The University maintains that international graduate student instructors bear responsibility for handling their own migration paperwork and visas, but there is only so much an individual can do to ensure the process goes smoothly. For Marta Cruz-Sojo, a trip home to Spain for winter break extended into late January because the U.S. Embassy in Madrid found her name matched an entry on a list of possible U.S. security threats. Although Cruz-Sojo was able to keep her job as a graduate student instructor after making it back to campus, the University’s general policy – that obtaining visas is solely the individual student’s responsibility – fails to demonstrate flexibility or understanding that delays may be out of students’ control.
It took Cruz-Sojo weeks to sort through the paperwork and bureaucracy necessary to return to the United States. With pressure from the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the University ultimately allowed her to keep her job. The University initially set a Jan. 23 deadline for Cruz-Sojo, raising alarm among fellow GSIs once the number of bureaucratic obstacles ahead of her became clear. The University did extend the deadline to Jan. 27 and let Cruz-Sojo retain her position even after she missed it by a few days. This mishmash of shifting, ultimately meaningless deadlines could be construed as the administration’s flexibility, but instead suggests a lack of a clear policies acknowledging the hurdles international students face.
Following Sept. 11, the Bush administration increased scrutiny of international students. The administration instituted export controls that restrict international students from certain areas of study as well as stricter student visa policies. Besides directly discouraging some international students from coming to U.S. universities to study, these policies sent a disturbing message that America does not welcome international students.
Despite a nationwide trend of decreased international student enrollment, the University has managed to more or less maintain its own figures. University President Mary Sue Coleman spoke out publicly against these federal restrictions last January at the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education, and the University has worked through the International Center to provide international students with support and information on the legal issues of studying in United States.
This past support makes the University’s hesitance to support international students having visa problems all the more puzzling. When it takes significant pressure from the GEO to defend students like Cruz-Sojo who are stuck abroad after visa delays beyond their control, it will only make it harder for the University to attract and retain top international students.
A policy that holds students solely responsible for their immigration status assumes the government handles all cases flawlessly. With the Bush administration perpetuating the fear of what lies beyond U.S. borders, the legal challenges facing international students may not be lifted any time soon. If it is concerned with its international students, the University must assume the responsibility of accommodating and advocating for students who encounter delays brought on by these stringent government policies by developing a clear system to handle visa issues fairly.