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Student but No Studying
From JoongAng
July 14, 2003

By JongHoon Kim

Kim, residing in Flushing, is an international student. However, he is working at a restaurant and it’s been a half year since he attended the school. He stays with a student visa—he got I-20 [an immigration document that allows foreign students to stay in the country] from a language program institution -- but high expenses left him no choice but to work to earn the tuition, and at last, he couldn’t manage to continue to study.

Last year, he transferred through a broker to the school that issues I-20 without a class-attending requirement. He explained, “I plan to stay in the U.S. longer. Thus, I have to change schools to avoid illegal stay. For now, I’m just concentrating on working.”

Students from Korea in the United States are reaching 50,000. Most of them are enrolled in schools and attend classes, but the others, estimated to be thousands nationwide, do not attend any school. This comes to be an issue upon the Bush administration’s strict and complex policy on foreign visitors. Recently, there are cases in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago of brokers who issued I-20s illegally and disappeared. The Harvard Immigration Project (HIP) reported that some private broker offices and language institutes in the U.S. are paid for issuing foreign students the I-20.

HIP pointed out that the I-20 is a kind of “ticket” to foreigners who wish to study in the U.S., and these private offices became the place to sell those tickets—visa sellers. In other words, they are paid with tuition and other expenses and issue I-20s in turn.

The report mentioned the case from a Korean web page, which guarantees a student visa for $10,000, and then gets the foreign students illegal visas.

These students in illegal status want to remain in the U.S. regardless of their study. One survey held in Korea asked students who study in the U.S. and found out that 7 out of 10 are planning to seek work after their study rather than to go back to Korea. It is not easy to find a job in Korea, and despite though working for petty jobs, they want to stay in the U.S., hoping for a better future.

Most of these illegal students follow these two categories; First are those who came to the U.S. as visitors and changed status to stay longer, and the others, those who came here as students, but could not maintain or afford to study, and work rather than study.

Yoon, who has been teaching Korean students for years, said, “Not only financial problems, but also mannerism is the reason why they give up the study. It is questionable whether they can maintain their status after the immigration policy got stricter.”

Until last year, those who got permits from the government to issue I-20 were around 73,000. Other than 4,000 colleges, 6,000 job training schools, 24,000 middle and high schools, the rest of them were private institutions. With the new policy, many of them will no longer be able to issue I-20 and 40% of them are doomed to be illegalized, thus, illegal students would have little to depend on.

Attorney Nam, specializing in immigration law, mentioned, “Many of Korean students are not prepared for the new immigration policy on international students. It is wise to transfer to other schools if you are enrolled in unauthorized institution before August, when the enforcement will put into effect.”

However, it is not easy for students who have been long out of school to go back to class. Kim expressed the difficulty of studying again once he diverted his path. “I hope to go back to school sometime, but for now, maintaining legal status is my biggest concern.”

Translated from Korean by JooYeon Lee


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