemed to be welcoming” to student ideas. However, Kasumba expressed concern about a lack of transparency regarding the steps they are taking and the timeline of the work.

Kasumba also said that he, along with two other students and a Dartmouth community member, met with Hanlon this morning. Kasumba said that in the meeting Hanlon was not familiar with the differences between OPT and CPT authorization and referred the students to Helble.

For students who have lost, or might lose, their internships for this summer, Helble has offered paid on-campus research opportunities. Benmohamed said that while these positions are “not a solution” to the problems faced by international students, she said she appreciates the alternative to her planned summer internship and that the College kept international students “on their radar.”

The College has not yet announced if it will provide meals and housing throughout the summer for all students pursuing these research positions, Benmohamed said.

Lawrence said that the College is also working to identify long-term solutions for future years. 

“The provost and the dean of the faculty are working on finding a path to provide additional CPT options for 2020,” Lawrence wrote.

Benmohamed said that believes the College is taking students’ requests seriously and said that she is “really hopeful for next year.”

The petition organizers sent a list of signatures and a formal request for change to Helble on June 13. 

Rachel Pakianathan contributed reporting.

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