careerservices
Photo: Hain Yoon

For many Penn students, the search for summer 2018 internships has already started. On top of attending recruiting events and writing cover letters, numerous international undergraduates have to add another laborious process to their to-do list: extending their student visas so they can legally remain in the United States over the summer to complete their internships.

About 14 percent of each undergraduate class are international students. Not only do they face additional difficulties settling employment post-graduation, they also have to navigate internship options with visa requirements in mind. 

Students said obtaining summer visas can be particularly stressful because each undergraduate school and even each department may have different processes when it comes to authorizing students for internships in the United States. 

According to the website for International Student and Scholar Services, international students are able to intern over the summer in the United States if they successfully apply for, and receive, an F-1 Curricular Practical Training visa extension, or F-1 CPT. The CPT is "intended to provide work experience in the [United States] in situations where the work serves as an integral part of a student's academic program and an established curriculum, prior to completion of that program,” the website reads.

In order for such internships to qualify as part of the co-curricular experience, some students can enroll in an online summer course where they must spend five to 10 minutes every day, for the duration of the internship, viewing slides and taking short quizzes.

College and Wharton senior Freda Zhao was forced to temporarily adjust her academic choices to acquire this visa. Zhao is a Canadian citizen who studies marketing and psychology, but she added a management concentration this summer to justify her management consulting internship and enrolled in a 0.25 credit online course called Management 891. Zhao does not intend to complete the other requirements for the management concentration. 

Wharton senior Kyu Park, a student from Seoul, South Korea, who is studying finance and statistics, said the process of enrolling and passing the course is “not difficult at all.” Both Kyu and Zhao said they received several emails from Wharton advisors instructing them on the process.

For College students however, the process is more complicated because they do not have a standardized online course that most Wharton students use to obtain their CPT. Instead, many have to apply through their own departments for an independent study or research course that directly relates to their internship.

College sophomore Saad Albawardi who is from Saudi Arabia, is studying chemistry and found it difficult to stay at Penn over the summer just before school. Albawardi took some classes at Penn before his freshman year and was frustrated by the lack of clear information disseminated by ISSS.  

"The website [of ISSS] is not helpful," he said, "You don't get people to tell you exactly what to do, [and] students end up being confused." 

ISSS did not respond to multiple requests for comment.  

Albawardi opted to return to Saudi Arabia the following summer, but hopes to be able to stay at Penn this summer.

Park and Zhao have only spent one summer working in the United States. But for students who return to the United States for a second or third summer, the process is more complicated.

College and Wharton senior Justin Kagotho, who is from Kenya, needed to propose an independent research project supervised by a Wharton faculty member related to his position before he could legally begin interning as an investment banker this summer.

“It was pretty tough,” he said, on finding a faculty member to supervise his work and getting the Wharton administration to approve the project.

Kagotho is expected to submit a research paper five weeks into the semester analyzing how global investors have rethought European labor policies following Brexit. 

On the firm’s end, Kagotho said many smaller businesses make the process more difficult for international students to be employed. “The process is harder for a company that hasn’t handled international students before," he explained.

Dhruv Agarwal, an Engineering senior and president of the Assembly of International Students, echoed Kagotho's sentiment.

At one point during Agarwal’s internship search, he received an offer that he was very excited to accept. A week later, a recruiter called him informing him that the company does not hire international students. 

“Sorry, not sorry. Your internship is not going to happen,” he said.

Agarwal, who attended high school in Kenya, had enough time between this rejection and the beginning of summer to find another position. Some of his international friends were rejected by companies in February or March and were left with no internship. 

Agarwal, like Kagotho, also had to register for an independent study course in order to complete his internship, but the process he had to go through to register for the course was more complicated. unlike that for his Wharton peers, and he said he “bounced back and forth” several times between ISSS and the Engineering School to figure out the paperwork he needed to complete.

“Most advisors in Engineering have no clue how to deal with this,” Agarwal said. 

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