New site makes visa process smoother for international students

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For international students seeking to attend college in the U.S. or stick around after graduation, obtaining a visa just became a little easier.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced on Friday the launch of a new website called “Study in the States,” part of a new government-wide initiative to help streamline the international student visa process.

The website will serve as an information hub for every federal agency involved in the visa process. All prospective and current international students will have access to the site, which includes blogs, videos, helpful tips, success stories and public service announcements.

Using the website, prospective and current international students can create their own “Road Map to Success,” a visual map of the visa process. It will also provide the most current visa requirements in a user-friendly format and use links to social media websites to help promote conversation about visa requirements.

There were about 5,100 international students at the University of Minnesota in spring 2011, according to the Office of Institutional Research.  In total, there are currently 1.1 million international students studying in the U.S., according to DHS.

Salil Bapat, a University student from India working on his master’s in material science and engineering, said having a more streamlined website would have been helpful when he applied for a visa more than four years ago.

“When I applied for my visa the website had really, really complicated questions,” he said.

Bapat, who will graduate this spring, went on to say that he is actually more concerned about obtaining a work visa to stay in the U.S.

“From what I’ve heard, when you try to go from a student visa to a working visa, it turns out to be quite a hassle,” he said.

Barbara Kappler, interim director of the University’s International Student and Scholar Services, said that while she isn’t that familiar with the DHS initiative, the University supports any initiative that makes the visa process easier for students.

“It really is a long process; there are many steps involved,” Kappler said.

Encouraging international students to remain in the U.S. after graduating is another important objective of the initiative.

Study in the Statesencourages international students who seek the wealth of educational opportunities available in the U.S. to remain here following their studies and apply their new skills here in our country.” said John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a press release.

In addition to offering a more user-friendly website for those seeking visas, the initiative builds upon another policy implemented earlier this year. DHS started offering a program through which international students who graduate with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math can stay up to an extra 29 months.

 Purva Mandke, another international student from India, said that while she believes the site will be helpful, she worries that immigration policies and tough hiring practices will prevent her from working in the U.S. once she graduates.

Zi Huang, an electrical engineering major from Beijing,said having a more user-friendly website would be convenientand useful.

He added that although he plans on working in the U.S. after graduating, he will return to China after a couple of years regardless of the new DHS initiative.

The University’s medical education website lists conduct that will result in course failure for third and fourth year students in clerkships.

Students may fail if they are judged “below expectations in professionalism” or if they fail to turn in a paper or make-up work missed during an absence.

Students who fail Medicine I are referred to the Committee on Student Scholastic Standing so they can request permission to retake the course.

Permission is almost always granted, said Dr. Thompson, COSSS lead advisor.

“We think students should always have the opportunity to get through medical school,” he said.