Improve International Student and Scholar Services’ response times

Megan Tran

College students juggle academic obligations, jobs, extracurricular activities and social lives. International students, however, often balance these aspects of college life with the additional challenges of the United States immigration process.

International Student and Scholar Services is a subset of Texas Global that assists students with issues such as immigration processing, employment, insurance and tax regulations.

Because international students often rely on the office for such complicated and time-sensitive matters, UT must improve International Student and Scholar Services email response times.

Sanjana Tripathi, an international graduate student pursuing a Master of Science in Information Studies degree, described her frustrations when International Student and Scholar Services failed to respond to her email for clarifying information regarding her Curricular Practical Training application.  

“It’s already been three weeks since I sent (International Student and Scholar Services) an email, and it’s not the first email that I’ve sent,” Tripathi said. “Worrying about whether I’m doing the process correctly is (always) stressful. I don’t want to do something incorrectly because it poses a lot of problems later on in the process, but (the office) isn’t helpful with (answering my questions).”

Tripathi also said she tried emailing the hotline, as well as advisors directly, but received no response. When she attempted to book an international student advising appointment, the only available time slots were months later.

International students rely on Curricular Practical Training to authorize them for temporary employment related to their field of study. Additionally, students must receive job offers prior to obtaining application approval but cannot work until their authorization is approved.

This tight timeline makes it difficult for students to obtain their Curricular Practical Training authorization and begin working. If students have unresolved questions about the process and are unable to quickly submit their application, they may miss out on these employment opportunities.

Because individual student advising appointments are limited, international students often rely on email to communicate with International Student and Scholar Services. Tripathi explained that some of her friends have been waiting months for a response from the office. Like her, they have sent follow-up emails that received no response. 

Unfortunately, by the time International Student and Scholar Services responds, the information may come too late to be useful.

Margaret Luévano, director of International Student and Scholar Services, explained in an email why responses can take so long.

“We can understand why students are frustrated,” Luévano wrote, “We are managing a high volume of requests and working diligently to respond to emails, process (Curricular Practical Training) and (Optional Practical Training) applications and approve extension requests.”

International students comprise over 10% of the student body at UT, and each student has unique circumstances that must be addressed, which makes longer processing and response times understandable. However, waiting weeks — or even months — for a response is unreasonable.

International students and scholars must pay $125 each semester in International Student and Scholar Services Support Services Fees. This fee is intended to cover the cost of staff who advise international students on issues such as visa status, employment issues and financial aid.

If students are not receiving the services they pay for, the allocation of those funds must be reassessed and redistributed to better support international students. How can UT justify forcing international students to pay this fee while taking months to respond to their emails?

“I just try to help as many international students as possible who are coming into UT since (International Student and Scholar Services) usually doesn’t,” Tripathi explained. “Other international students who know the process do as well.”

The support among the community of international students at UT is admirable, but they should also be able to rely on International Student and Scholar Services to provide assistance and guide them through the lengthy and complicated issues that come with immigration.

Tran is a Plan II and English freshman from Houston, Texas.