The visa applications of hundreds of international students seeking to work in the United States this summer are languishing at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, where increased processing times have left students stranded and university leaders struggling with the fallout.
Students have written petitions and panicked letters to leaders of some of the top universities in the country as their internship start dates have come and gone with no word from the federal government.
Recent graduates of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism are pushing back start dates for internships and relying on their parents for day-to-day expenses. Students at Princeton have had job offers rescinded, and have been forced to return home for the summer. At Dartmouth College, students reported losing money they spent for housing and flights to live and work in other states. At Yale, students scrambled to enroll in a newly created course that would allow the university to approve their summer employment.
“Every morning I wake up with anxiety, wondering what am I going to do today when I’m supposed to be working,” said Yaling Jiang, 26, a student from China and recent graduate of Columbia’s journalism school, who was supposed to start an internship last Monday at a trade publication run by The Financial Times.
Such a delay, college leaders suggest, reflects increasing hurdles international students have faced studying and working in the country under the Trump administration. Last year, the administration sought to crack down on students who overstayed their visas, a policy that is under a court injunction. And as trade tensions escalate with Washington, Beijing warned Chinese students this month of visa restrictions and delays in the United States.
Ms. Jiang is among those awaiting work authorization under a program called Optional Practical Training, which allows international students legally attending school to work for up to a year in a field related to their studies. They can apply for the authorization only 90 days before they are scheduled to start a job or complete their degree. In prior years that was not a problem: The maximum wait time was 90 days, though university leaders said that it was rare that it exceeded 60.
This year, Citizenship and Immigration Services is projecting a lag of up to five months, which an agency official said was a result of “a surge in employment authorization requests” that had created a “small backlog.”
The agency said in a statement that it had “implemented a plan to address this and return to standard processing times soon.”
Princeton’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, led a group of New Jersey college leaders who sent a letter to state lawmakers last month, citing the Citizenship and Immigration Services delay as one of several instances of a “disturbing increase in the number — and length — of impediments put in the path of our international students, faculty and staff.”
The letter cited studies that found that the overall number of foreign students enrolling in American institutions had declined, and that over the last two fiscal years, processing times for foreign visas had increased 46 percent.
“Some of our schools have experienced decreases in foreign student enrollment and all of our schools have encountered an increasingly log-jammed immigration system that is impacting our ability to recruit, retain and bring to our campuses foreign talent,” the presidents wrote.
The backlog has made it nearly impossible for students who applied in February or March — the earliest they could do so — to begin summer jobs on time, if at all.