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Are the academic standards for retaining a student visa different from those for staying in school?
December 19, 2010 7:46 PM   Subscribe

Are the academic standards for retaining a student visa different from those for staying in school?

I teach at a university in the United States. This means I just had the "pleasure" of assigning grades. After getting an F in the course, a student sent my an e-mail claiming that this F means they'll revoke her visa and she'll have to go back to her country.

Not my problem, of course. She "earned" that F. (Although it's a story that I'm more likely to be sympathetic to than the students who wanted their grades raised because they tried really hard.)

But I'm wondering: what are the standards for keeping a student visa? Are they just that you remain a student in good standing at a college or university, or are they stricter than that? A quick Google finds me pages on how to apply for student visas, but they don't answer this question.
posted by madcaptenor to Education (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It is my understanding (and IANAL) that one F won't terminate someone's student visa. Flunking out of school will but as long as the student is making normal progress in school one bad grade shouldn't make a difference. To be sure, you may want to contact someone in your school's foreign student office who regularly deals with student immigration issues and not just take the student's word for it.
posted by MsKim at 7:59 PM on December 19, 2010

What a pain. It's probably not directly related to the visa, but related to something to do with her GPA and her academic standing. If she falls out of standing, then she may have visa problems. Or if she fails, then she has to retake, and maybe she runs out of visa time. In other words, she deals with the university, and the university deals with the INS.

Is there a foreign/international students office where you teach? A call to them might make the situation clearer.

I can't imagine that INS would actually want to do deal with grade disputes.
posted by carter at 8:02 PM on December 19, 2010

There is, I assume, such an office -- we have lots of international students. I don't particularly care, though, in this case, and certainly not enough to try to reach someone after the semester's over -- I can't think of information they'd give me that would lead me to change my mind. It might be good to know for the future, though.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:05 PM on December 19, 2010

Here's something from your school's international student web site. I compared it to my school's policy - it was the same. If the student is dismissed/disqualified, they can lose their visa.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:12 PM on December 19, 2010

And the criteria for dismissing such a student would not depend on whether they were international? In other words, if a US citizen had the same academic record as an international student, either they'd both be dismissed or neither would be?
posted by madcaptenor at 8:16 PM on December 19, 2010

Call because it would be good to know for the future so you know when students are bullshitting you. It would also be good to for the international student office to know that a student used this line; they may wish to include information on peculiarities relating to international students in their information to professors at the beginning of the next semester/year. (Like, that flunking them doesn't lead to any epic consequences. Or that there's a special tutoring office available for foreign students who are failing midsemester. Or whatever.)

I have flunked foreign students. They didn't lose their visas. It's possible this student is in some special situation -- your class is the one that flunks her out of school -- but I think it's more likely you're being bullshitted.

My favorite "please don't give me an F" threat is, "I'll lose custody of my kid if you give me an F." I've heard this one SEVERAL times. No student has ever been able to explain to me how, exactly, these two items are connected. And it typically comes from students who've barely attended and haven't turned anything in all semester, so it's not like they're borderline cases. And I am DILIGENT about using the academic warning system, so it's not like they didn't know they were failing.

The most appalling student F-begging I ever heard was from a student who knew I knew her family socially, who told me her father had died fighting in Iraq and that's why she had skipped four weeks of class and needed an extra eight weeks to finish the work after the semester ended. HER FATHER WORKED IN THE SAME BUILDING AS MY HUSBAND AT THE TIME AND WAS ALIVE AND WELL AND HAS NEVER BEEN TO IRAQ. I told her decisions like that were above my paygrade and she needed to go to student services and have them fill out a "hardship" form and send it to her professors whereupon I would make all accommodations. Unsurprisingly, the hardship form never arrived in my inbox.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:17 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here are the rules, according to Santa Monica College. I can't vouch for how accurate they are, but they link to the correct government website.

Not a professor, but I am a chronic student.

Did she legitamately fail the course? As in, she was doing poorly and did not seek out help or blantantly skipped classes and didn't hand in work? If so, it's her fault that she failed your course. In fact, I can't imagine how you could fail a class even if you DID try to get help with the topic. Maybe they'd do poorly, but if a student makes it very clear that they are attending tutoring sessions and that they might need to do extra-credit to make up for a failed test, I can't see a professor, save the few hardasses out there, turning away that student. Especially if their academic future is on the line.

So, it really doesn't seem like this student actually cares about her academic future, at least from the info you gave here. She wants a free pass to keep slacking off in classes.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:19 PM on December 19, 2010

If I was in your situation I'd also think about checking in your department's advisor who is responsible for this student, just to see what is going on with her.

If an F jeopardises her academic standing, her GPA must be pretty awful anyway.
posted by carter at 8:20 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

And the criteria for dismissing such a student would not depend on whether they were international? In other words, if a US citizen had the same academic record as an international student, either they'd both be dismissed or neither would be?

