The Office of International Services (OIS) assists over 11,000 international Hopkins students, alumni, faculty and affiliates. For undergraduate students, the OIS mainly assists with the visa process, social security number applications and work permits for on and off-campus jobs.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, international students have faced issues with COVID-related policies, including vaccine requirements and campus closures. Now that campus has returned to a fully in-person modality, students assessed the effectiveness of services provided by the OIS.
Students agreed that the OIS provides adequate guidance in completing visa applications. In an interview with The News-Letter, freshman Yuki Hodo stated that the OIS supplied him with check-in forms for the visa application and documentation needed for maintaining his F-1 status. He praised the OIS’s timeliness.
“They started really early in April [and] that was good for timeliness because you have to go to the U.S. Embassy,” he said. “[The OIS] does things really quickly, especially compared to other schools.”
Junior Alara Kaplanoglu described her experience acquiring a social security number with the help of the OIS in an interview with The News-Letter.
“Getting a social security number was the most difficult process that I've done so far,” she said. “They were pretty quick to respond to me and walk me through everything.”
Since the OIS operates fully remotely, most communication is done via email.
In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Katerina Yang noted that the multiple emails she receives from OIS regarding upcoming requirements help her stay organized.
Director of International Students Dacia Gauer wrote in an email to The News-Letter that email will continue to be an important method of communication between the students and the OIS.
“We implore students not to ignore messages from OIS...there could be immigration consequences for ignoring emails from the university or program,“ she wrote. “To complement (but not replace) email communications, the university is expanding the student dashboard, and OIS is exploring how it may be a part of this dashboard in the future.”
Gauer added that the OIS is also looking into implementing additional features to their iHopkins international database to further develop resources for international students.
However, students expressed that the OIS does not provide enough services related to opening bank accounts or activating phone numbers.
Hodo commented that he had to arrive a few days earlier than his move-in date to address these necessities.
“[For bank account and phone number], I had to come here and do them alone. So before I came, I was really worried about what to do with my phone,” he said. “I didn’t know where I should get it, how I should do it. I had to figure it out on my own.”
Though Hodo does not consider these services as necessary, he stated that they would be useful if provided.
Similarly, Yang said that she does not believe it is the responsibility of the OIS to guide students to set up phone numbers and bank accounts. She figured out how to navigate these services with the help of international student communities and friends.
“I feel like there’s someone else here to help, so I didn’t feel like it’s part of their obligation,” she said.
According to Gauer, the OIS provides guidance about bank accounts and phones if students reach out to advisors for help. She added that social security number eligibility is mentioned in the OIS online check-in and orientation materials, which often facilitates opening a bank account.
“For the past several years our advisors have very rarely received questions from our students about banking or cell phones, and this year was no exception,“ she wrote. “However, any students with questions are encouraged to reach out to an advisor for guidance...and the advisors will do their best to provide the needed direction to students.”
While the OIS provides students with support for settling in, students expressed doubts about whether the office helps with preparation beyond college enough.
In the United States, the F-1 visa expires 60 days after graduation. Students can extend their status by Optical Practical Training (OPT), which grants an additional year of work authorization after completion of studies when employed for a job related to their major.
For international students, this means that they only have 60-day grace period to secure a job that is connected to their major in order to stay in the country.
Kaplanoglu described worries about securing a job after graduation.
“Even if they're sending us information [about the OPT process], they're not doing that much... to make sure that we're up to date,” she said.
In response to this concern, Gauer emphasized that the OIS offers several OPT workshops each semester. However, beyond OPT, she added that students must discuss work visa sponsorship possibilities with their future employer.
“Each year there are workshops available which discuss visa options after graduation,” she wrote. “These are announced via our monthly newsletter. We encourage new students to attend these workshops, as well, to learn about the options well before their final semester when it may be too late to take advantage of opportunities.”