Tag Archives: International Students

International Student Orientation!

This week is madness at work… 14 hour days, running here and there, answering question after question, and helping all our new students settle in. Yep– it’s international orientation week!

This year we have our largest class ever– roughly 170 international freshmen and about 250 new international graduate students. Now to those of you from giant US state schools, those numbers might sound small, but for an engineering school with only 4,000 total students, and only two full time int’l student advisors, that’s a lot of people to help and keep track of!

But the craziness is also really fun, and I’m always excited to meet our new students.

So in honor of this I wanted to re-post links to two youtube videos on Culture Shock/Cultural Adjustment that I like to use with our new students. Even though it is geared towards graduate students, I think the presenter does a great job introducing the topic and his own experiences with transitioning to life in the US.

Part I:

Part II:

And while I’m at it… I’ll repost one more thing— the PHD comics on “F-1 Student Visa Process Explained” (I have this hanging on my wall in my office.)

Int’l Students and Customs and Border Protection

Sorry—it seems like the past few days have been “share what C is reading” time on the blog, but I can’t help myself.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had an article on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) called Far From Border, U.S. Detains Foreign Students. Out of frustration, and as an international  student advisor, I wanted to share it (since the Chronicle is only available for a short time to viewers without a subscription to the site I’m going to copy and paste the text below. No copyright violations intended.)

I also wanted to post it because it discussed one CBP “hotspot” as being upstate New York, my home area, and several of the cases where students and professors have been harassed are around Postam, NY, which is just down the road from my alma mater. I remember seeing several CBP roadblocks set up on “Route 11” (the only “highway” on the western edge of northern New York State) when driving up to my university and back. As an American, I never had a problem, and I think the time or two I might have been stopped with P we had his paperwork. In particular I remember a dark skinned Indian professor from the Global Studies department at my school being bothered by the CBP on several occasions, once he was even carted off to a holding cell while the university scrambled to produce his paperwork.

I find this treatment of internationals despicable. I understand the need to “secure the borders” however harassing students and professors in this way is not the solution. As a lawyer cited in the article states, “It seems an insane policy to be arresting scientists, artists, professors, and students who have done everything properly and do a great job for our country.”

As a precaution I tell my students to keep photocopies of their I-94 card and passport photo ID folded up in their wallet. Although it isn’t the original documentation, it is some sort of proof of the original documentation, and might help if they are ever stopped—or at least it is better than nothing. According to the article:

Customs and Border Protection also maintains that it can set up roadblocks—it prefers the term “temporary permanent checkpoints” for legal reasons—and question people on trains and buses or at transportation stations anywhere within 100 air miles of a U.S. border or seacoast. This broadly defined border zone encompasses most of the nation’s major cities and the entirety of several states, including Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, and five of the six New England states. The American Civil Liberties Union—concerned about the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against arbitrary searches and seizures—has called it the “Constitution-Free Zone.”

Our Irish friend was traveling with his visiting parents up in New Hampshire over the summer and was stopped at one of CBP’s “roadblocks.” He didn’t have his passport, I-94 card, or I-20 documents on him, and the officer threatened to fine him $500! Luckily he was able to talk his way out of it… had he been of a non-European origin, he might not have fared so well. Ironically—later in the fall he was carrying his passport on him, and it was destroyed accidently by water— he had to apply for a new Irish passport, and go through the visa process again while home in Dublin for Christmas. He nearly missed his return flight due to consulate scheduling conflicts. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

I think my favorite example of CBP ridiculousness in the article was this:

A Potsdam student was briefly detained last summer while doing turtle research with her professor in a local swamp. “Border Patrol was there asking for documents,” Ms. Parker-Goeke says. “She’s in a swamp—she doesn’t have her documents.” The professor was able to persuade the agents to call the university to clear up the student’s status.

Sigh, anyway… As many of you, your partners, or your partner’s family, etc, might be international students in the US, I figured I’d share the article:

Far From Canada, U.S. Detains Foreign Students by Colin Woodward
(originally posted January 9, in the online edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education).

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers check passengers' citizenship on a bus in Rochester, N.Y., more than 75 miles from Canada. Some college officials whose students have been stopped believe the customs agency has more resources than it knows what to do with.

Six miles north of the University of Maine’s flagship campus, on the only real highway in these parts, students and professors traveling south might encounter a surprise: a roadblock manned by armed Border Patrol agents, backed by drug-sniffing dogs, state policemen, and county sheriff’s deputies.

Although the Canadian border is nearly 100 miles behind them—and Bangor, Maine’s second-largest city, just 15 miles ahead—motorists are queried about their citizenship and immigration status. Those who raise an agent’s suspicions are sent to an adjacent weigh station for further questioning and, sometimes, searches. Any foreign students or scholars unable to produce all of their original documentation are detained and could be arrested.

