Advice for International Students in the US
When thinking about whether or not studying English in the US is the right choice for you, part of your decision-making process should be to weigh the restrictions placed upon you as a foreign international student.
Immigration regulations are very strict about working while holding a student visa. The income on which you base your application must be assured, and it must be equal to or exceed the costs of the period you are enrolled to study. You cannot rely on potential income. Careful planning will ensure that you have a great experience in the United States.
Restriction No. 1: Working while Studying as an International Student is Not so Easy to Do
The most important advice for an international student in the US is about the type of visa you possess or apply for has its own particular set of rules and restrictions, make sure to do your homework to thoroughly understand how they apply to you.
Though you must prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your time in the US to obtain your SEVIS form I-20, studying and living in America is expensive. You’ll want to go places, share meals out with friends, and explore the city that will temporarily be your home. US immigration regulations allow for international students to work during their studies under certain circumstances, but certainly not all—often students are restricted to just 20 hours a week of on-campus jobs. You will require a US Social Security Number to work in the US, and part of your pay will go to taxes! The money you have banked and the money you’re allowed to earn may not add up to as much as you need. You don’t want to go broke while getting your English language education, have your parents sacrifice too much, or incur debt that will take YEARS to satisfy. Whether, and how much you can work while studying in the US is one of your most important considerations.
Consideration No 2: Maybe No Credit for Courses You Took Outside The US
You may not receive credit for courses that you’ve completed in a country other than the US. This isn’t a concern if you’re studying simply to learn English, or improve your English language skills, but if you’re studying to prepare for your TOEFL or IELTS in hopes of transferring to a US college, this could be a big deal! All the effort and expense you already went to pursuing a major back home shouldn’t count for nothing. Keep a copy of your transcripts—many colleges and universities will want you to send them to an “academic evaluation agency” to determine whether or not to credit specific coursework. You’ll then present this evaluation to the Transfer Coordinator on the campus. Check in with the International Student Resources Office at the university of your choice, they can help walk you through the school’s particular requirements in this regard.
A 3rd Thing to Think About: Travel Outside The US while Studying
While you’re here in the US learning English, life goes on back home. Your best friend may be getting married, your parents will celebrate a milestone, or a grandparent becomes hospitalized—there are things you don’t want to miss, and people you need to be there for. In most cases, and on most Visas, you can leave the US and re-enter but you MUST maintain your necessary records and documents, AND you must consult your DSO, Designated School Official, prior to travel to have your current SEVIS form I-20 endorsed for travel. US Customs and Border Control will note flags to your student status that could be violations of your SEVIS record.
You didn’t maintain your required course load.
Your expected return date to the US was delayed.
You withdrew from classes without authorization.
You were suspended or expelled from classes.
You’re engaging in unauthorized employment.
You failed to enroll after a vacation or break.
Reentry could be denied or delayed. Be thorough, be smart, and you can make that toast at your friend’s wedding back home, and be back in the US with no hassles.
*The “Travel Ban” restricts travel to the US from 8 countries but supposedly, “doesn’t limit travel by visiting students and scholars on F, J, or M visas…” There are “enhanced screening and vetting requirements” so…your reentry to the US from one of these 8 countries could be a zero fun, frustrating experience.
No. 4 is a Big NO-NO: Drinking and Driving
You might find you’re not old enough to drink or even drive a car while in the US. The drinking age in America is 21—maybe you’ve been having wine with dinner since you were 12, but the bartender at the local hangout won’t care. Yes, drinking is a big part of college culture, but there are situations and circumstances that will necessitate that you prove you are 21 years of age or older. Driving and renting a car as an international student often requires that you be 21-25 years old. If you want to rent, buy, or share a car while you’re in the US studying English, the best thing to do is get a US driver’s license. It’ll take several days for the SEVIS database to register your entry to the US—give it 10 days to 2 weeks, then touch base with the Designated School Officer to be sure your records are active in SEVIS. Once you’re certain you’ve been recognized in the system check the local Department of Motor Vehicles online to make an appointment and find out what documents they will require before giving you a state driver’s license.
Deciding to study English in the US is a big decision, one I think that will make a difference not just to your career, but to you, as a person. As an international student, there will be challenges to consider. Restrictions to cope with. Doing your homework about the restrictions you may face will ensure that you’re not caught off guard or unprepared.
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