Grew up here, not allowed to work...what to do?
October 14, 2018 9:16 AM   Subscribe

My friend "Anna" is twenty-two and in college. She was brought to the US from India (legally) when she was ten years old and has not been back there since, but neither she nor her parents are citizens. Her parents live across the country now and give her barely enough money to survive, but we all know about college's hidden expenses and she's not allowed to work on her student visa (campus jobs are unavailable). Now she's at her breaking point emotionally and therapy only helps so much. What can she or anyone do?

I help her as much as I can since I make decent money, but I'm supporting a lot of people. Should I call my congressman? Start a GoFundMe for a lawyer? She feels trapped and I feel powerless to help.
posted by Ain to Law & Government (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is she working on OPT or CPT? If she’s past her first year of school, that is how many F-1 (student) visa holders work off campus. If her school does not facilitate that, she may want to look to transferring to a school with a better track record of placing students in OPT/CPT positions.
posted by whitewall at 9:38 AM on October 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

Yeah this is how student visas work. She should be focusing on either figuring out how to hasten graduation (in a field that will allow her to get a work visa), and/or transferring to a school that has on-campus jobs.

That said, is there really no on-campus employment available? That seems really unusual. It's not just working in the cafeteria - are there undergrad TAs/graders or opportunities for research jobs in her professor's labs? Has she spoken to the international student office for help?
posted by brainmouse at 9:39 AM on October 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ooof. This stuff is hard.

If her campus has a law school, see if they have a legal clinic that does immigration stuff. My guess is that there's no clear path to permanent residency for her, but it's worth making sure, because a green card would be a game changer. Permanent residents are eligible for a lot of financial aid (not to mention working off campus) that isn't available to international students.

When you say that campus jobs are unavailable, do you mean that they're forbidden by the terms of her visa, or do you mean that she can't find one? Student visas allow students to work on campus up to 20 hours a week, although it's possible that she's on a different kind of visa with different rules. If she is allowed to work in campus, I would prioritize finding an on-campus job. What has she done to look?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:40 AM on October 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wherever you are, there is most likely a local organization dedicated to supporting immigrants. She should get in touch with them and they can help her figure out her next steps. For instance, many law firms will represent clients like her pro bono. It's a pretty bad situation right now, legally, but there are avenues. (If you tell us your location, someone may be able to refer you to the right org)

As for money - babysitting? Really, anything cash-based. No, it's not legal and she may not want to take the risk but it's what people do when they can't work legally.

Nationally, United We Dream is an amazing organization for exactly people like your friend: "Dreamers" who were brought here as children by their families and are undocumented (I'm assuming from what you wrote she's undocumented). It's a national network with resource guides, etc. Might help her connect with others and feel less alone, and they would probably be able to give practical support as well, like connecting her with local resources.

Good luck to your friend.
posted by lunasol at 9:42 AM on October 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

I hesitate to suggest working illegally (I mean, mostly because it seems like a bad idea, but if there's really no way under her visa to work legally, then I don't see another option) but has she thought about part time child care? Lots of people find college students attractive as babysitters, and lots of people are willing to pay unreported cash for childcare without thinking anything negative about it.
posted by LizardBreath at 9:44 AM on October 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

Again, other under-the-table options might include waiting tables or bartending, but you'd have to ask around people in the industry to figure out what the options are there because you can't exactly go in and ask to be paid off the books.
posted by greta simone at 10:14 AM on October 14, 2018

If her parents _have_ money, then she could make the case to them that, by underfunding her, they are putting her at a competitive disadvantage relative to the other students.
posted by amtho at 10:30 AM on October 14, 2018

There is no employment on campus in library or dining halls? Has she talked to the international student office? What about Anna transferring to a different school where she can find employment?

Also, as others mentioned many international students do work under the table babysitting or cleaning.

She can also try to find a US citizen to cosign a private student loan for her.

But if Anna's goal is to stay in the US, she also needs to be thinking about that. Assuming that she came to the US as a dependent of one of her parents who had a work visa, which she then changed status for a student visa, I assume she cannot be listed as a dependent of her parents anymore. She can use her OPT after graduation, but then she will need to return unless her status changes (like an employer sponsors her or she gets married).
posted by k8t at 10:42 AM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a woman, she needs to be extra careful with under-the-table work like babysitting. She absolutely does not want to be threatened or taken advantage of, and I’m worried from the tone of this ask something like this has already happened to her?

If I were her, I would ignore any mention of status if possible. If you are someplace with tons of folks from all over the world (city) gigs like babysitting are less risky. If she’s not someplace like that, I’m not sure she should chance it.

(If she’s in Boulder, tho, hit me up. I may have a lead!)
posted by jbenben at 10:43 AM on October 14, 2018

The only legal element of this is that in order to get her student visa and be enrolled, at some point she (and/or her parents) had to show the university evidence of a certain amount of money (usually a PDF of a bank statement) asserting that Anna has access to enough money to pay tuition and live (rent, food, books, etc.) (usually tens of thousands of dollars). I have to admit that I know a ton of people that cheat on this document by having family dump money into their account, get the account statement, then transfer the money back.
If the student got any financial aid, that would be subtracted from the amount they need to demonstrate they have access to.
Many universities do not allow students to count possible working wages toward this amount though, since it is more variable.

