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Visa changes affect student jobs

By George Ipe

Nearly 1600 international students at MIT who hold F-1 visas, which permit students to study and work on campus, will soon be affected by recent changes in immigration regulations. The changes will primarily affect off-campus work opportunities for international students, said Milena M. Levak, director of the international students' office, which sponsored a well-attended meeting last Tuesday to describe the new regulations.

The F-1 regulation changes stem from an immigration act passed by Congress last year. Congress proposed a special pilot program which would allow students who have held an F-1 visa for at least one year and are in good academic standing to work off-campus, provided the employer files an attestation with the Department of Labor.

The attestation must state that the employer has advertised the job position for at least 60 days and that the student will be paid the same wage as any domestic worker in a similar position, Levak said.

Under the original F-1 visa regulations, students were permitted to work a limited time on campus -- usually 20 hours per week during the academic term and full-time during the summer. International students could also work off campus during the summer in a Pre-Completion Practical Training Program, which allowed the students to have jobs related to their course of study.

The new regulations have abolished that possibility, Levak said. "International students now cannot work off campus so easily. The only option is for the student to find an employer who is willing to go through the labor attestation procedure. This is often difficult," she said.

"The employers are unlikely to recruit employees for the requisite 60 days," she said. Levak went on, "Now many international students will not be able to find jobs over the summer because no employer, or very few employers, are willing to go through the paperwork that the new procedures require. I think these new regulations are a real detriment to our students."

Udaya I. Liyanage '94, an international student from Sri Lanka, disagreed. "I am generally indifferent to the new changes. I am more concerned about international students at smaller colleges where there are fewer opportunities. At MIT there are plenty of jobs on campus. Also, MIT can probably get us permits to work off campus if need be," he said.

Liyanage said, "I am unclear about the real motives for the regulation changes. Maybe they are just a nominal requirement to justify allowing foreigners to work. I don't foresee any big problems with summer jobs."

Levak thought otherwise, saying, "MIT doesn't really have much say in jobs off campus and getting permits, but there are some exceptions. The curriculum of the VI-A [Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Cooperative Program] student is not going to be affected because co-ops and internships have not been abolished by the new regulations."

"Still, I would like our students not to be deprived of other job experiences; I feel that these regulations are really a loss for them. But there is a glimmer of hope. The National Association for Foreign Student Affairs has until Dec. 6 to respond to the Department of Labor about the new regulations. They may respond to NAFSA's recommendations, or they may not," Levak added.

A newsletter will be sent to all international students to advise them of the new changes in the F-1 students visas. In the meantime, Levak hopes that interested companies will lobby the Labor Department before Dec. 6 to make some of the hiring requirements for international students more palatable to employers.