Volare | Blog
Part 1: How I got here
Given Tanri has lived in the United States for 10 years. Originally from Indonesia, Given moved to the United States, when his dad, who was a Christian pastor, decided to study at Wheaton College near Chicago.
“I have a unique story, not a lot of international students are like this,” said Given.
Since his father made the momentous decision to move to America 10 years ago, Given has experienced first hand what it is like to be an international student.
After two years, Given’s father went back to Indonesia after he completed his
education at Wheaton College. Given, who was in his sophomore year of high school, decided along with his family to stay in America to complete his high school education.
“My family and I decided it’s probably best for me to stay and finish my high school education here, instead of transitioning here and back,” said Given.
After high school, Given decided to follow his father’s footsteps and attend
Wheaton College. He majors in chemistry.
Part 2: The challenge
For most college students in America, picking a major, while an important decision, is not entirely permanent or stressful. One can quite easily change majors, and with the right counseling may not even have to spend any extra time in college to graduate. For international students like Given, the selection of a major is quite a different experience.
If F-1 international students change majors and they are unable to graduate by the program end date indicated on their I-20, they need to request a program extension. An extension requires that they provide sufficient proof of financial documentation for one academic year or the length of the extension, whichever is less.
Since Given is an F-1 international student, who came to America with a student status for academic and language purposes, he had more limited work options than an American citizen. The U.S. government allows F-1 international students to get temporary employment that is directly related to their field of study under Optional Practical Training (OPT). Non-STEM students may apply for a 12-month OPT employment, while STEM students may file for a STEM 24-month extension before the expiration of their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
That means an international student majoring in Chemistry like Given cannot get OPT for jobs like pizza delivery, groceries, Uber driver, etc. International students have to consider other variables, such as 1) where to go after graduation, 2) what job opportunities exist, 3) family considerations, and 4) if applicable, scholarship contracts.
In fact, the U.S. policy on immigration is so inflexible, Given, like many Americans, is dealing with the challenge of finding employment during the coronavirus pandemic. While many Americans can take on part-time service jobs to make ends meet, Given cannot, due to the restrictions tied to his visa and his major.
Some alternatives for F-1 international students who choose not to get employment but still want to stay in America are either to transfer to another school or change to another visa category. Legally, there are plenty of ways to apply for residency or citizenship, but logistically, the chances of success are low.
“There’s a route,” Said Given. “You finish student visa, then you apply for a working visa, and then after working visa, we may qualify for permanent residency, and then under that permanent residency we may apply for citizenship.”
Part 3: The golden ticket
Given sees permanent residency as a golden ticket, but believes that the stressed of an international student makes it an unrealistic goal in the near future.
With all the hurdles the US government has put in front of Given, he is unsure of a realistic long term future in the country.
“My plan before the pandemic was to work in the United States for a little bit, and then after that go to grad school, and then see where I will go from there” Said Given.
The coronavirus has changed Given’s entire outlook. He has now resigned himself to staying in Chicago in order to find a stable job that will give him security until the world calms down a bit. “Right now I’m just looking for a job in the Chicago area,” said Given. “I don’t feel confident with relocating in the middle of the pandemic, and I don’t feel like moving back to Indonesia, where I grew up, would be beneficial for my career.”
Given is relying heavily on his Chicago network to help him find a job during these uncertain times. In fact, establishing a network is one of the best things Given believes an international student can do while in America.
Overall, Given is like many international students caught between a rock and a hard place. With only jobs involving chemistry available to him, it has become a race against the clock to find a career so he can have a more stable financial future. The pandemic and the current presidential administration has made an already rocky path even worse.
August 2020 update: Given recently got a job via a healthcare recruitment agency!