If Anna does not actually have access to those funds to eat, pay rent, tuition, etc., she is in violation of her agreement with the university.

But congress people and lawyers aren't what is needed here. Anna is on a student visa and happens to be at a strange institution whereby she cannot work on campus. Solutions related to her ability to aquire more funds are either to pressure her parents, to work illegally, or to go to a university whereby she can work.
posted by k8t at 10:56 AM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

It looks like students on F1 visas are occasionally eligible for off-campus work in cases of severe economic hardship. I have no idea how often those exemptions are granted, and I would be a little surprised if "my parents don't want to give me enough money" counted as a justification, but it could be worth looking into, especially if there are reasons other than parental jerkiness that her parents can't give her more money. That is definitely, definitely, definitely not something I would attempt without legal counsel, though.

Is she on an F1 visa? I've had students in similar situations who were on wacky visas related to their parents' work authorization, and that complicates everything, because the people at the international students office are only familiar with the regulations for F1 and J1 visas.

If her parents have the money, I wonder if she can work something out with them. Maybe a loan that she will promise to pay off? Or could she present them with a budget and justify why she needs more money to live on?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:13 AM on October 14, 2018

(Oops, sorry, I missed that she came here legally and thus is not technically a Dreamer. But she still needs legal advice, either from her parents' immigration lawyer or one you find locally.)
posted by lunasol at 11:33 AM on October 14, 2018

What is her long term plan for staying in the US? Figuring that out will make a big difference.

If her parents won't give her enough money for tuition, books, transportation, room, and board, she may need to move back in with them and attend a college local to them.
posted by metasarah at 12:13 PM on October 14, 2018

Do you know which student visa program your friend is on: J1 or F1? I'm assuming she's an F1 student, a student whose education is funded by personal sources, outside sources or a combination of the two. I believe that a J1 student visa is for students who have a 'substantive' portion of funding from either the university or government; I'd imagine that most fully-funded PhD candidates on student visas fall under the J1 bucket.

If your friend is indeed an F1 student she can apply for a 'Severe Economic Hardship Request' which (provided she's meets her college's eligibiliy criteria which is usually something like 'has been an F1 student for at least a year, is in good academic standing, etc.) which would allow her to work off-campus. Here's a page regarding the F1 Economic Hardship application process from the University of Michigan. I'm not sure how long it would take to get this request authorized, though.

As others have said, your friend might want to look at 'under the table' employment options. Tutoring is quite lucrative for some subjects; friends of mine make $50 a hour tutoring undergraduate students in the hard sciences. Alternately, your friend could look at reducing her expenses by taking a lighter course load, perhaps? If she could switch to being a part-time student next semester (or even this semester if it's not too late in the semester) she could use the extra money that would have gone toward tuition to buy her some time to figure out alternate funding options for future semesters. I took this option one semester in college as I had rather controlling parents, but I simply didn't tell them that I reduced my course load and used the 'leftover tuition funds' to help me get into a more sane financial spot.

Please don't underestimate the utility in going to the school's financial aid office and talking to someone who works there. If your friend can bring her bank account statements as well as an itemized list of income and expenses that would probably help her case. Some schools may offer financial aid re-evaluation in the middle of the semester; if she can show that she doesn't actually have access to the allotted funds that her parents claimed she would have access to I'd imagine that would be a situation which would trigger a re-evaluation of her financial aid options.
posted by schwerpunkt at 12:33 PM on October 14, 2018

Around how much money does she need?

If her parents are paying for a meal plan she might, if the administration is helpful, be able to get removed from the plan at the beginning of each semester and be reimbursed with a check that she can cash herself. (This obviously may not work at every university, but it's worth checking out. Feeding herself is likely to be much cheaper than the meal plan, although she should do the math to make sure.) If she does that, she'd want to make sure she can nonetheless enrol anew for the meal plan each semester (and drop it again if she so decides).

In addition to the tutoring mentioned above, another option is proofreading/editing people's papers.
posted by trig at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2018

As far as under the table work, in addition to babysitting, there is also house sitting or pet sitting.
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:23 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Having just finished the process for my own residence visa in a relatively sane country, and having watched 20 years of Indian software engineers deal with the INS, my biggest advice for you is: Do Not Take Immigration Advice From Strangers On The Internet.

There have been some pointers here to organizations that may be able to help (although they also get it wrong sometimes). But having seen what I’ve seen I would not file a Change Of Address form with the INS without running it by an expert.

Working on campus seems like the best prospect, even if she has to change schools to do it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:05 PM on October 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

The problem with working on campus is that under student visa laws the jobs can only really be minimum wage, so even that might not be enough especially when there's a 20-hour-a-week limitation. And if the school is small enough it's entirely possible that there's not enough jobs to go around.

I managed to get CPT for my final year, but you have to prove that the job has something to do with your program (I managed to make it my Masters project). I also was part of a school academic tutoring fellowship that paid me more than minimum wage and that was great, didn't face any legal issues, but worth asking just in case.
posted by divabat at 6:22 PM on October 15, 2018

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