Yes, I think so. Dismissal in this case is a university decision. But for foreign students it then cascades through to their visa status. They both go home, but one has to further to go. They only have the visa in the first place because they are enrolled at the U.
posted by carter at 8:25 PM on December 19, 2010

two lights above the sea: yes, she failed "legitimately". She actually handed in all but one homework and took all the exams, but did poorly on all of them. (I don't know if she came to class -- it's a big lecture course.) This shouldn't have come a surprise to her.

carter: this is a general education course; the student's not in my department.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:25 PM on December 19, 2010

(I don't mean to sound quite so jaded. I just closed out a rough semester with lots of student insanity. Far more than my share.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:28 PM on December 19, 2010

Ignore it. If she wants to appeal your decision somehow (as if you're unfairly CHOOSING to fail her), make her do the legwork. If she really is going to be shipped back off to country X, I would hope she'd exhaust all possibilities to stay.

The only benefit of following up would be to call future students on their BS immediately, as others have noted. Plus, if she doesn't get thrown out, the fact that she's actively lying to you sounds like something her advisor -- and future profs in your position -- might want to know. I mean, if her advisor told you that she'd pulled the same line before on another professor, you probably would hesitate even less, right?

(My own jadedness is a result of having a professor mother telling me about twenty years of students' excuses. When I got to college and occasionally did poorly, I at least had learned to own up to it and not whine to the instructor. I didn't want to be someone else's dinner table story.)
posted by supercres at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2010

supercres: It would be nice to be able to call students on their BS immediately. Since it's my first semester here, I hear all sorts of suspicious-sounding things from students that are just plausible enough that I can't call them out right away.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:40 PM on December 19, 2010

And the criteria for dismissing such a student would not depend on whether they were international? In other words, if a US citizen had the same academic record as an international student, either they'd both be dismissed or neither would be?

Well, I'm not an international student advisor, but I do advise international students. And my understanding is that yes, the international student is under the same guidelines as the domestic student in terms of dismissal/disqualification.

(International students do have to follow stricter rules about full-time enrollment, afaik, but are not under stricter rules governing how many semesters they get on probation before being kicked out.)

So if she's in her second or third semester on probation (or whatever your school's catalog calls it) then another low GPA this semester could cause her to be sent packing. But that's her whole record, over time, not the result of one F in one class.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:45 PM on December 19, 2010

Having worked with the International students office at my college, I can tell you this is nonsense. Unless failing once course puts someone on an academic suspension at your college, which is hard to imagine. If she followed a full-time course load, and will carry a full-time course load in the next term, her F1 visa is in no danger whatsoever.
posted by bardophile at 8:48 PM on December 19, 2010

That should be "failing one course" not "failing once course." Sorry.
posted by bardophile at 8:48 PM on December 19, 2010

I did find something, from the web page of some random immigration lawyer: "The F-1 visa holder is expected to maintain the minimum required academic standards of the school or university he or she is enrolled in." Seems to coincide with what people have been saying.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:15 PM on December 19, 2010

@madcaptenor: "I hear all sorts of suspicious-sounding things from students that are just plausible enough that I can't call them out right away."

It's amazing how often the right answer to this is whatever your school's version of "You have to get a note from student services/your adviser" is. I create a syllabus with room for students who miss classes/assignments and tell them I don't care if they have mono or if they have a great tee time, same rules apply and they can decide if it's important enough to skip class. That cuts out a bunch of the excuse-making right there. But when students claim illness/death/bizarre hardship/two-week-jury-service, the correct answer is almost always, "You'll need to go to student services and let them know and they'll send around a form."

Students for whom it's a real thing usually already KNOW that if they've been hospitalized/have to fly out of state for a death, there's a contact at student services who will get them official forbearance and excused absences, because they want to make sure all their ducks are in a row while they cope with this difficult thing. (In my college handbook, it even told us what forms of proof of death we should bring to which office in student services. Only more nicely phrased.) Students who are making things up are just hoping you'll take pity on their sob story.

And indeed. Student services sends me a very nice e-mail informing me of the situation, its duration and effects, and requesting accommodations; sometimes specific, usually as I see fit.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 PM on December 19, 2010

Eyebrows McGee: at the institution where I was a grad student (and TA), we'd get e-mails from some office saying "this student is having trouble, I'd appreciate it if you made accommodations" but they never told us what the trouble was. It was kind of frustrating, because I never had any idea what they needed! Fortunately, the class that had the most of these was one where the homework didn't count and we didn't take attendance.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:37 PM on December 19, 2010

At my university, we had some foreign students on scholarships from their governments with incredibly strict GPA requirements (above 3.5 or above 3.75). They wouldn't lose their visas for getting a lower GPA, but they couldn't afford to attend school without meeting the GPA requirement.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:57 PM on December 19, 2010

Anecdata: I had a student about 2 years ago claim a similar thing. If she didn't get a B, she would be deported to somewhere in the middle east (I can't remember the country). She failed spectacularly, then begged me to raise her grade. I didn't.

Next semester, not only did I see her on campus, but she had moved into my apartment building. On the same floor as me.

So, my guess is that this is a sob story to get a higher grade she doesn't deserve, nothing more.
posted by King Bee at 8:45 AM on December 20, 2010

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