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International students face hurdles when seeking U.S. internships

International students have raised issue with the lack of support and advice from Career Services about processes needed to participate in internships in the United States, particularly because most undergraduate international students are on F-1 visas, which means they have some unique concerns with regard to job and internship searches.

International students are allowed to work off-campus for up to 12 months per degree level of study — and STEM majors can extend this period for up to 17 additional months — according to federal regulations, and they have to get permission from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the form of Optional Practical Trainingin order to work,Associate Director for International Students at the Davis International CenterMladenka Tomasevic said.


Vibhaalakshmi Sivaraman ’17 said that she has struggled in the pastwith understanding processes like getting approval for Optional Practical Training, which is a temporary work permit for students with an F-1 visa. Sivaraman is an international student who serves on the Career Services Student Advisory Board, which acts as a liaison between Career Services and students.

“One of the biggest differences [for international students] is that we have to apply for work permit and get an [Optional Practical Training] approved, which is a whole three-month process,” Sivaraman said. “Essentially, that means that we have to find an internship by March, so our deadline is much earlier than other people, because otherwise we will not have a work permit by June.”

Sivaraman said she tried to approach Career Services for help with the job search last year as a freshman but said she was sent to the Davis International Center insteadfor answers to her questions about Optional Practical Training.

“I was personally not happy with the fact that Career Services and the Davis International Center were completely independent and that Career Services knew that there were a couple of clauses in place for international students before they could work, but they weren’t 100 percent sure of the process,” Sivaraman said. “We had to go to Davis to actually find out what the entire process was.”

Sivaraman said that someone at Career Services warned her in January about the Optional Practical Trainingtimeline. Otherwise, she said, she would not have known in time. However, she said she had to “go back and forth between Career Services and Davis International before [she] could understand the process.”

“We sometimes have students that realize a week before starting that they actually need [Optional Practical Training], and then it’s too late,” Tomasevic said.


Sivaraman said she has felt that Career Services issometimesnot as effective as it could be in alerting international students to some of these issues.

Associate Director, STEM of Career ServicesSatomi Chudasama said that Career Services has a longstanding and cooperative relationship with the Davis International Center.

“Davis International Center staff are legal experts, so we want to share our knowledge and expertise on career development and job searches,” Chudasama said. “We make sure [international] students have attended [Optional Practical Training] seminars, and if not, we definitely recommend it.”

Tomasevic also said that both the Davis International Center and Career Services have strong communication and a great ongoing relationship but that they do specialize in different areas.

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“Career Services can’t really help with [Optional Practical Training], so when it comes to anything immigration-related, they don’t have that expertise,” Tomasevic said.

Domagoj Babic ’16, also an international student who has reached out to Career Services in the past, said that he has been sent to the Davis International Center to address his concerns.

“I asked them somewhat about [Optional Practical Training], but they sent me to Davis International Center, because they know more,” Babic said. “[Career Services] told me they know little about master’s programs abroad.”

He notedthat he understands that the Davis International Center has more resources for international students and said that his experiences withCareer Services have been positive overall.

Chudasama said that all the counselors in Career Services who work with students are comfortable and qualified to work with international students but addedthat Career Services is always looking to hear what students have to say.

“We welcome all kinds of suggestions students have, so we would be happy to listen to student comments and suggestions,” Chudasama said.

Sivaraman said that, while she thinks Career Services can do a better job of understanding and responding to the unique needs of international students, she has alsoseen progress.

“I think the difference this year is that, because a couple of us have raised this point, it seems like Career Services is doing more events in collaboration with Davis International Center,” Sivaraman said.