In this time of financial instability, one of President Carmen Ambar’s charges to the broader Oberlin community has been to consider how Oberlin can boldly step into the future and live out what it means to be a liberal arts college in the 21st century.
Part of that task will be finding ways to increase Oberlin’s global platform. We are fortunate to have a large population of international students who contribute significantly to our community, and while there are programs in place to help international students succeed at Oberlin and beyond, there are still steps this institution can take to further support and facilitate the students’ success.
International students, who compose approximately 13 percent of the student body and have F-1 visas, are classified as “alien authorized to work until (expiration date, if applicable, mm/dd/yyyy)” on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services documents while obtaining an on-campus job. If you are not a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or lawful permanent resident you must identify as an alien entity — a dehumanizing notion that international students and other students with complicated immigration statuses must accept.
With Oberlin’s Career Development Center making serious strides in helping Obies acquire internships and jobs through projects such as the Sophomore Opportunities and Academic Resources program, Career Communities, and alumni and parent outreach, we must also take steps to specifically help international students navigate off-campus internships that often require participants to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Fortunately, Career Communities — Oberlin’s newest internship-placement and career preparation program, is available to international students.
Finding effective health care is another challenge for international students. It is upsetting that international students face the stress and uncertainty of the Trump administration while padded only minimally by Oberlin’s health insurance provider, Academic Health Plans, Inc. While AHP is the only health care provider on campus, many American students are covered by family plans with better packages than those available to international students. While AHP covers several bases, essential services like gynecology are not even mentioned in the Summary of Benefits and Coverage 2018. Dermatology is not mentioned either and adult dental care is not included, must be acquired separately and costs more.
On the employment front, after graduation, students on an F-1 student visa have 90 days before graduation, and a maximum of 60 days after to apply for Optional Practical Training. OPT is the authorization available to international students, post-Oberlin, to work in the U.S. for up to a year in a job related to their degree, with the possibility of a 24-month extension for students in select STEM fields. After these one-to-three years of work eligibility, international students must attain sponsorship by companies that can afford to sponsor an H-1B work visa. Otherwise, they will no longer be qualified to work in the United States on this visa and must find an alternate, less common pathway.
This harsh policy limits international students who are interested in non-profits or smaller companies that simply cannot afford to sponsor their visas. The policy also makes it more difficult for international students to get selected simply because they’re a much larger cost, even to large companies, and therefore must come across as absolutely invaluable compared to other candidates in order to be sponsored.
One of the biggest reasons international students come to U.S. universities is that the country supports, respects, and offers opportunities in fields that students are not offered in their home countries. It therefore seems unfair that international students — who battle financial issues, language barriers, and culture shocks all while thousands of miles away from their families, just to study and work in a field they love — must also become flawless candidates in a highly competitive job market.
Oberlin’s Student Senate has made some efforts to improve communication between departments, career services, and international students regarding employment through their working group titled “Career Readiness and Applied Learning for International Students in Oberlin.” The seven to eight members on this working group, led by College junior and Student Senator Priyanka Sen and in collaboration with the Career Development Center among other organizations, conducted research last semester and are moving forward with action plans and workshops for international students this semester.
Another victory is the clarification that Oberlin — in line with the U.S. government’s list for STEM OPT — is finally promoting Environmental Studies as a STEM major, and has recently added certain types of Economics to the list as well. This recognition allows international students who major in these two fields to apply for OPT extensions. Not only are Environmental Studies and Economics extremely popular majors at Oberlin, but they are also up-and-coming interdisciplinary and profitable fields globally, allowing international students another two years to secure jobs.
It is in this time of great anxiety that Oberlin must show its solidarity with international students. Let’s take up President Ambar’s call to action and lead the way in supporting Oberlin’s international students in finding paths to academic and professional success.