Thus far, nobody from the University of Maine has actually been arrested at this ephemeral checkpoint, which usually appears near the start of the academic year, when migrant laborers happen to be leaving eastern Maine’s blueberry fields. One student had to wait at the roadblock until university authorities had satisfied agents that the individual was in the country legally, university officials say.

But elsewhere on the northern border, foreign students and scholars experience fear and uncertainty every time they leave campus, pick up a friend at the bus station, or board a domestic train or flight, even when they have all their documents with them.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has greatly increased its manpower along the northern border, allowing for more-frequent use of roving patrols or surprise checkpoints on buses, trains, and highways far from the border itself. Students who failed to carry their original documents have been delayed and fined, apprehended even when they’re just a few miles from campus.

“We used to tell students: When you get here, put your passport and I-90 form away so you don’t lose it, because you don’t need anything special when you travel around the country,” says Thy Yang, director of international programs at Michigan Technological University, located a few miles from the shores of Lake Superior. “Now we tell them to carry it at all times.”

She adds, “Some students have gotten citations and a $75 fine for not carrying their documents, and they weren’t happy about it. We told them it could have been worse.”

For a broad category of students and scholars, even having one’s documents in hand and in order offers no guarantee against being arrested and locked up in a detention facility hundreds of miles away. University officials and immigration attorneys interviewed by The Chronicle told of nearly two dozen incidents in which students or scholars were inappropriately detained at domestic stops by customs officers. Most were in the midst of the lengthy but not uncommon process of changing their immigration status and had followed all the rules. Others were apparently detained because the agents were unaware that while a student’s visa might have expired, his or her permission to study in the country had not. All were in the country legally under the rules set forth by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which, like Customs and Border Protection, is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Border Patrol sometimes interprets immigration regulations differently than Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services do,” says Ellen A. Dussourd, director of international student and scholar services at the University at Buffalo. “This causes a lot of difficulty for international student and scholar offices when they need to advise their international students and scholars about travel in the U.S.”

Frank A. Novak, an immigration lawyer at Harter Secrest & Emery, a law firm in Rochester, N.Y., says students and scholars typically run afoul of the customs agency when changing status from a nonimmigrant student or work visa (such as F-1, H1B, or O-1) to an immigrant one, perhaps because they have married a U.S. national or been offered a permanent job. They apply before their visa expires and receive permission to work, live, and travel until their application is processed, which may take years. “Inherent in the policy is that your old [nonimmigrant] status will expire,” he says, but customs officers sees this as grounds to arrest them.

“These people are following all the rules, but the government-enforcement authorities are detaining them and really wreaking havoc on their lives and scaring the heck out of them,” says Mr. Novak, whose clients have included foreign scholars so treated. “It seems an insane policy to be arresting scientists, artists, professors, and students who have done everything properly and do a great job for our country.”

‘Temporary Permanent’

Customs and Border Protection officials did not make themselves available for an interview, despite repeated requests. A written statement ignored questions on the topic, instead providing general commentary on the purpose of internal checkpoints. “CBP Border Patrol agents conduct these types of operations periodically in key locations that serve as conduits for human and narcotics smuggling,” the statement said. “These operations serve as a vital component to our overall border security efforts and help sustain security efforts implemented in recent years.”

Customs and Border Protection also maintains that it can set up roadblocks—it prefers the term “temporary permanent checkpoints” for legal reasons—and question people on trains and buses or at transportation stations anywhere within 100 air miles of a U.S. border or seacoast. This broadly defined border zone encompasses most of the nation’s major cities and the entirety of several states, including Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, and five of the six New England states. The American Civil Liberties Union—concerned about the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against arbitrary searches and seizures—has called it the “Constitution-Free Zone.”

Officials of several universities located within 100 miles of the Canadian frontier told The Chronicle that their foreign students and faculty have experienced few serious problems as a result of the checkpoints, though they now tell students to carry their original documents with them at all times. The institutions include the University of Maine at Orono, University of Vermont, Wayne State University, Michigan Tech, and Western Washington University.

“You’ll always have a quirk here and there or an error now and then, but for the most part, things are working pretty well at the border, and we don’t have any troubles away from the border at all,” says Linda Seatts, director of Wayne State’s Office of International Students and Scholars. “We’re just elated about that.”

In upstate New York, it’s a different story. For reasons that remain unclear, Customs and Border Protection has had an aggressive presence away from the immediate border, especially around the northern city of Potsdam or in central New York cities like Rochester and Syracuse, which are relatively far from the nearest border crossings. Area residents say Border Patrol officers maintain a near-constant presence at Rochester’s bus station and frequently question passengers at the airport. They regularly board domestic Amtrak trains passing through the area en route from Chicago to New York, where they shine flashlights in sleeping passengers’ faces.

