Editor’s note: This post was written by Constanza Gallardo
College seniors usually start worrying about landing a job some time in the spring before graduation. But for the thousands of international students in Florida colleges and universities, that worry starts now.
Florida ranks seventh on the top ten list of states hosting international students, with 32,746 international students in both public and private institutions according to the Institute for International Education, which released an analysis of international student data earlier this month.. The University of Florida alone hosts 5,961 students with F-1 visas, making it #17 in the U.S. for international students.
It’s part of a national trend. The report shows that the 2012-13 academic year has had a seven percent increase of international students studying in the United States—constituting four percent of the total U.S higher education population.
Like their American citizen peers, many of these students want to find work after graduating. One of the ways to do that is to apply now for optional practical training (OPT) visas that would allow them to work after graduation. Students who apply for their OPT must start the process months prior to graduation and submit the right documents to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services.
“They need copies of photos, the application for employment authorization, their passport, visa, I-94 card,” says Ariel Ortiz, Coordinator of International Student Services at Florida International University. “We give them a new I-20, and all that gets together in a packet that gets send out to the USCIS.”
Besides organizing the package, students must receive authorization from their academic advisor to apply for the OPT. Once it has been submitted, it takes 60 to 90 days for students to receive the employment card.
Students then have a three-month period to find employment; otherwise, they must go back to their country or continue their education.
“After the sponsorship, the company has to pay for everything,” says Mario Garza a student from Mexico graduating this December from Florida International University.
The OPT visa is for one year. As soon as that period ends, international students must ask for a company to sponsor their visa in order for them to stay legally in the U.S.
Garza applied for his OPT back in September 2013, and he is still waiting for an answer. Even if he gets it, he knows he won’t be done convincing employers that his U.S. education and training make him the right candidate for the job.
“They have to evaluate and say, why do I want you instead of a U.S citizen? That is the main problem,” says Garza.
Constanza Gallardo is a journalism student at Florida International University. This story is part of a radio journalism collaboration between FIU and WLRN – Miami Herald News.