Columns, Opinions

Vilsan ’19: Revamping Brown’s work authorization for international students

Staff Columnist
Tuesday, November 7, 2017

As an international student, the path to finding internships or permanent employment opportunities in the United States is paved with obstacles. After all, many companies do not offer sponsorship for work authorization, and the H1B Work Visa Lottery is exactly what it sounds like — a lottery. There is no way to guarantee that your application for employment will even be considered, let alone approved. Thus, international students are understandably nervous come recruiting season. Unfortunately, Brown’s Office of International Students and Scholar Services does little to make this path any easier.

For one, the OISSS requires international students who aren’t seniors to receive internship offers ahead of time and create a concurrent independent study course that demonstrates their internship is directly relevant to their field of study. Students must then submit these documents to obtain federal Curricular Practical Training authorization — which mandates their internship be in a field related to their concentration. While all international students, regardless of their institution, must follow federal rules, Brown’s specific work authorization process is far more demanding than those of peer institutions. This puts Brown’s international students at a disadvantage, making it difficult for them to pursue internship and job opportunities in the United States.

To be clear, the OISSS can be helpful. The professionals at the OISSS are incredibly knowledgeable and willing to help students navigate the work authorization process. For example, the OISSS organizes several workshops throughout the year to inform students about employment authorization. However, these efforts do not change the fact that Brown’s CPT program and its requirements are an unnecessary burden. Satisfying these additional requirements is stressful and time-consuming. And the only other work authorization option is the federal Optional Practical Training program — which grants all those on a student visa 12 months of work authorization during college or after graduation. Therefore, international students have to make the difficult choice between tackling Brown’s requirements to obtain CPT authorization or using some of their valuable OPT authorization time.

Peer institutions that offer the CPT program, such as Harvard, only require students to demonstrate that they can receive academic credit from their internship, even if it does not directly pertain to their chosen major. Northeastern University simply requires students fill out the I-94 form — which travelers must complete upon arrival to the United States — and receive approval from their advisors. At Brown, however, students must find a professor willing to sponsor an independent study course. The independent study course and proposed employment opportunity must then be approved by the student’s concentration advisor and the Assistant Dean for International Students Asabe Poloma. This process generally takes between two and three months to complete, forcing students interested in applying for CPT authorization to secure job offers early in their spring semester in order to qualify.

Further, many students at Brown are interested in pursuing career opportunities that do not directly relate to their concentration. And many companies welcome and admit applicants with diverse academic backgrounds that do not necessarily relate to the industry. As an international relations concentrator, I’ve noticed that many of my peers choose radically different career paths due to the broad nature of the concentration. While some IR grads choose to follow their passion for international public service, others choose to pursue careers in finance and consulting. It is impossible to determine which internships or careers will logically follow from an international relations degree, much like many other degree choices at Brown. Thus, it is unnecessarily prohibitive to require international students to demonstrate a well-defined connection between their chosen concentration and their internship offer. Ultimately, this rule disadvantages international students as they attempt to explore potential careers and figure out what they really want to do after graduation.

Every year, Brown attracts students from approximately 100 different countries. Although not all of these students seek job opportunities in the United States, many are interested in seeking work here at some point in their college careers. As such, Brown has a responsibility to make this journey easier for its students by removing some of the barriers to summer employment rather than creating additional requirements for students to fulfill.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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  1. Nice insight Fabiana because being an international student can be lonely and difficult, on top of our already complex culture and language. Assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on their life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation.
    An award-winning worldwide book/ebook that might be of help to anyone coming to the US is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they’ve contributed to our society, including students.
    A chapter on education explains how to cope with a confusing new culture, friendship process and daunting classroom differences. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all at Brown or wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who have the loudest voice!

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