“We’ve had hundreds of students questioned and stopped and inconvenienced, and perhaps a dozen students, scholars, or family members who’ve been detained or jailed,” says Cary M. Jensen, director of the International Services Office at the University of Rochester. “For international visitors who see people boarding trains, pulling people off, asking for documents, it feels a lot like East Germany did when I visited in 1980.”

Foreign students and scholars are often reticent to speak with reporters, but college officials and immigration attorneys in the region described several hair-raising examples of what they regard as inappropriate and worrisome detentions of members of their community in the past four years. These include:

  • A Pakistani undergraduate at the University of Rochester was pulled off a Trailways bus to Albany in 2007, who thought carrying his student photo ID was sufficient for a short domestic trip. Mr. Jensen says the student was held for two weeks at a detention facility before he and his family could appear before a judge and prove they were in the country legally, with an asylum application pending.
  • A Chinese student at the State University of New York at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music was seized on a domestic Adirondack Trailways bus for lack of original immigration documents. He was released after a few hours, but a few days later agents came to campus, arrested him, and locked him up for three weeks at a detention facility several hours away, where inmates nicknamed him Smart Boy. Although the student’s change-of-status paperwork was in order—and was approved while he was in detention—he missed the start of classes and had to leave the institution. “He was very scared, and by the end of it, his whole demeanor had changed,” says Potsdam’s international-programs coordinator, Bethany A. Parker-Goeke. “He ended up leaving the country. His parents wouldn’t let him go back to the U.S.”
  • A University of Rochester doctoral student bound for a conference at Cornell University was taken from a bus and detained for hours at a police station even though he had all his documentation and was in legal status. Mr. Jensen says the Border Patrol agent didn’t understand the student’s paperwork, although it was typical for someone who had changed from a two-year master’s degree to a seven-year doctoral program. “We helped clear it up, but he missed the conference,” Mr. Jensen recalls.
  • A scholar at an undisclosed institution in Rochester was arrested at the airport while on his way to visit his wife, a student at an institution out of state. Both had H1B visas, had applied for permanent residence status, and had permission from Citizenship and Immigration Services to live, work, and travel while their applications were adjudicated, according to their attorney, Mr. Novak. But Customs and Border Protection officers “treated him like a criminal and threw him in the clink. The wife didn’t dare come to pay the bond to get him out because they would throw her in jail, too.”
  • A Potsdam student was briefly detained last summer while doing turtle research with her professor in a local swamp. “Border Patrol was there asking for documents,” Ms. Parker-Goeke says. “She’s in a swamp—she doesn’t have her documents.” The professor was able to persuade the agents to call the university to clear up the student’s status.

“I have concerns for people who are legally here and making a great contribution but could get stuck in the system,” says Brendan P. O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office at Cornell University. Recently a foreign visiting-faculty member at the university missed a conference in Chicago because customs agents didn’t understand his change-of-status papers. “What’s happening is more than just a minor inconvenience.”

Too Many Resources?

It’s unclear why the situation in upstate New York is more serious than in other parts of the country, including areas with high border traffic volumes, like Detroit and northeastern Washington State. Some university officials and immigration lawyers suspect that Customs and Border Protection’s Rochester station has been given more resources than it knows what to do with, reportedly expanding from seven to 27 agents since May 2008. There are no ports of entry in its jurisdiction, which lacks a land boundary with Canada.

“Basically they have nothing to do, so they’ve come up with a really easy way to arrest a lot of people through internal enforcement,” says Nancy Morawetz, of the New York University School of Law, who has represented individuals caught up in the sweeps and procured arrest information from Customs and Border Protection via the Freedom of Information Act. The records have shown that less than 1 percent of those arrested on buses and trains in the Rochester area had entered the country within the past three days, and that none of them could be shown to have entered from Canada, she says. “I think that data is incredibly powerful,” Ms. Morawetz says, “because it shows that all this aggravation and hardship has essentially nothing to do with the Border Patrol mission” of securing the border.

“In a country where 5 percent of the population lacks status, it’s not hard to pick up bodies by going into any crowded station and asking people where they were born,” she says. “This isn’t about securing our borders. It’s about making life as uncomfortable as possible for those out of status and not caring how it makes foreign students or professionals feel.”

Customs and Border Protection headquarters did not make anyone available to discuss the programmatic purpose of the sweeps and checkpoints, and its written statement said only that it “performed in direct support of immediate border-enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing smuggling organizations from exploiting existing transportation hubs to travel to the interior of the United States.” An official who could speak for the situation in upstate New York did not keep a scheduled telephone interview.

