In January, 2011, Tri-Valley University sparked intense media debate in India by showing up the U.S. visa system as incompetent and in July, the University of Northern Virginia saw its higher education system come under fire.
Tri-Valley, an unaccredited institution and the University of Northern Virginia, an accredited university, were both granted authority by the United States government to enroll international students on F-1 visas. The misuse of "Practical Training Programs" has been stated to be the reason for the alleged visa fraud by the two universities, whose offices were raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and the FBI.
Photo by: Photo by: PTI
It is true that many students may not be blameless victims because they arrived in these schools lured by the prospect of finding legal jobs through the CPT program, which according to federal law gives on-the-job experience opportunities that are an integral part of an established curriculum. But for those several innocent students who joined these schools in good faith, it’s a grim awakening.
Be a Savvy Student
Students often receive incorrect or even misleading information through various sources about university accreditation and credibility. They must be well informed to understand the finer nuances of the academic accreditation system before applying to universities abroad.
Most countries have government representation in a prospective student’s country or region and prospective international students must approach them to avoid falling prey to agents and bogus institutions. Examples for representive bodies in India include the United States India Education Foundation, British Council, NESO-India, Campus France and Singapore Tourism Board. Each organization has education advisors and hosts events to provide students with an overview of the education landscape in their preferred study destination.
Familiarize yourself with University Accreditations
Be well-versed with organizations that set a high standard for degree programs. It is not only important to enquire if a university has an accrediting body but also to ensure that the body is officially recognized by the government of the host country of study. For example, AACSB, which is a US accreditor for business schools, has set the bar for business schools on an international level in their operations, degree-programs and academic quality.
Most universities should have their accreditations for all degree programs on their website. Email the university to ask about their list of accreditations and measure them against URLs with .gov in them. If you are looking to study in the US and notice that the accrediting body is not on the website, think twice. It is your future.
Participate in Education fairs in your City
You can always trust education fairs hosted by an education organization that is government sponsored and approved. Although, some private education fairs make it mandatory for only nationally accredited institutions to participate such as Linden Tours, The MBA Tour and QS Fairs, be always mindful of a private company hosting the fair.
Knowledge of Employment Rules
Each country sets its own study and work guidelines for foreign students. International student offices at the university are the best source of information. You must contact your international student advisor to familiarize yourself with work-study rules.
In the United States most international students hold an F1 visa, which is the American, non-immigrant, student visa. In accordance with complex guidelines and restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), F1 students are allowed to work but only under certain conditions:
Must Maintain Valid F1 Status- Federal law requires that foreign students enroll and attend full time classes and not take more than one online class per academic term to maintain a valid visa status.
Work on Campus–You are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session on campus at places like the library, bookstore, cafeteria, labs and so on including work affiliated with a grant or assistantship. During holidays and vacation periods you can work up 40 hours on school premises, if you intend to register for the next academic semester.
Work Off Campus- Legally, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) are the only two, off-campus work opportunities that are available for international students to utilize during and after course completion. Students can engage in paid or unpaid CPT on a part-time basis, limited to no more than 20 hours per week during the school year while classes are in session.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows foreign students to further their knowledge by working in the United States for an extra 12 to 29 months after their course completion and also give them the opportunity to seek permanent employment to stay in the US on the H-1 b work visa.
If you participate in 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you will not be eligible for optional practical training (OPT) after completing your course of study.
Simply beginning another degree program in another university does not automatically confer off campus work eligibility; the new degree program must be at a higher education level (i.e., Bachelors to Masters; Masters to PhD) in order to qualify for employment.
It may be painful to do the research, however in the long-term it pays to ensure that your time, money and energy is being devoted towards a quality education that will contribute towards a promising professional future.
With inputs from Travis Feldler, former International Admissions Officer and Recruiter