International Students Need Not Apply

by Kostas

I tweak my resume and draft a cover letter – mostly from bits and pieces of previous letters like a crossword puzzle of my past. By now, I have written so many.

First comes the generic application foreplay.

“What’s your middle name?”

“Fax number?”

“Which undersized Manhattan apartment do you cram your soul into on gloomy Sundays?”

Then upload one’s documents.

Resume, cover letter_rev.18972, sometimes a transcript or reference letter.

Finally come the dreaded but more important questions of life: the government-blessed lingo around US immigration status discrimination laws.

“Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?”

*No* Wait… does CPT count?

“Will you now or in the future require sponsorship for employment visa status (e.g., H-1B visa status)?”

*Yes* Please?


Then we wait… just as we wait on Broadway ticket lotteries. Hoping for the best… Sometimes brimming with hope – surely, I am not underqualified for this undergrad internship. Other times festering existential crises about Oxford Commas in the cover letter – is one more comma too many commas?

Usually nothing happens. There is no plot twist and you must carry on with your life. If you are lucky, you will receive a “While we were impressed by your background and credentials, blah blah blah…”-email.

Damn the Oxford Comma. Punctuation, paragraphs, and other possible perpetrators. You pass by the Office of Career Services for drop-in advising, expecting to be enlightened.

“It’s ‘experience,’ not ‘experiences.’ But you write very well!”

“Thank you.” Then you scurry off into the darkness, never the wiser.

But we secretly knew once we answered the work authorization questions. History repeats itself. And so do internship rejections for SIPA international students. Employers in the United States are not hiring international students. But who would blame them? With uncertainty looming over the future of immigration laws, each H-1B sponsorship is a risky investment.

Many of us international students are only trying to fulfill the internship requirement. Others would like to get some “optional” practical training after graduation – you know, a year or two of good experience. Then we will head out beyond Trump’s walls to fix our countries. To create our own initiatives and companies, maybe even run for an office. In recent years, this has become a much harder endeavor.

The issue of international applicants must needlessly be of utmost importance to the administration in SIPA, starting from Dean Janow. The credibility and reputation of the school lays on edge. SIPA makes two important claims:

  1. “The world’s most global public policy school”: And rightly so. Over 60% of the student body is international. This is a very important marketing notion to SIPA. The Dean’s Message on SIPA’s website mentions the word “global” 12 times within 569 words.

  2. Employment after graduation: Perhaps the sole goal of a professional degree. According to employment statistics, almost all (usually 90%+) are either employed or pursue further studies six months after graduation.

The perception of SIPA as a “global” policy school with excellent career pathways is only as good as its reality. The school is already experiencing some adverse effects. Student applications from Mexico dropped considerably this year as a response to US domestic politics. The administration must take active steps to circumvent a looming crisis.

The Office of Career Services must perform a better job matching students with internships and raising awareness about SIPA degrees. But it also must tailor services for the majority international students; OCS does not have expertise in helping students understand what things their visas qualify them for or in bridging international employment needs. Last month when faced with criticism at the Town Hall, the Office responded by initiating a "Resources for International Students" segment in their bi-weekly newsletter. Many believe this “permanent addition to the OCS News” is too little of an effort, arriving too late. It is merely a list of links one could Google and aligns with OCS’s unsaid motto: Lifetime access to resources available everywhere else.