The operations officer at the Swanton, Vt., sector office, Mark Henry, said it didn’t set up highway checkpoints to use excessive manpower. “We set them up based on intelligence,” he said. “Naturally our first concern is with terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, but we’re an all-threats agency, so it can be related to narcotics trafficking and all kinds of law enforcement.”

Some near-border institutions refused to discuss the effects of highway stops and roving patrols on their foreign students. The Swanton office of Customs and Border Protection occasionally sets up roadblocks on Interstate 91 in White River Junction, Vt., a few miles from Dartmouth College’s campus, but a spokesperson for the college, Sarah A. Memmi, said it would not “contribute to your story.” Similarly, officials at the international office of the University of North Dakota said the institution did not wish to comment on the situation in its region.

“Ever since 9/11, nobody wants to be painted as being indifferent to the terrorist threat, so schools advise people to avoid saying anything that might paint the institution as undermining counterterrorism enforcement,” said Victor Johnson, senior public-policy adviser at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “That’s part of the reason we don’t hear that much about it.”

Fortunately, institutions report that foreign enrollments haven’t been affected, with several seeing substantial increases in recent years. The Rochester Institute of Technology, for instance, has seen 50-percent growth in its foreign enrollment since 2005, according to its director of international student services, Jeffrey W. Cox. “We’ve been active in preparing them for whatever they might encounter,” he said. Its advice: “When you leave the suburb of Henrietta,” where RIT is located, “always have your documents with you.”

International Education Week… Back Again!

As my regular readers know, in my non-blogging life I am an international student advisor at a school in New England. So I can’t let International Education Week slip by without giving it a shout out, like last year.

It’s also why I took a blogging hiatus last week– between IEW prep, an international educators conference, the end of Tihar and the unbelievably quick (soon-to-be) arrival of Thanksgiving, stuff just got piled up!

Anyway, back to IEW– As I put in all my program emails this week:

International Education Week was initiated in 2000, and has been held annually each November. Now in its eleventh year, it is celebrated in more than 100 countries worldwide. It is a week which allows communities, such as colleges and universities, to celebrate and highlight international and intercultural diversity, and to appreciate the importance of a multicultural environment, particularly for a learning community.

Even though the US State Department picked a horrible week to highlight international education (the week before Thanksgiving– seriously? When students are thinking more about turkey and vacation than school?) I still like getting into it. I decorate the campus with flags, send “international fast fact” emails to the whole school, and set up guest speakers and programs. I’m excited to be showing a film on Friday called “Crossing Borders”

…a feature documentary that follows four Moroccan and four American university students as they travel together through Morocco and, in the process of discovering “The Other,” discover themselves.

I met the director at the international educators conference last week, and was able to secure a copy of the award-winning film. Woo-hoo! To watch the trailer click HERE.

So take a moment to appreciate an (educational) international/intercultural moment in your life. Did you have a life changing study abroad experience? Did you meet your significant other when he/she was an international student at your school (or vice-versa)? What is your favorite “international” memory/story? (please share!)

My semester in Kenya as an undergraduate was one of my favorite times abroad... that's me standing on top of the landrover with some of my classmates and one of my favorite professors of all time (in red) while on safari in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya.

and who could forget the picture of me dressed like a Maasai woman? Taken right before I became horribly sick from sun poisoning, heat stroke, and dehydration (“delicate mzungu”)…

“The F-1 Student Visa Process Explained”

Today at work I’m doing the annual “Cultural Adjustment Check-In” with my international freshmen. We reshow the Youtube videos from international orientation on culture shock and cultural adjustment, and see where students are in “phase II–or ‘what am I doing here?!'” and their coping strategies and questions (plus we give them lots of pizza).

I decided to show one of my favorite “Piled Higher and Deeper” PHD comicsThe F-1 Student Visa Process Explained.” As most of your significant others (or perhaps you the reader) are (or were at one point)  international students I figured you could appreciate it:

You can see the original at the link above if this looks a little blurry

Int’l Students Contribute $17.6 Billion to US Economy

I couldn’t help myself… I had to put this up here…

NAFSA, the Association for International Educators, recently released estimates of net spending of international students in the US Economy. At a time when many people are being very protectionist about jobs– “don’t take jobs from the American people” — it is nice to see some positive statistics about some of the internationals living in the US. International students are good for many reasons… multiculturalism on campus and in the classroom, diversity of perspectives and experience, even economically positive!

According to the estimates, students contributed $17.6 Billion to the US economy. To check out the report and see the individual state breakdowns click HERE.

Now if only I can find that article with information on how every H1B visa that is issued creates a certain number of jobs in the community…

Als0 on a different note, P says that today is GIS Day… so since I mentioned International Education Week, I have to be fair and can’t forget to wish everyone a Happy GIS day. I guess this shows that we are both nerds.