International students learn the ropes

ISSO workshop teaches ins and outs of visa policies

August 31, 2006
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International student reception. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Boston University’s 500 new international students will hear greetings in 40 different languages when they attend the University’s annual Visa and Immigration Workshop on September 1.

BU boasts the largest international student body in New England and the eighth largest of all U.S. institutions of higher education. The incoming students are attracted, in part, by the experiences of the 5,625 students and scholars from around the world currently at the University.

“Word of mouth is very important,” says Jeanne Kelley, director of the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). The city of Boston and the quality and international emphasis of the University’s academic programs are compelling reasons for choosing BU, “but what is really appealing to prospective international students,” says Kelley, “are the other international students.”

The ISSO helps these students make the most of their experience by explaining the complicated laws governing their stay in the United States. ISSO staff members are among the few people on campus who understand the terms international students need to be familiar with. They will promptly respond to catastrophes such as, “I lost my DS-2019!” or, “I didn’t know I had to apply for an OPT.”

Friday’s Immigration Workshop is meant to help the new students avoid such crises and guide them on how to stay out of trouble.

“What we say at the workshop is: ‘We are going to give you a list of all the different things — if you can’t remember the list, just come and talk to us,’ ” says James Leck, associate director for student services at ISSO. International students must inform their ISSO advisors of any changes in their lives: from changing address to changing majors, wanting to take a semester off and go home, or finding a job.

The first of these mandatory reports, and a very important one, is ongoing now: all incoming international students must bring their passports and immigration documents to the office before September 18 to show “that they are doing what they said they were going to do,” Kelley says. Then they’ll send that information to the government, along with proof that they are registered as full-time students. “The most important thing is that there are regulations that demand them to be full-time and in many cases that means they must take 12 or more credits,” she says.

All of which explains the hectic atmosphere at the ISSO’s 19 Deerfield St. office these days. On a recent afternoon, three Chinese students joining the geography department to pursue Ph.D.s were checking in, finding out how to receive a Social Security number, and asking plenty of questions. “It’s quite easy,” says Tiam Yao while she completed a form.

Many procedures changed after September 11, according to Kelley. For example, student data is now transferred to the U.S. State Department through an online system rather than on paper.

“I guess now it’s more stressful than four years ago,” said Francois Fabri (CAS’06), who may be filing one of his last forms at the ISSO: the native of Belgium graduated this summer and is applying for a U.S. work permit. Fabri is the manager of the London rock band Puggy and, because he would like to deal with the American market, he is taking advantage of the 12-month work permit available for some international students after graduation.

Employment regulations often restrict international students looking for a job at a coffee shop or to work more hours in the library for extra money. “Violations in status that imply unauthorized employment are the hardest to remedy,” Kelley says. “They can have a long-term effect on their status, even years after they finish their degree.”

These regulations change all the time, says Tana Ruegamer, one of the six ISSO international student advisors, and staying up-to-date with the changes can be a challenge. “It really gives us a reason to keep on our toes,” she says. The ISSO updates its Web site whenever the rules, procedures, or processes change, as a resource for departments and faculty.


Important Dates:

September 1, 2006
Visa and Immigration Workshop for New International Students
Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, 4 p.m.
871 Commonwealth Avenue

September 18, 2006
Deadline for all new international students to complete the initial ISSO check-in and for continuing international students in F-1 immigration status to complete Semester Verification.

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