By: Hayeon Na, Co-Copy Editor (Content-focused)
On Tuesday, February 4th, the New Jersey Pharmacist Association (NJPhA) and Dr. Maria Leibfried hosted a seminar for international pharmacy students at St. John’s University. The seminar was held to provide information to international students, especially for those who are here as F-1 students, about their options when it comes to working in the United States as interns and as pharmacists after graduation.
Before we get into the event, I would like to talk about what makes someone an international student, and the options that they have as a pharmacy major, both before and after graduation. What follows is the information I have gathered through my experience in the U.S., and more specifically at St. John’s University.
International students are those who are in the U.S. from other countries to study under student visas granted by the U.S. government. There are different kinds of student visas, but F-1 is the one required to attend a University or college1 and was the most common (if not exclusive) among those who attended the event. The U.S. government requires that all applicants ages 14-79 undergo an interview process to prove their eligibility for student visas.1 In order to qualify, F-1 candidates must overcome the “presumption of being an intending immigrant,” to show the U.S. government that they do not intend to make a living in the U.S., and that their primary intention is to complete their studies here.2 If the applicant does not meet these requirements, their visa application is denied.
Once in the U.S., the student must continue to attend school and abide by the rules of their F-1 status in order for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to allow the student’s lawful presence in the U.S. Not intending to seek employment solely for financial gains is one of these requirements the student must meet. So when it comes to seeking employment, there are only two real off-campus options available to international students: “CPT” or “OPT.”3
“Curricular practical training” (CPT) is an employment “relate[d] to the major and the experience must be part of the program of study.”3 Currently, this option is not available for pharmacy majors at St. John’s University. The second option, “optional practical training” (OPT), is an employment related to the student’s major or course of study, and is limited to a duration of 1-year of full time, during school breaks or after completion of their program (over 20 hours per week), or 2-years of part time (under 20 hours per week), during their studies under the F-1 visa.3 In other words, students in the 6-year PharmD program can only be employed for the limited duration outlined by the USCIS. When they finish their studies and use up the OPT time, they must leave the U.S. unless their non-immigrant status changes.
Using the OPT after graduation is the only way to seek out potential employers after graduation as licensed professionals. Because of the limited time that they are given, international students must make the choice to use the time either before or after the completion of studies. For example, I started using my part-time OPT in my first professional year. This means that I have stop working by this year (my 3rd professional year) if I cannot find an alternative route. This also means that when I graduate, I need to leave the country immediately, unless I change my status or pursue further studies. Taking this into consideration, using up the limited OPT time may not seem like the best option. But for those who want to find paid employment in the field to gain clinical experience outside of rotations during their studies, it may be the only lawful option. Many students hesitate to apply for OPT because of several reasons: (1) it costs $3804, (2) there is only a limited amount of time for which they can work, (3) they must find a job in that time, and (4) it may take up to three months for the government to issue authorization to work. This means that they are gambling on their chances of getting employed in time, or are simply hoping their potential employer is holding the spot for them for three months if they have already been offered positions. By no means am I endorsing the idea of international students staying in the U.S. after graduation; however, our subject of study and clinical experience are so intertwined that those who cannot work as interns are automatically at a disadvantage, both in school and in the “real world.”
Because clinical experience is so important in the field of pharmacy, students feel the pressure to seek employment during their studies, especially after they receive their intern permits. Instead of simply focusing on school and not experiencing the “real world,” interns should spend time around patients and medications, which may be the most effective way to retain and apply information acquired in classes. And frankly, as pharmacy students, we all know the information—whether it is pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, pathology, or therapeutics—can seem like it is coming at us at the speed of light. In other words, if we are not working, we have to try harder to remember a majority of the information and have to teach ourselves to apply the information in an effective way by the time we graduate.
Now, back to the main event. Around 5:30 PM in St. Albert’s Hall room G21, a small but interested group of students gathered to attend the seminar. Some were board members of the NJPhA, most were international students, and I’m sure some were there just for the pizza and soft drinks that Director Krista Gard, Director of International Student and Scholar Services Office (ISSSO), so generously provided. I was invited to talk about my experience as a student who was using her OPT hours before graduation to seek off-campus employment in the field of pharmacy.
After the attendees ate, Ms. Gard gave a detailed presentation on OPT with a focus on pharmacy. She welcomed questions and urged students to make appointments at the ISSSO to discuss their options. Then, I shared my experience with the audience, Dr. Leibfried thanked everyone for attending, and the students went their merry ways or stayed around to ask questions.
This was the first and much needed seminar at St. John’s University that was focused on international pharmacy students. Under the guidance of the wonderful faculty who can help in so many ways, international pharmacy students can aspire to become well-informed individuals to reach their full potential in school and in their field of career, despite their non-citizen and non-immigrant status. There is a need for a more open and directed set of advice for international pharmacy students. Even though many of the students will not stay around in the U.S. after graduation, facilitating their employment as interns will help them become better pharmacists, wherever they practice. In gathering and discussing options for international pharmacy students, we have taken an important step in a new direction to improve patient care globally.
- Bureau of Consular Affairs-U.S. Department of State. Student visa. U.S. visas. http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/study-exchange/student.html. Accessed February 6th, 2014.
- Bureau of Consular Affairs-U.S. Department of State. Visa Denials. U.S. visas. http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/denials.html. Accessed February 6th, 2014.
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Practical Training. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. http://www.ice.gov/sevis/practical-training/. Accessed February 6th, 2014.
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. http://www.uscis.gov/i-765. Accessed February 6th, 2014.