International students are begging their universities for a solution after increasing processing times for work visas through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have stalled internships and summer jobs, the New York Times reported Sunday.
According to the Times, international students and graduates from institutions such as Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, and Columbia have pushed back start dates at summer jobs, and in some cases have lost out on opportunities, because of visa applications delays at USCIS, the federal agency that handles matters related to immigration status, work permits, and citizenship.
As a result of their delayed visas, some students have reported funds wasted on transportation and housing to opportunities they’ve subsequently lost out on. University leadership, such as Princeton president Christopher L. Eisgruber, have urged Congress to look into the increased roadblocks that its international students have faced.
“Some students are expected to help their families financially using proceeds from their internship,” dozens of international students from Princeton wrote in a letter to the university’s president. “There are also students who have paid for rent and flights using loans that they hoped to cover with their internship earnings, as well as others who have no place to sleep, since their housing arrangements were guaranteed by their work benefits.”
Immigrants are unsurprisingly experiencing this prolonged application process across the board. According to a study published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association in January and cited by Eisgruber, USCIS processing times for visas, green cards, and other immigration forms have reached record-high levels over the past two years.
More specifically, AILA found that processing times for foreign visas had increased 46 percent over that time period. For these foreign students, this is where they run into trouble: Under the Optional Practical Training program, such students can work in a field related to their students for up to a year. They can only apply for authorization under the program 90 days before a job’s start date, or their graduation date—no big deal when students received their authorization within 60 days in previous years.
However, USCIS told the Times it projected a five-month processing time for employment authorization requests, generating a “small backlog.” This is negatively impacting these international students’ financial opportunities, and likely many other people from other countries seeking employment within the U.S.
We’ve reached out to USCIS and will update this post if we hear back. In a statement to the Times, the agency said it had “implemented a plan to address this and return to standard processing times soon.”