Student Visa Woes

A student visa restricts international students to working solely on campus, but it isn’t always easy to find a helpful employer at school.

By Maria Alvarado, Savannah College of Arts and Design


During high school, people usually have a couple of part-time jobs that help them start to build their resume.

Even if their job was working at the local McDonalds, no one can say that it didn’t help them fill in the “Experience” section of their personal CV. By the time college starts, most people have had enough part-time jobs to show that they have already attempted adult life. But it isn’t like this for everyone in college.

Few Americans know that in some countries, high school students aren’t allowed to work before they graduate school. Sadly, for some international students, it means they will start college with a blank resume. As an international student that comes from one of these countries, I started college with nothing to write down in “Experience” section.

After going to all those “Keys to Success” talks during the first quarter of freshman year, I was scared that I was a little behind in my path to success. Upon visiting my student advisor and hearing her list all the benefits of having job during college, I decided that I needed to start looking for one. But, before I got too excited, she started listing the reasons why I couldn’t work yet.

“If you are an international student,” she said, “you can’t work unless you have at least ten credit hours completed with a minimum GPA of 2.0 and satisfactory academic progress.

“Also,” she continued, “because you are an international student, you can only work on campus. Just in case you haven’t already done so, check the second page of your student visa.”

As an international student, I’m always reminded of how important it is that I know the rules for my student visa.

If you are familiar with this document, you know that apart from being your ticket to higher education in the United States, it also has a whole page of rules of what you are NOT allowed to do while studying in America—the second page my advisor was talking about.

If you are like me and took the time to go through the “Instructions to Students” section, then you know it can be hard to find a job when you are an international student. And, if you really read carefully, you have definitely already seen the next statements.

“Unlawful employment in the United States is a reason for terminating your student visa and deporting you from the United States.”

As scary as this line might sound, understanding why this rule is so severe is easy. In order to work and make an income, you are required to have a Social Security Number (SSN), which is necessary to complete tax forms every year. If you are not a legal citizen of the United States, chances are that you don’t have one.

However, this injunction doesn’t mean that you can’t work at all.

Most colleges have their own rules for international students and employment. By visiting the international student services office (ISSO) of your school, you can find out what you have to do to get a temporary SSN that will allow you to work at specific places. For example, in order to get a temp SSN, my school requires international students to be accepted to work on campus. The employer contacts the school’s ISSO, and the process toward working on campus begins.

It sounds like a really short and easy process when you think about it. But the truth is, depending on the kind of job or the business, the apparently short process could end up requiring you or the employer to fill out many, many, many forms. Because of this, some malicious employers can be tempted to try to find a way around it.

Beware of any company that offers to hire you without completing the process of application for a SSN. If this ever happens, turn around and get out of there as fast as you can. Know that anyone who offers you employment in this way is breaking the law and not only jeopardizing your place and education in the country, but also your safety.

You might ask yourself, “Who would even want to risk their visa like that?” Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. Someone who really needs money to afford things like food, housing or textbooks could see it as their only opportunity. I hope that every international student reading this understands that it is completely worthless to put your career in danger.

What is the point of getting a job to help you afford college if you get kicked out of the country?

Breaking this rule should never be an option.

“You may be employed on campus at your school.”

Yes, you may. However, it can be harder or easier depending on the size of your school. Let’s say that besides the cafeteria, dorms and academic buildings, your school also owns a couple of small businesses around town. Coffee shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, galleries, movie theaters, etc. These are the kind of places that are always looking to hire college students. The bigger the campus is, the easier it is for international students to find a way of making some extra money to help with the usual college expenses.

If your school doesn’t own many businesses on campus, finding a job that suits you can become a hassle. It is important to keep in mind that there are more people out there trying to find jobs, and some of them may have more experience and skills for certain positions. This isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that they don’t want to give you the job because you are an international student, and it surely doesn’t mean that you don’t have what is necessary to do the job.

Throughout my years in college, I have applied to a big variety of positions: image scanner assistant, barista, computer laboratory monitor, waitress and more. And, though I’ve applied to all different places, meet the GPA requirements, am a full-time student every quarter and certainly speak English, I have yet to be hired to work on campus. Most places where I’ve applied didn’t bother to tell me why I was rejected in the first place. Still, some others were nicer and explained they simply had too many applicants for the position.

It is understandable for college students to constantly be on the search for new jobs. After all, we only get so much time to build up our resume. Everyone wants to get a good job after graduation. But then, what do you do if you are an international student?

The answer is simple: Keep trying. Make good use of your college’s resources, talk with your advisor and be open-minded. Maybe you didn’t get the job as library assistant, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get the next one you apply for. Don’t fret, even if it is senior year, keep your eyes open for a job or internship opportunities. Be sure that if you are really looking and trying to get experience, you will eventually run across the right opportunity.

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